Explore the ways in which Miller presents the character of Abigail Williams in The Crucible
Miller portrays Abigail as an extremely vengeful and vindictive girl throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, Miller immediately gives us some insight into Abigail’s character. When her cousin Betty falls ill, her uncle pleads with her to tell him what ails her, and if it might have any relation to what they and their friends were doing in the woods the previous night. While Abigail fully knows that any information she could provide might be able to help her cousin, she is unwilling to incriminate herself because their actions could be viewed as witchcraft and vehemently denies doing anything out of the ordinary in the woods, claiming that “it were only sport”. Miller uses this scene to show how heartless Abigail could be. He shows how ready she is to save her own skin even at the cost of her cousin’s life. But Miller also subtly hints at another reason for Abigail’s silence; she does not truly believe that Betty is sick and that she is only pretending. After her uncle’s exit from the room, “she sits Betty up and furiously shakes her”, all the while threatening to beat her.
Then Miller drops a bombshell that might have at first seemed insignificant, but it is something that the reader will realize is vital as the story progresses. He sheds some light on Abigail’s past and history in Act One when she tells Mary Warren and Mercy Lewis; “I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine.” He uses this fact to convey some of the reasons for her outcries against innocents and her cool and calculated plot to murder someone who she considers to be her greatest adversary. He does this to not make her seem too inhumane even though her actions in the later parts of the play are quite despicable and there is no justification for them. Another reason for this revelation is that Miller intended to make the reader feel pity for Abigail by using the pitiful image of a young girl orphaned by the vicious murder of her parents.
But as we go deeper into the story and realize the extent of Abigail’s brutality, Miller intends for the previous image of a wronged orphan to come crashing down to be replaced by another striking image of a cold-hearted murderer. At this point, Miller makes it extremely difficult to sympathize with Abigail by making all her actions seem incomprehensible and completely perplexing. Miller also hints at another reason for Abigail’s cruelty; as an orphan she used to have very low social status and now she is using the witch trials to boost her social status and position in the town because now she feels important and needed, a feeling she enjoys immensely.
He makes it hard for the reader to fully comprehend how twisted she must be to think that she could be with the man she loves by killing his wife. This brings us to one particularly important theme in The Crucible which is Abigail’s capability of redemption. While she may seem almost too evil to be real, if there is one good thing that could be said about her is that no matter how twisted it was, she loved John Proctor with a passion, the same exact passion with which she hated his wife.
Miller weaves the theme of redemption throughout the entire play and leaves the reader struggling with how they conceive Abigail’s character. Miller uses the alternating images of Abigail’s character as a sort of cliffhanger to make the reader question him/herself on what he/she truly believes to be true about her. He makes the reader keep guessing on the final outcome, on the true nature of Abigail’s character, and how she will finally turn out. This is especially important because it keeps readers at the edges of their seats in suspense waiting to find out what happens next.
In the final (Act Three), Miller plays out a magnificently powerful scene that he uses to determine and show Abigail’s true colors once and for all. It is the scene where Proctor exposes Abigail as a whore as a last attempt to prove that she is a fraud in order to save his wife after Abigail accuses her of witchcraft. At first Abigail pretends to be outraged and indignant, denying, even mocking the charges against her because she understands that her whole façade is about to crumble to dust, but in the end, at the moment of truth she turns the tables on him and condemns the one man she truly loves to the gallows by indirectly accusing him of witchcraft as well. To me personally, this was a very memorable and striking scene that had such a huge impact and still resonates within me because the image that immediately came to my mind upon reading it, is one of Abigail holding on to a thin thread that represents the last aspects of all the good in her life, then she severs this thread by letting go of the last person she truly loves and sentencing him to death thereby losing any chance of redemption she might have had.
Another thing that Miller points out about Abigail is her complete lack of morals and disregard for authority. He presents her lack of morals and disregard for authority in Act Three in a conversation she had with Judge Danforth. While it is not the only time her lack of morals was conveyed, it is perhaps the most memorable one. In this scene Judge Danforth says to her, “I bid you now search your heart and tell me this –and beware of it, child, to God every soul is precious and His vengeance is terrible on them that take life without cause.” While this sentence was meant to instill fear in her and poke at her conscience enough for her to tell the truth, it seemed to have no effect on her and she showed no hesitation in callously lying to his face. Miller also intends for the reader to notice that her behavior and mannerisms are very strange for a Christian of that time.