Writing a research paper on Abigail from The Crucible

Arthur Miller's play The Crucible is a dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials, one of the most shameful examples of religious hysteria in American history. A central character, and the play's antagonist, is Abigail Williams. Loosely based on the real Abigail Williams, whose lies were responsible for the deaths of 20 innocent people and the imprisonment of over 150 more, she is a complex and malevolent character who is often the subject of academic papers and essays. When writing a paper on her the following points should be considered.

Who is Abigail Williams? Williams, both in the play and in reality, was the niece of the local minister, Samuel Parris. In reality she was eleven years old when she began her murderous games, but in the play she is 17. Like her greedy and selfish uncle, she is generally unpopular among the townspeople but has influence as the minister's relative. Apparently possessed by a supernatural force, she and a number of her friends begins to accuse local people of witchcraft. At first they accuse slaves, to establish her credibility; after "confessions" are extracted their influence grows and they begin to accuse more respectable citizens. Finally Williams accuses Elizabeth Proctor, whose husband, John, is a local farmer.

What motivates her? The real Williams appears to have simply liked having people killed, but in the play she is cold and calculating. While working as a servant on the Proctor farm she had a sexual relationship with John Proctor and has now become convinced that he loves her. Her aim is to have Elizabeth killed, in the belief that Proctor will then marry her, but to do this she must cover her tracks; if she simply accuses Elizabeth people will wonder why. Her method is to create a witchcraft hysteria, relying on the credulity and fanaticism of the devout Puritans.

Does the character achieve redemption during the play? In a word, no. Despicable to the end, Abigail steals a considerable sum of money from her uncle and absconds on a ship as her first victims are about to be hanged. At no point does she show remorse for what she has done, even when it is clear that Proctor does not love her. One of her friends accuses Proctor himself and he is arrested and sentenced to death; Williams is content to let it happen.

The Crucible is a powerful condemnation of the evils of fundamentalist religion and Abigail Williams is an unusually intense antagonist. Most fictional villains have either a defining event that made them what they are or achieve some sort of redemption. Williams, on the other hand, is simply an unrepentant, amoral monster. Her selfish motivations and utter ruthlessness make her an easy character to write about.

Posted by December 6th, 2016