Describe Abigail's affair with John Proctor in The Crucible.

In The Crucible, Abigail Williams was employed by the Proctor family until Elizabeth Proctor began to suspect an inappropriate relationship between her husband, John, and Abigail. When John confirmed her suspicions, Elizabeth immediately fired Abigail. Though John still has some feelings for Abigail, he is determined not to reenter into an adulterous affair with her.

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Miller does not go into specific details regarding Abigail Williams and John Proctor's affair, but their brief romance has a profound impact on the play and is a catalyst for the witch trials. Seven months prior to the start of the play, Abigail was employed as a housemaid in the Proctor home. John was attracted to Abigail Williams and committed adultery in a moment of weakness. Miller does not provide details regarding the place, time, and length of their affair, but it is implied that their romance was brief. Elizabeth Proctor learned about the affair and immediately fired Abigail Williams. Abigail struggles to find work after being fired and views Elizabeth as a "sniveling," bitter woman.

Abigail deeply resents Elizabeth's reaction and continues to possess strong feelings for John Proctor, who is guilt-ridden and filled with remorse and shame for his significant transgression. As an austere Puritan, John Proctor recognizes himself as a fraud and sinner. Although he still cares about Abigail, he controls his desires and refuses to entertain her advances. In addition to John's negative feelings towards himself, Elizabeth contributes to his guilt by distrusting him and acting cold in his presence. As the play progresses, Abigail attempts to get rid of Elizabeth by accusing her of witchcraft and attempted murder. John Proctor ends up confessing to lechery in front of Salem's court as an attempt to undermine Abigail's authority, but he is arrested when Elizabeth lies on his behalf.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 17, 2020
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Abigail Williams is the seventeen-year-old niece of Reverend Parris. It was a common practice, in Puritan households, for a young woman like her to be employed by a local family, helping out with the household by caring for the children, cleaning, preparing the food, doing the washing, and so on. It was kind of like being a wife and mother in-training.

Seven months prior to the start of the play, Abigail had been working in this capacity for the Proctor family. However, Elizabeth Proctor eventually began to suspect an inappropriate relationship between Abigail and her husband, John, and so she confronted John about it. When John confessed to having an affair with Abigail, Elizabeth fired her.

Since that time, John has recommitted to his marriage and vowed never to break his vows, or one of the Ten Commandments. Though he admits to having some lingering "soft" feelings for Abigail, he says that he will "cut off [his] hand" before he ever touches her again. Though John has moved on, it is clear that Abigail is still very much in love with John. She is bitter toward Elizabeth and says Elizabeth is spreading "lies" about her in the village. Parris, however, wonders why, if Abigail's reputation is so spotless, no one has tried to hire her for their own family since she was let go by the Proctors.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 17, 2020
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The affair is the main reason why the witch hunt began.  Abigail very much wanted to be with John Proctor.  However, girls were to remain pure.  Certainly, adultery was forbidden but for a young girl to have an affair with a married man would have been the most horrible crime of all.

Although we never really get the details of the affair, we know that Elizabeth and John were having troubles in their marriage.  John succumbs to his desires albeit momentarily.  When he realizes what he's done and tells Abigail the affair is over, she is scorned, jealous and hateful.  She has to find a way to get back at him.  How does she do this? 

When the group of girls is caught in the woods in what is perceived as acts of evil (dancing, singing, laughing...how could they??), the sensible people think they must have been overtaken by spirits.  Perhaps in an attempt to hide the truth, the girls continue this thinking.  Eventually, women throughout the town are accused of being witches.  John's wife is among them.

It seems that this is in keeping with the common thinking:  if I can't have him, you can't either. 

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Proctor's affair with Abigail is an important plot device. Ordinarily for the Puritans, adultery was a serious offense. It was considered to be not only a sin but as a criminal act, for which the accused could be whipped or otherwise publicly humiliated or even executed. (See the article at the Washington Post link below.)

However, the judges overlook Proctor's true confession of a crime he really has committed and hound him to confess to a false accusation. And they completely ignore the fact that the person who has so falsely accused him is the partner in his adultery. By putting the two crimes in comparison, Anderson is emphasizing how rabid and arbitrary the witch hunts had become.

Visit the links below for more information.

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Not much is really revealed about the affair itself. Miller seems to be more concerned with the consequences the affair had on the witchcraft trials. Elizabeth implies that it began when she was sick for a long time and "cold" to her husband. Abigail still wants to be with John Proctor and that may be one of the reasons she puts the needle in the poppet which leads to Elizabeth's arrest. John Proctor seems more embarrassed by the affair but is willing to reveal it in order to save his wife. Ironically, this leads to John Proctor's arrest and things to not work out according to Abigail's plan.

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