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To What Extent was Abigail Williams Responsible for the Salem Witch Trials?

In Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” Abigail Williams plays a big part in the Salem witch trials. Although this is so, there were many other factors and people who contributed to the Salem witch trials and the subsequent tragic deaths of those accused. Factors such as the community, the court, and other factors related to personal vendettas and situations played an equally big part in the horrible events of the Salem witch trials. The play “Crucible” was written in the 1950s, although set in the late 1600s in Salem village Massachusetts. The play is based on real-life events, through the use of legal records some of the facts have been changed but most of them are similar to the actual events.

Abigail Williams a 17-year-old orphan seems to be the centre of the events that took place in 1692 in the small town of Salem. In the play, she has a lot of influence on the events. At the beginning of the play, we find Betty Parris in bed unconscious and later realise the cause. Abigail Williams and her friends Mercy Lewis, Ruth Putnam, the slave girl Tituba and Abigail’s cousin Betty had been dancing in the woods. Mary Warren another friend of Abigail’s was watching the others, where Abigail drank a blood charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor, who we meet later. “You drank blood Abby” “You drank a charm to kill John Proctor’s wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!” Unfortunately for them, Reverend Samuel Parris had seen them doing this.

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The state of Betty and Ruth both unconscious is what started the suspicion of witchcraft. “Uncle, the rumour of witchcraft is all about…” This made Abigail and the others very scared because the punishment for witchcraft was hanging. “Witchery’s a-hangin’ error….” So they decided to lie or should we say Abigail decided they should lie. Abigail appears to be the leader of the group as she is the one who prompts the others to do and say things. She is a bully and a liar. “Now look at you. All of you. We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters. And that is all. And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or edge of a word, about the other things and I, will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.”

When Reverend John Hale arrives, he becomes suspicious of Betty’s behaviour and asks Abigail if she or Betty had drunk any of the “Soup” in the kettle which they were brewing while they danced in the woods. Abigail is quick to say no to this accusation but rather blames it on Tituba. She had blamed Tituba for calling the devil “I never called him! Tituba, Tituba…..” and she says that a frog had jumped into the soup and that “Did Tituba ask you to drink it? She tried but I refused.” But when Hale asked her this question “Have you sold yourself to Lucifer?” she realises that this could easily turn on her that she will be accused of practising witchcraft. When Tituba comes in Abigail is quick to accuse her so that the suspicions are turned.

“She made me do it! She made Betty do it!” “She makes me drink blood!” When Tituba tries to explain “You beg me to conjure! She begs me to make charm-“Abigail swiftly cuts her off “Don’t lie! She comes to me while I sleep; she’s always making me dream corruptions!” This shows how scared Abigail was of being found out, as she surely knew that she would hang for her doings. To save herself, she blames Tituba and when Tituba is questioned she is forced to name people who are working for the devil. She names two people from the village and then Abigail comes in with more names pretending that she had been afflicted too and then Betty starts accusing people of witch too.

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It was confirmed that the devil had attacked Salem and that anyone could be a witch. As we can see all this started due to Abigail’s actions and manipulations and that it was no more than Abigail’s games to protect herself. Abigail’s input into the witch trials which started after this confirmation is tremendous she was there in the court with her friends and companions who accused anyone they wished due to their personal vendettas. One of the accusations that Abigail Williams made was of Good Elizabeth Proctor being a witch. She gives a great performance and takes full advantage of certain actions and facts. She had, had an affair with Elizabeth’s husband John Proctor and although had been dismissed from her service at the Proctor’s house where she used to work, she was still in love with John Proctor. She wanted Elizabeth Proctor to die so that she could take her place.

