How does Arthur Miller illustrate that man’s innate evil and darkness is exposed in extreme situations through the characterization of Danforth and how he reacts to the hysteria of the trials?

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omconnelly eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A prime example of the exposure of man's innate evil and darkness is Abigail William's role in The Crucible. From the beginning of the play, it is evident that Abigail William's actions are a result of her callous and irreverent nature. From her affair with John Proctor, to dancing naked in the woods, and to her false accusations of witchcraft that completely change the community, she embodies evil. 

Abigail Williams is not the only person to blame in her affair with John Proctor. As a married and older man, he is responsible for the indiscretions that occur between the two. It is Abigail's immaturity and her selfish nature that lead her to try to force John to leave his wife to be with her. Her rejection compounded with her uncle catching her dancing (naked) in the woods, is the impetus for her cruel and evil deeds. She is more concerned about her own well-being than she is about the consequences of her actions. Her main priority is vengeance and she is willing to manipulate the entire town to achieve her purpose. 

Abigail begins her accusations in an effort to hide her own actions: drinking blood to put "a charm" on John Proctor's wife as evidenced below:

ABIGAIL, pulling her away from the window: I told him everything; he knows now, he knows everything we—

BETTY: You drank blood, Abby! You didn't tell him that!

ABIGAIL: Betty, you never say that again! You will never—

BETTY: You did, you did! You drank a charm to kill John Proctor's wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!

ABIGAIL, smashes her across the face: Shut it! Now shut it! [...] Now look 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 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 have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down! (I.113-132)

Abigail's first victim is the unsuspecting and loyal Tituba. From there, she unleashes a wrath that takes down any enemy she may have as well as many innocent victims. Although Abigail can put an end to the madness, she allows it to spin out of control and contributes to the witch hunts through her dramatic testimony and acting out at court proceedings. When Mary Warren is willing to testify "it were all pretense" in John Proctor's defense, Abigail "sees" a yellow bird in the rafters and acts as though Mary Warren has sent a specter to attack her. 

When the town is upon the precipice of ruin, Abigail steals from her uncle and absconds into the night. She leaves the town divided, innocent people dead, and her former lover in jail awaiting a death sentence. 

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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