Children tend to weave tales of monsters hiding under their beds, and they refuse to go to sleep until every inch of their room has been checked. As children grow older, the stories become less about fear and more about the need for attention. Teenagers, unlike children, tell fabricated stories in an attempt to be noticed by anyone who is willing to listen. This search for attention is not uncommon amongst younger people.
Abigail Williams’ need for attention, however, is anything but common. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, shows how the mistreatment of a seventeen-year-old girl with a haunted past can lead to a insatiable need for attention. Though Abigail may come off as the antagonist in The Crucible, further inspection makes it clear that this is not the case. When one examines her troubled past and how she was treated by John Proctor, it can be seen that Abigail Williams was one of the many victims, and not the villain, of The Crucible. Abigail was exposed to horrendous things early on in her life. After witnessing the gruesome death of her parents, it goes without saying that effects on the young girl would be tremendous. One of the main effects that Abigail would have suffered through is the long-lasting psychological issues that she would have surely faced.
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Seeing intense violence at a young age can severely damage how a person views other people, because one of the first things they were ever taught was violence. This is the exact issue that can be seen in Abigail. This can especially be seen when Abigail herself says “I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine” (Miller, 20). While she’s using her experience as a threat, it shows much more than that.
It also shows the connection between her willingness to harm others with the tragedy that she witnessed as a child. The issues that her trauma caused, as childhood trauma does for many people, made it hard for to emotionally connect with other people. This lack of connection made empathy impossible for her, which made hurting others incredibly easy. The psychological issues that Abigail faced, while important, are not the only thing to be examined from the death of her parents. Instead of growing up with the love and attention that parents are meant to give their children, she was left to be raised by an uncle who had “no interest in children” (Miller, 2). This shows that Abigail was raised with little to no attention, leaving her with a craving for it that, along with her lack of empathy, led to her willingness to lie to all of Salem.
While Abigail’s past most definitely played an important role in her actions, her affair with John Proctor played a much bigger one. When he cut off their affair, it left her feeling a swirl of different emotions that encouraged her to accuse the women of the town of being witches. First, she felt powerless. Despite her continuous attempts at convincing Proctor to stay with her, he ended their relationship.
This made her realize that, though she had thought otherwise, she held no power over the man. Second, Proctor made her feel vengeful. Abigail already felt hatred towards Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, but that hatred would have increased even more from the jealousy that she must have felt. This hatred is seen during the argument that Abigail and Proctor have when she says “She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman, and you bend to her!” (Miller, 23). This clearly shows that Abigail felt such an intense hatred for the other woman that she was willing to do whatever it took to get revenge. She went as far as to stab herself with a needle and plant a voodoo doll in the Proctors’ house in order to convince the town that Elizabeth was a witch.
Lastly, the discontinuation of the affair made Abigail feel an even more intense need for attention. The attention that she got from Proctor was enough to keep her from seeking attention elsewhere, but when he took it away, she felt the need to find it by any means necessary. After receiving no attention during her childhood, and then losing the only attention that she had ever gotten, this was the final straw for her.
Combining the effects of Abigail’s past with the effects of her affair with John Proctor show that she was not the antagonist of the story. In fact, these effects show the exact opposite. Losing her parents left Abigail in a situation where she was raised without a decent amount of attention, which made her search for it wherever she could find it. The first place she came across this attention was John Proctor, who used her to satisfy his lust and tossed her away when he no longer felt the need for her. This put her in a position where she felt powerless, vengeful, and an even greater need for attention. In order to solve for all of these feelings, she did something that she knew would give her power over Salem, revenge on the Proctors, and more attention than she could ever dream of. Her lack of empathy from watching her parents’ brutal murder made this act all the easier, because she did not have a guilty conscience to stop her. All of this combined made the accusations of witchcraft her perfect solution.
When the linear progression of how she came about this solution is examined, it is clear that no part of it was truly her fault. She was a seventeen-year-old who, after being used by a much older man, felt powerless and as though nobody cared enough to give her the attention that she deserved. Abigail Williams was a child who made decisions that she should not have made. However, when one examines her tragic past along with the way that John Proctor mistreated her, it is clear to see that she is not the antagonist of The Crucible. Abigail was nothing more than a teenager who wanted the attention that she was never given.
She was a victim of circumstance and lust, not a villain of the Salem Witch Trials.