That is why, as we found out earlier, she drank that blood charm showing what a vindictive sort of a nature she had. Since that didn’t work she uses these witch trials to her advantage and accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft. She plans the whole thing very carefully making great efforts to make her accusation believable as Elizabeth Proctor had a very good name in the village. She used the poppet which Mary Warren (she works at the Proctor’s) made at the court. Mary had put the needle she used to make the poppet into the belly of the poppet for “safekeeping” as she said when she was questioned. According to Mary, Abigail had been sitting next to her. Since she had been sitting next to Mary she saw her putting the needle into the poppet. Abigail used this fact and stuck a needle inside her own belly and made sure that people saw her with the needle stuck inside her. In fact, she does this at a time where it would have been totally unexpected.

She stuck the needle right at the dinner table, hiding the needle beneath the table. When Cheever explains what happened this is what he said “She sat to dinner in Reverend Parris’s house tonight, and word nor warning she falls to the floor. Like a struck beast, he says and screamed a scream that a bull would weep to hear. And he goes to save her, and, stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he draws a needle out. And demandin’ of her how she comes to be so stabbed, she testifies it was your wife’s familiar spirit that put it in” This makes her accusation strong because anyone would think that a sane person would not do a thing like that to themselves just so they accuse someone. It seems too extreme a thing to do. It doesn’t seem possible unless the person is suicidal or has in fact been attacked by a spirit, which is what Abigail said. That she had been attacked by Elizabeth Proctor.

In fact, Abigail made sure that all throughout the witch trials no one came in her way and if they did she used her skills in acting and her initiative to deal with the problems. As we look at Act 3 we see that Mary confesses to the fact that she and the others had in fact been lying, about seeing spirits and being attacked by them. When Abigail is asked, she denies it and puts on such a performance that Mary takes her confession back and goes as far as to say “Abby, Abby, I’ll never hurt you more!” But we can’t hold Abigail Williams entirely responsible for her actions, as we find that Abigail had had a dreadful childhood. She saw her parents being murdered in front of her. “I saw Indians smash my dear parents heads on the pillow next to mine….” So her being an orphan, it couldn’t have been easy to live without her parents since childhood, not only that the girl had seen her parents being murdered which as we all know can be traumatising for the best of us, let alone a child.

Having Parris as a guardian couldn’t have helped things either. So from these facts, we can gather that Abigail wasn’t a normal person like you and me but may well have been psychotic. We also know that she had been seduced by a 35-year-old, married man, John Proctor. We know she had fallen in love with him. Some of the things she does it out of her love for John Proctor “I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put and put knowledge in my heart!” like accusing Elizabeth Proctor, although extreme, but out of love. The lies she tells, about her dancing and doing nothing else, were lies to save herself from being hanged. She did not want to die and so for that reason she lied. So you can see from this that Abigail did play a huge role in the witch trials but also that she cannot be held solely responsible for what she did.

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There were also the other people who blew the whole thing out of proportion such as Ann Putnam, and the Walcott family. We see that as soon as Ann Putnam enters Parris’s house near the beginning of the play, one of the first things that she says in reference to Betty Parris’s condition is “How high did she fly? How high?” She starts jumping to the extreme conclusion “I’d not call it sick; the devil’s touch is heavier than sick” She and her husband just assume that witchcraft is at play “Thomas, Thomas, I pray you, leap not to witchcraft.” To some extent, the community itself was to blame. The community was a theocracy and a strict one at that. Extremely religious, inflexible, and very rigid about religion. The rules and regulations were of extremity too such as dancing was a whipping offence. We also find that they are quite judgemental.

“In the book of record that Mr Parris keeps, I note that you are rarely in church on Sabbath day……twenty-six times in seventeen months, sir. I must call that rare…” this can cause people to be rebellious and there is also the fact that not everyone feels the same way about religion and forcing people would cause resentment between the community itself, and that is exactly what we find happening. Let’s take the Walcott’s. They blamed Martha Corey for being a witch. This was due to the fact that she had sold them a pig and it died. When they asked for their money back saying that she had given them a sick pig, she refused and said “Walcott, if you haven’t the wit to feed a pig properly, you’ll not live to own many” After that, the Walcott’s claimed that they couldn’t keep a pig alive for more than four weeks and so accused her of being a witch.

