What choices does Abigail make that affect the outcome of her situation in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Abigail makes one consistent choice that changes her fate in The Crucible by Arthur Miller--every chance she gets, she chooses to lie rather than tell the truth. While there are plenty of smaller choices she makes throughout the play, they are all connected to her choice to consistently lie rather than tell the truth.

Miller reveals Abigail's character to us before she ever speaks a word in the play. His description of her is simple:

a strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an endless capacity for dissembling.

Notice he says her capacity for lying (dissembling) is limitless, and it does not take us long to believe it as we watch her in action, so to speak. 

Though having an affair with John Proctor which was a choice Abigail made, it has been seven months and what she is doing now is telling a series of lies in an effort to save herself from punishment and somehow get Proctor back.

Let's look at Abigail's lies and deceits:

  • She tells her uncle she was only dancing in the forest last night; we learn that she also drank blood and tried to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor.
  • She lies to Parris when she says she still has an untarnished reputation in town.
  • She lies to Parris about the character of Elizabeth Proctor.
  • She coerces the other girls who were with her in the forest last night to lie, too.
  • She lies to the court virtually every time she speaks there.
  • She boldly lies to the court when Mary Warren claims that all the girls have been lying and faking.

When everything begins to unravel a bit for Abigail, she changes her tactics from outright lying to evading and avoiding the truth--also known as dissembling, something Miller warned us about from the beginning. Notice how she avoids answering a direct question in this exchange with Danforth:

Danforth: Is it possible, child, that the spirits you have seen are illusion only, some deception that may cross your mind when -

Abigail: Why, this - this - is a base question, sir.

Danforth: Child, I would have you consider it -

Abigail: I have been hurt, Mr. Danforth; I have seen my blood runnin’ out! I have been near to murdered every day because I done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people - and this is my reward? To be mistrusted, denied, questioned like a -

Danforth, weakening: Child, I do not mistrust you -

Abigail, in an open threat: Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits Beware of it!

By the end of this exchange, she has lied by omission and has tacitly threatened a judge. She does exactly the same thing after Proctor confesses to their affair and Danforth asks her about it. Her unwillingness to tell the truth (along with Proctor's soul-baring revelations) moves the Reverend Hale to leave the proceedings in disgust, knowing that Abigail and others have made a mockery of the courts.

The only time Abigail is honest is when she is talking alone with Proctor; otherwise, at every turn, Abigail deliberately chooses to lie instead of tell the truth. Because of her selfish persistence in lying both to avoid her own punishment as well as to ensure that Proctor is hers, she is responsible for more than twenty deaths and her own shameful fate. Her lies have a much greater impact than the truth so many others speak in this story, and she has no one else to blame for her pitiful situation. Looking back, I wonder if she might have preferred that public whipping to her eventual ignominious fate.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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