Was Abigail Williams a Victim or Villain?


The Crucible, by Arthur Miller is a play based on the true happenings of 16 Century Salem, (Miller refers to this time as ". . . the spring of the year 1692") a small puritan town in Massachusetts USA, also it is based on his own personal experiences involving Senator McCarthy’s Communist hunt, which many people believed also involved a hunt for the US Governments “Witches” (In this case Communists) these were seen as an imaginary threat, which certain people felt could cause substantial damage, and how these people would do anything to save their reputation. Arthur Miller has came up with a brilliant title, the literal meaning of the word “Crucible” is “A severe test or trial” and “The processing of melting steel and removing the molten slag from the surface, leaving you with the pure steel” and that is exactly what the play is about, the town of Salem is the cauldron, the townspeople are the iron ore and the judges are the refining process, they sift the “evil” from the town leaving it pure and clean, but this whole process needs a starting point, a catalyst, this catalyst is Abigail Williams, a girl history records to be eleven years old, but Miller upped the age to a more family friendly seventeen, the same girl who’s frolicking in the woods led to the death of nearly 20 of her fellow townspeople.


This is a very complex question, if you were to ask me this question and wanted an answer with little thought and reasoning put into it, I would say “Yes, she led to the execution of nearly 20 people, so obviously, she was a villain” upon closer inspection though I see arguments for and against both answers. I will delve more deeply into these results as I go along. First, I will state the changes Miller made in the transition from “Real Life Story” to “Stage Play”, Miller indicates that "dramatic purposes" have caused him to stray from a strict duplication of historical fact. Dramatic purposes included the ability to stage the play (the number of characters, time lapse) as well as dramatic focus. Abigail\'s age, for example is raised from eleven years old to seventeen so she can be a credible object of John Proctor\'s lust and adultery, which are both necessary for the "tragic" nature of the play. Other changes are required by Miller\'s intent to parallel the events in 1692 Salem with the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. For example, in the play, Giles Corey is crushed to death by stones being heaped upon him since he refuses to answer the court (contempt of court). This was indeed Giles Corey\'s fate in Salem in 1692. Where the play and history differ is in the nature of the contempt charge. In reality, Corey refuses to plead innocent or guilty when he himself is accused of witchcraft. In Miller\'s play, Corey is charged with contempt when he refuses to "name names" (i.e. reveal the person who told him of Putnam\'s desire to acquire land through false accusations). This latter helps Miller\'s desire for "dramatic focus" and to create a clearer parallel with the McCarthy hearings, this being the reason for Miller writing the play, he felt there was a severe injustice happening, after being summoned to the appear in front of McCarthy, he was branded a communist because he had been in the same places as other communists. Americans seen Communism as a grave threat and did everything they could to extinguish it, this is the similarity Miller played on the persecution of innocent people t. I am using both the historical evidence and Millers play to gather evidence, but I am basing the character of Abigail on the real life person, the minor, not the 17 year old woman in Miller’s play.


To argue that Abigail Williams was a victim, I could easily point to the one moment which would have almost certainly scarred her for life; the murder of her parents.


Abigail is an orphan put in her uncle\'s care. She is without a conscience, perhaps caused by seeing :


"Indians smash my dear parents\' heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night. . .