The whole witchcraft business turned into something to settle old grudges. We even find Ann Putnam accusing Rebecca Nurse, who as we know was a very religious and god-fearing woman. She accuses her because of her jealousy of Rebecca having so many children and grandchildren and not one of them died. She accused Rebecca of murdering her babies with her powers as a witch. So we find that the community was very much involved in accusing and taking advantage of these witch trials as a way of solving old grudges and putting them to use for their personal vendettas. There was also the mistake of John Proctor. He should have gone to the court and told them at the beginning what Abigail had told him before the whole thing got so out of hand. “The towns mumbling witchcraft.”

“Oh, posh! We were dancin’ in the woods last night, and my uncle leapt in on us. She took a fright is all” This shows that Abigail admits that there is no truth in the witchcraft rumour. By the time he went and told them, they had already thrown a lot of people in jail for witchcraft. For them to listen to Proctor would be admitting that they had made a mistake and that in itself would mean that other problems would arise for them. Proctor’s affair with Abigail had also somewhat caused these witch trials. Abigail, due to her infatuation with Proctor had gone to the woods where she drank a blood charm to kill his wife and was discovered by Parris. That was the start of the rumours of witchcraft.

There was also the mistake of Elizabeth Proctor. If she had not lied, the court would have been overthrown. “Is your husband a lecher?!” “No sir” “She spoke nothing of lechery, and this man has lied!” The lie caused the fact that Abigail had confessed to Proctor that she had been dancing and that there was no witchcraft done on them, to be dismissed as a lie told by Proctor. So once again the witch trials were back on. Rebecca Nurse seemed to be the only person who understood what was going on. “I have seen them all through their silly season” She knew that what Betty and Ruth were doing was just their childhood mischiefs. In fact, Abigail, when talking to Proctor, had said “She took fright, is all” about Betty’s condition. So we can see that not all of the community was bad.

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And of course, we cannot forget the legal system “the court’s” input into the trials, as they had held them. First of all the rule that if you confessed to witchcraft you would not be hanged but if you didn’t then you will hang, is totally preposterous. This means that even if people were innocent, which we know they were, they would have to confess to save their lives. If people confess then it would be known that witchcraft is about in Salem and so there would be no talk of overthrowing the court. In fact even after finding out that the accusations of witchcraft had been a hoax they were not ready to admit a mistake and went on further and executed some more people. “I cannot think they would run off except they fear to keep in Salem anymore. Mark it, sir, Abigail had close knowledge of this town….” This shows that Abigail had been lying.

So the question is how much was it Abigail’s fault that these witch trials took place. After gathering sufficient evidence from the play, one cannot be certain and say that Abigail was to blame entirely because we know it is not entirely true. We know there were other factors and people who supported and played a big part in the trials. We also know that a lot of it was to settle old grudges and to deal with individuals personal vendettas. Still, we cannot deny the fact that Abigail was the main reason for these witch trials. The drinking of the blood charm and dancing and heaven knows what else and then being discovered started the talk of witchcraft and after that, one after the other, the drastic events of the Salem witch trials unfolded.

In my opinion, I feel that Abigail was to blame somewhat although I would not blame her entirely. Living in a strict community and having seen terrible things happen in front of her as a child could definitely not have helped her behaviour and mentality. I myself would also hold responsible the court and people like the Putnam’s and the Walcott’s and also Parris, to some extent, for the trials. Not really for being a cause for starting them as such, although I do think they played some part, but mainly for contributing to them after they had started. As for Abigail, her behaviour cannot be excused, yet we can try and understand why she did what she did. We know that a lot of it had to do with her obsession with Proctor but if we were to look just beneath the surface we would find that, at least in my opinion, that Abigail was somewhat mentally psychotic in some ways and really needed a good and loving home to support her after the murder of her parents to have prevented her from her terrible deeds.

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To What Extent was Abigail Williams Responsible for the Salem Witch Trials?. (2021, Jun 22). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from