In Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, one character which seems to simultaneously defy societal conventions whilst succumbing to them is Abigail Williams, following her affair with John Proctor.
Firstly, Abigail seems cowardly as she avoids the court of law through her empty accusations of witchcraft to deter from her own sin, as seen in the following quote in which she details her involvement yet quickly replaces this by more accusations, a smart manipulation of the progression of her language. This however could be seen as brave as she openly contests her crime, absolving herself of sin by revealing the others, despite these accusations being false. One indication of her success in bravery is that it serves as an example for the other girls, leading to the ensuing chaos of finger-pointing.
“I want to open myself! . . . I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him, I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!” – Abigail Williams, Act 1
Yet Abigail’s manipulation seems cowardly as it is characterised by threats of violence, and demonstrates her malevolent nature unearthed through her loss of innocence in her adulterous affair with John Proctor. She uses the belief that she might know some real witchcraft to keep the other girls in line. This is suggested in the following quote in which Abigail uses her crime against the other girls, using the imagery of colour. The colour ‘black of some terrible night’ uses its connotations of black magic and something more sinister to threaten them. Additionally the idea of ‘reddish work’ provokes imagery of blood, used in black magic. She doesn’t hesitate to use her power to accuse them of witchcraft if their loyalty proves untrue, alike with Mary Warren.
“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 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, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!” – Abigail Williams, Act 1
Furthermore, this seems naïve as this arises out of a fantasy in which Abigail blurs the line between appearance and reality, seeing herself, a 17-year old girl as Proctor’s true love and an ideal choice for a wife despite his marriage to Elizabeth, and her indifference towards condemning innocent people to die to fulfil her plan exposes this.
On the other hand, Abigail seems to subvert expectations of a patriachal society as she doesn’t suppress her desires. When she finds herself attracted to Proctor whilst working in the Proctor home, she pursues it and seduces him rather than repenting and refusing to acknowledge this attraction. This goes against the Puritanical mindset that her adulterous attraction constitutes a sin and this may be seen as courageous in a society dominated by men.
So is Abigail brave to the point where it’s cowardly or cowardly to the point where it seems brave? It can be viewed either way.