What is Abigail Williams' role and significance in the Crucible?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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On one level, Abigail Williams represents the maliciousness, and the absurdity of the allegations of witchcraft. Her accusations, initially made to save herself, ruin people's lives. So in this sense, she is the embodiment of the play's central message. She plays on the fears of the people around her, and seems to enjoy the attention and the spectacle that she has created. 

On the other hand, Abigail is also a misfit, a person whose need for sexual gratification, embodied in her probably apocryphal affair with John Proctor, places her at odds with the moral foundations of her society. While she starts the craze through her accusations, that society is only too willing to believe her, and put them into action. So it is not Abigail alone who is responsible for the deaths of those hanged for witchcraft. As an actual historical figure, Abigail's role in the witch trials has attracted much interest. In her book In the Devil's Snare, Mary Beth Norton uses Abigail, whose parents were killed by Indians on the northern Massachusetts frontier, to support her argument that the trials were affected by lingering anxieties related to brutal war with the Wabenaki.

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