In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Abigail Williams is portrayed as a manipulative young lady who leads a group of girls into a deception that explodes into accusations, convictions, and executions for witchcraft in their town of Salem. Abigail is clearly the instigator and plotter behind this outbreak of hysteria, for she has some ulterior motives. She wants to cover up the silly things she and her friends have been doing, but she also wants John Proctor, the man with whom she has been having an affair.
Early in the play, in act 1, when Reverend Parris is questioning Abigail about what has happened to his daughter, Betty, he brings up the fact that Abigail has recently been fired from service by the Proctors. Abigail firmly maintains that it is not her fault. Elizabeth Proctor hates her, she complains. She is “a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman,” and Abigail will not work for her. She will not be a slave. She will not have her name soiled in the village, she insists. Elizabeth Proctor is “a gossiping liar!”
The problem is, of course, that Abigail had been carrying on with John Proctor, and Elizabeth knew it. Abigail is the one who is lying and sniveling and well on her way to becoming a bitter woman. Here she manipulates her uncle into feeling sorry for her, even asking him if he begrudges letting her live with him. She is trying to make him feel guilty and to confuse him, and it works.
A short time later, Abigail and Betty are together with Mercy Lewis and Mary Warren. These girls have all been out in the woods, dancing and practicing various types of charms with Tituba. Abigail tells Mercy exactly what she must say when the girls are questioned. When Betty cries out that Abigail drank blood in a charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor, Abigail hits her and yells, “Shut it! Now shut it!” She then proceeds to tell the other girls exactly what they should say and should not say. She also threatens them that if they “breathe a word, or the edge of a word” about anything else that went on, “I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.” Abigail is clearly assuming the role of a leader in this bunch of girls. She is in control, and they will follow her lead or else.
Abigail is not even beyond attempting to manipulate Deputy Governor Danforth. When Mary Warren wants to tell the truth and admits that Abigail and the other girls have been lying this whole time, Abigail openly threatens the judge, telling him, “Let you beware, Mr. Danforth.” She warns him that he is not immune to the “power of Hell,” and in so doing, she suggests that if she wants to, she can even accuse him of witchcraft. Then she goes back into her bewitched act, taking the other girls with her.
Abigail Williams is very skillful at manipulating people to get what she wants. In Act I, although John Proctor has put an end to their brief affair, Abigail knows that he still has feelings for her. And she plays on this, using a form of emotional blackmail to rekindle their relationship:
I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!
We also see from this quotation that Abigail plays very much the leading role in her affair with John Proctor. Her roles of leader and arch-manipulator go together.
I am but God's finger, John. If he would condemn Elizabeth, she will be condemned.
Emotional blackmail having failed, Abigail sets out to destroy John's wife, Elizabeth. Only she hides behind God in carrying out her wicked revenge. Doing this makes it harder to challenge her. After all, if she's the instrument of God as she says she is, then how it is possible to contradict her? It's no longer enough for Abigail to play on people's emotions; she must now also manipulate their fervent belief in God to get her own way.
Late in Act I when Abigail is trying to manipulate the other girls into agreeing with her that all they did was dance in the woods, she tells them "Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, abou 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." Here she is basically threatening to kill the other girls if they reveal anything about her desire to have Tituba cast a spell to kill Goody Proctor so that she may replace her as John's wife.
Another example is in Act III when Abigail's character has been called into question by Judge Danforth, as a result of the claims of Mary Warren and John Proctor, Abigail even dares to threaten the judge, hoping to manipulate him into believing her rather than Mary and John. She asks him "Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think ou be to be so might that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it!" She seems to be warning him that she may just accuse him of witch craft.