The Crucible by Arthur Miller: how Abigail Williams Abused her Power
In 1692 in the colonial town of Salem, Massachusetts, talk of witchcraft spread through the villagers like wildfire. These accusations lead to mass hysteria and panic. In Arthur Miller’s portrayal of the Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible, the characters’ actions affect those around them and drive the hysteria. This being said, developments in the characters’ personalities greatly impact the outcomes of the trials. Many characters change significantly throughout the play while several, on the contrary, do not undergo any changes in their character.
Mary Warren, the Proctors’ servant, experiences several changes in her character. Mary initially wants to tell the truth and cries, “Abby, we’ve got to tell. Witchery’s a hangin’ error, a hangin’ like they done in Boston two year ago” (Miller 18). She worries about the consequences of conjuring and dancing. But Mary is weak, timid, and easy to influence and is swept up in the hysteria of the trials. She follows along with Abigail and the other girls, accusing the townspeople of witchcraft. Once she’s a part of the court, Mary seems to redeem her sense of pride and importance. Mary says pointedly, “I must tell you sir, I will be gone every day now. I am amazed you do not see what weighty work we do” (Miller 56). She likes the power it brings her. However, when people who are clearly innocent are accused, like Elizabeth Proctor, Mary begins to question her involvement in the whole thing.
Her guilty conscience can be seen when she makes the poppet for Elizabeth as an attempt at an apology. Mary knows Abigail only brought up Elizabeth’s name in court as revenge, being fully aware of the curse Abby attempts and her affair with Proctor. But when Abigial uses the poppet to further accuse Elizabeth, Mary feels guilty and agrees to go with Proctor to testify in court, saying, “I cannot lie no more. I am with God, I am with God” (Miller 94). Mary, for a brief period of time, tries to come clean about what was really occurring in Salem. After she tells the truth, the girls accuse Mary of witchcraft, and fearing for her life, she lies again, this time accusing Proctor of witchcraft. Mary is submissive and subservient, unable to make choices for herself, she either follows Abigail or Proctor. Mary’s inability to ultimately change for good causes Proctor’s death.
Likewise, Reverend Hale is considered a dynamic character because of the dramatic internal changes he undergoes. When Hale first arrives in Salem, he is dedicated to finding the guilty and bringing them to trial. During his first night in Salem, Hale declares, “Have no fear now- we shall find him out if he has come among us, and I mean to crush him utterly if he has shown his face” (Miller 37). Hale’s purpose to find and expose witches is clear, and as he does so he seems to wish to assert his dominance. Hale acts rather pompously and carries books that are “weighted with authority” (Miller 34). He savors his title as witch-hunter and sees these trials as an opportunity to further his reputation. But as the play progresses, he begins to see what is really happening in the village. Reverend Hale says, “I have signed seventy-two death warrants… I’ll not conceal it, my hand shakes yet as with a wound” (Miller 92).
Listening to John Proctor and others, he becomes convinced that they, not Abigail, are telling the truth, but this realization comes too late as the fate of the trials are no longer in his hands, but Judge Danforth’s and Hathorne’s. His failure to convince the courts that those accused are innocent marks the final change in Hale’s character. Hale, the once confident and officious man, becomes broken and defeated. Once his beliefs in witchcraft waver, his faith in the law and justice follows. He urges Elizabeth Proctor, “I beg you woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie” (Miller 122). Although Hale ultimately realizes the corruptness of the trials, his actions are not in defiance, but surrender. He believes confessing to witchcraft and saving oneself is the lesser of two evils, even though it means succumbing to injustice.
Unlike Mary Warren and Reverend Hale, Abigail Williams remains a static character throughout The Crucible. Abigail is selfish and everything she does is for her own personal gain. She stays egotistical and remorseless throughout the play. In the beginning, Abigail manipulates the girls into lying and threatens them if they do otherwise. Abigail says, “Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night” (Miller 19). In this example, Abigail worries about tarnishing her own reputation and is willing to harm her friends if it means she will be able to avoid punishment. As the play progresses, Abigail continues to lie and decieve to protect herself. When Mary Warren testifies against Abigail in court and threatens to expose her lies, Abigail cries, “Oh, please, Mary! Don’t come down” (Miller 107). Abigail and the other girls would rather abandon their friend and have Mary risk hanging than confess. Abigail never changes these qualities once throughout the play. In the end she becomes a prostitute, carrying the same sinful inherent characteristic she has possessed since the play began.
The changes in these characters prove to be significant to the plot of the play.
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