In act two, what kind of influence does Abigail have, though she does not physically appear?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act Two, which focuses, in large part, on showing us the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor in the wake of John's affair with Abigail, we see that there seem to be three people in this marriage: John and Elizabeth, of course, and also Abigail.  She seems never to be very far from either of their minds. Stage direction tells us that when John kisses Elizabeth, she merely "receives it" and "with a certain disappointment, he returns to the table." There is an awkwardness between them, as though they are both aware of the elephant in the room, but neither wants to bring her up: Elizabeth, because she doesn't want to make John defensive, and, John, because he doesn't want to think about the sin he committed any more. Further, the stage direction says,

She is watching him from the table as he stands there absorbing the night. It is as though she would speak but cannot. Instead, now, she takes up his plate and glass and fork and goes with them to the basin. Her back is turned to him. He turns to her and watches her. A sense of their separation rises.

As the act progresses, Elizabeth describes Abigail's newfound authority in the town and how, when she walks, the "crowd will part like the sea for Israel." Abigail need only scream and point her finger at someone and they are arrested for witchcraft. However, when John reveals that he had been alone with Abigail when she told him that Betty's illness had nothing to do with witchcraft, the tension between John and Elizabeth comes bubbling up. She accuses, and he shouts, and they both are clearly angry and uncomfortable and in pain. Without even being in the home, Abigail is a major presence in the Proctor household.  

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By act two, Abigail's influence over the proceedings has already begun to snowball.  She started everything off with her initial accusations of witchcraft, and a hysteria has developed.  By act two, all of Salem is suspicious of witchcraft wherever they look, which is why people like Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are "mentioned" in the witchcraft proceedings.  

I know not if you are aware, but your wife’s name is - mentioned in the court.

That is the power of Abigail Williams.  She doesn't even need to accuse anybody; she simply needs to somewhat mention a name, and the court is obligated to pursue that person as already guilty.  The worst part of the entire thing is that no amount of proof offered by the accused can prove their innocence.  The only thing someone like Rebecca Nurse could do to save their life is to confess.  For Rebecca, that is not an option, because she knows it is a lie.  The double standard of this situation smacks readers in the face, because Abigail also cannot offer up any kind of proof.  But that doesn't matter, because of the fear of witchcraft that she has already created.  

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The Crucible

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