The Theme Of Good Vs Evil Through Abigail Williams In The Crucible

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The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller in 1953, is a partially fictionalized allegory created to comment on the Salem witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in 1662 and 1633. The play’s connections to the ‘Red Scare’ of the 1950s and the phenomenon known as McCarthyism, which created widespread panic across the United States, made people make false confessions of communist activity to avoid punishment. The McCarthy Hearings were referred to as ‘witch-hunts’, this is because of their similarity to the Salem witch trials- they both struck fear and trepidation due to the guilty until you confess attitude, which dominated the courts. Miller emphasizes the theme of good vs evil through the contrast and parallelism of the characters in The Crucible – such as Abigail Williams, an unwed orphan who is set on a path of destruction by spreading death and hysteria throughout the town of Salem. However, this dominant reading of the play presents a tainted view of a young girl, a girl who has experienced the perfume of death in more ways than one. Abigail throughout the play longs to be loved, whether that be from Reverend Parris or John Proctor. This lack of love from a parental figure leads her to have a callous attitude towards the people of Salem. Figureheads such as Hathorne and Danforth pressure Abigail to support their cause, leading her to make false accusations towards a majority of the residents of Salem. She is presented by Miller as the clear antagonist of The Crucible; however, it is evident that the true villain, is Salem itself; a town populated with self-concern and oppressive views with topics that are considered taboo. The death of Abigail’s parents, stained her moral compass, compromising her very being.

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Abigail Williams came to Salem with a besmirched past, her heinous misdoings are a direct result of her desensitized outlook on death- she is often perceived by members of Salem as deceitful and morally iniquitous. Since she was a young girl, Abigail recalls, “I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ head on the pillow next to mine and I have seen some reddish work at night”, because of this Abigail is injudicious to the concept of death and the ideologies surrounding it’s darkened flame. The complexity of Abigail’s personality is a laborious topic to discuss, she can be illustrated as puerile- living in a puritanical society, she was expected to think and act like an adult. Salem’s conformist ideals resulted in children being expected to, “walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.” The building blocks of Abigail Williams stem from a violent past; the death of her parents, and the context of her parent’s death traumatised her developing mind; affecting her actions towards the people in the village. The events in The Crucible only added stress to her already deteriorating mental health. Her uncle, Reverend Parris, had to act as her legal guardian and instead of teaching Abigail the puritan lifestyle, he was more paranoid over the congregation extricating his position as reverend- his insecurities towards his public reputation led him to express no discernible charity or love for Abigail or his daughter, Betty. During act 1, Parris intimidates Abigail by pointing out, “I have given you a home, child, I have put clothes upon your back…”, Parris is emphasising that without his presence in her life, she would be just a girl, with nothing but her name. Abigail’s lack of ethics and morals lead her to blindly fall down a path, hurting more than just her white name. An absence of a parental figure in her life, which makes Abigail look for love in obscene places.

In the sixteenth century, love was more rational than romantic. The Puritan understanding of marriage was governed by strict laws. To commit adultery was considered a capital offense, if the accused were found guilty- they were immediately penalised, flagellated or seared with enough heat the accused would be left branded. In The Crucible, John Proctor is a recurring theme in Abigail’s life, contributing to her nefarious actions. Proctor accuses Elizabeth of looking only to judge him for his affair with Abigail and not attempting to see the goodness in him, saying ‘justice would freeze beer’. The language of heat and cold signifies the complicated relationship among Elizabeth, John and Abigail. When Abigail and John are alone in Betty’s room, their sexual relationship is foretold. Abigail speaks of their attraction in a depiction of warmth and wintry, “I have a sense for heat, John, and yours has dawn me to my window, and I have seen you looking up, burning in your loneliness.” In these lines, Abigail and Johns’ sense for heat- the euphemism for their sexual passion- directly opposes them to Elizabeth’s coldness. Thus, attracting John to Abigail’s incandescent way of life. However, his attraction falls short, although Abigail is in love with John- or at least the idea of him, he believes that the affair has to come to an end. John says, “…I may think of you softly from time to time, but I will cut off my hand before I reach for you again…”. Abigail is invested in corrupting the Proctor’s marriage, her exasperation is fueled by her childish salacity and compulsion for John Proctor. In regard to their relationship she says, “it’s she put me out, you cannot pretend it were you. I saw your face when she put me out, and you loved me then and you love me now!” When she can not get John to abandon Elizabeth for her, she decides to take matters into her own hands and gain control through manipulating the fears of others. If Proctor didn’t misled Abigail into thinking that their relationship would be anything more than what it was, her desperate attempts for love and affection would have been aimed for one who desired it. Her trust was misled, leaving her mental state even more deteriorated, resulting in her being pressured by those in higher power.

During the Salem witch trials, when someone hypothesised that an affliction or demise of a loved one had been the direct a result of witchcraft, the accuser would lodge a complaint against the alleged witch with local government officials. During the sixteenth centaury, the accused would stand before the stipendiary magistrates, where they were mentally and physically tortured until they either confessed or wailed their innocence. In the crucible, Judge Hathorne arrives to Salem Village, alongside Deputy Governor Danforth. Governor Danforth was assigned to preside over the witch trials, whilst Judge Hathorne was the prosecutor- rather than originally being an impartial judge. Hathorne’s cross-examinations often originated with the postulate of guilt, rather than innocence. Judge Hathorne is described to side with the accusers as it fit with his agenda- regarding his religious beliefs. Judge Hathorne reformed the tradition of previous trials; invigorating those under examination- however, he would not let the accused just confess to witchcraft, but he would also get the so-called witches to disclose potential witches within village. This strategy expedited the rate of accusations in Salem. An accuser that Judge Hathorne particularly sided with was Abigail Williams. Rather than seeing the accusations through, he was known to take the word of a tormented soul, saying, “…I do not mistrust you…”. Proctor brought Mary Warren to court to confess that she, ‘never saw no spirits.’ As the courts began to question Abigail on her role in the trials, she ends up turning on marry Warren to divert the eyes off of her. Pressure mounts as Governor Danforth begins questioning Abigail. When Mary Warren attempts to disclose the truth about Abigail and the needle, Governor Danforth becomes extremely belligerent, saying, “You will confess, or you will hang!”. Figureheads such as Judge Hathorne and Governor Danforth are shown to sincerely believe in the court’s cause; they believe that their work is reflective of a ‘good Christian.’ To accept that Abigail was lying is a repudiation of that, challenging their dogmatic notion of spirituality. Abigail had no recollection of the ripple effects that her actions can cause. During the trials, on numerous occasions, Abigail is pressured by men like Governor Danforth to do their dirty work. To accuse those of innocent nature, such as Mary Warren because of her willingness to please, ultimately leading innocents to hang.

When reading in between the lines of Abigail Williams, her besmirched past and tormented spirit paints her to be the villain in The Crucible. Her quest to feel loved and validated in the village that wants to see her fall, leads her to make choices that make her appear manipulative and thirsty for power. However, being brought up in a home where love was only in the man above and not in her well-being. Abigail finds comfort in a man that wanted nothing more than her body, suffering mental abuse rather than love and then being manipulated by the people she thought she could trust. Abigail may very well not be the damsel in distress in this story, but she has suffered at the hands of countless. 

16 August 2021

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