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Many of Abigail Williams’s strengths are also her flaws, or lead to them. Her original motivations are to acquire the love and security she needs so deeply, and when she does not get them, those are replaced with desire for revenge. Abigail was traumatized by her family’s slaughter, which left...


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Many of Abigail Williams’s strengths are also her flaws, or lead to them. Her original motivations are to acquire the love and security she needs so deeply, and when she does not get them, those are replaced with desire for revenge. Abigail was traumatized by her family’s slaughter, which left her destitute, homeless, and orphaned. Forced to take a job, she sought a safe haven in the Proctor’s home. Instead, the teenager ended up in a sexual relationship with her much older boss, John Proctor.

Arthur Miller presents Abigail initially as a tenacious, wily survivor. Although the audience soon becomes aware that her motives in participating in the conjuring in the woods were less than admirable, it gradually develops throughout the play that she has become obsessed with destroying not only Elizabeth Proctor and John but also their unborn child. Her childish fantasy that her relationship with John was love is shattered not only by his rejecting her but also by learning that Elizabeth is pregnant. Abby turns her considerable talents to her misguided purpose; strong-willed and single-minded, she manipulates first the other girls, then the men who run the court. She is resolute in her endeavor to ruin their lives and, ultimately, to cause their deaths.

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One of the challenges The Crucible presents 65 years later is how to reconcile Arthur Miller’s characterization of Abby as a wily seducer and John as a decent man with what today audiences would understand as serious sexual misconduct. Although it could be argued that children reached adulthood earlier in the 17th century so that Abby was effectively an adult, the difficulty remains that John Proctor was both her employer and, because she was orphaned, a father figure.