In The Crucible, what is the significance of this passage? "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."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The following dialogue is given by Abigail Williams and directed at Mary Warren, Betty Parris, and Mercy Lewis:

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.

This threat comes as the girls are discussing what to admit to doing in the forest. Mary, an innocent character, wants to come clean about their actions in the forest. Mary knows what they did was wrong in the eyes of the Puritan community; however, she believes that being honest will benefit them the most in the end.

Abigail does not feel the same way. After participating in an adulterous relationship with John Proctor, Abigail knows she has much more at stake to lose in the eyes of the community if this relationship were to come to light. As a result of that, Abigail believes it’s in her best interest to only admit to dancing in the forest and not admitting to the witchcraft.

Abigail makes a play with this threat to assert power over the other girls. She tells the girls that if they crack and admit to the witchcraft, she will stab them at night. The girls understand this is a legitimate threat because of Abigail’s previous experience with violence when her parents were murdered by Native Americans.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is at this moment in the play, in act 1, that Abigail becomes the self-appointed leader of the girls who were in the woods the night before conjuring spirits with Tituba. She is taking control of the narrative that the girls will present to the village's authorities when they begin their interrogation. Abigail insists that they will admit only that they were dancing and submit themselves to the punishment of whipping, if it comes to that. Abigail explicitly threatens Mary Warren, Mercy Lewis, and Betty Parris by telling them, in essence, that if any of them confesses to conjuring spirits, she will come to them in the middle of the night and stab them.

The other girls are cowed by Abigail; they know that she has slept with John Proctor, that she wanted Tituba to conjure a spell to kill Elizabeth Proctor so that she could marry John, and that she had been exposed to violence when she saw her parents brutally murdered by Indians. The other girls are much less hardened than Abigail and were likely only in the woods with Tituba for a little entertainment, not for a real desire to practice witchcraft or conjure spells to hurt other people.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, Abigail Williams, Mercy Lewis, and Mary Warren are alone in Betty’s room when Betty mentions that Abigail drank blood to put a charm on Elizabeth Proctor and Mary expresses her concern that they will be charged with witchcraft and hanged. Mary pleads with Abigail to tell the truth and admit to simply dancing in the forest. As the tension rises and Mary begins to panic, Abigail reveals her malevolent, violent personality by threatening each of the girls. Abigail explains that she has witnessed some dark, horrible deeds at night is willing to kill any of the girls if they attempt to reveal what they did in the forest.

By issuing a serious threat, Abigail establishes herself as a wicked, violent character who is determined to conceal her secret and willing to kill anyone attempting to stand in her way. Mary is a timid, frightened young girl and immediately backs down when Abigail threatens her. As the play progresses, Abigail will begin falsely accusing innocent citizens to avoid punishment and develop into a popular, esteemed figure throughout Salem. The other girls fear Abigail and follow her instructions by keeping their mouths shut. In addition to portraying Abigail as a cruel, intimidating figure, her threats also establish an additional motive for the girls to lie. The audience recognizes that the girls are afraid of Abigail and desire to remain on her good side. Eventually, John Proctor forces Mary to tell the truth in front of Salem’s authority figures before she breaks down and accuses him of colluding with the devil.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In my text, the Penguin edition of the play, this quotation of Abigail's is on page 20.  She speaks these lines shortly after Mary Warren arrives and immediately after Betty Parris wakes up and shouts that Abigail drank a charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor.  

Abigail's threat is in response to Mary's claim that they have to tell what all they were doing in the forest: conjuring spirits and practicing spells and charms.  It wasn't just dancing; it was a great deal more and much worse to the Puritan eye.  Mary says, "Abby, we've got to tell.  Witchery's a hangin' error [...]!  We must tell the truth, Abby."  However, Abigail doesn't want to tell the truth because she doesn't want to get in trouble and she especially doesn't want anyone to know that she tried to kill Goody Proctor.  Further, when Betty reveals what Abigail has done (attempt the murder of an innocent woman because she loves this woman's husband), Abigail has had enough.  She threatens to visit the girls in the black of night, with her knife, so that she will "make [them] wish [they] had never seen the sun go down!"  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial