What are the direct and indirect characterizations of Abigail Williams in Miller's The Crucible?
Unlike with other characters in his play The Crucible, an allegory of the so-called “Red Scare” that swept America during the early years of the Cold War, Arthur Miller is more circumspect with regard to early characterizations of Abigail. In fact, he deliberately provides little information about this character other than her age – seventeen – leaving the rest for the viewer or reader to decipher on the basis of her actions and descriptions provided by other characters. Consequently, direct characterizations of Abigail, beyond her age, are provided by her detractors as the witch hunt she has precipitated begins to grow out of control. Consequently, perhaps the best direct characterization that one can find within Miller’s text comes courtesy of John Proctor’s protestations regarding Abigail’s lies and deceit:
PROCTOR, breathless and in agony: It [Abigail] is a whore!
My wife, my dear good wife, took this girl soon after, sir, and put her out on the highroad. And being what she is, a lump of vanity, sir- He is being overcome. Excellency, forgive me, forgive me. Angrily against himself, he turns away from the Governor for a moment. Then, as though to cry out is his only means of speech left: She thinks to dance with me on my wife's grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore's vengeance, and you must see it now.
Not flattering, but it is direct.
Indirect characterizations of Abigail, on the other hand, are plentiful. As a major character in the play, and the source of the town’s panic regarding the presence of supernatural and evil forces in its midst, Miller’s descriptions of Abigail’s actions provide no shortage of crucial insights, as when, cognizant that her playful activities in the woods have been misinterpreted as potential witchcraft, she tries to compel cooperation from her cousin:
ABIGAIL: (Betty whimpers.) Betty? Now, Betty, dear, wake up now. It‘s Abigail. (She sits Betty up, furiously shakes her.) I‘ll beat you, Betty! (Betty whimpers.) My, you seem improving. I talked to your papa and I told him everything. So there‘s nothing to.
BETTY: (Betty suddenly springs off bed, rushes across room to window where Abigail catches her.) You drank blood, Abby, you drank blood!
ABIGAIL: (Dragging Betty back to bed and forcing her into it.) 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: (Slaps her face.) Shut it! Now shut it! (Betty dissolves into sobs.) 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 can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down! (Betty cries louder. She goes to Betty, sits L. side of bed D.S. of Mercy, and roughly sits her up.) Now you... sit up and stop this! (Betty collapses in her hands.) (Enter John Proctor.)
Another example of an indirect characterization of Abigail, albeit a considerably more kind one, involves her initial reaction to the entrance of her now-former lover John Proctor:
MERCY: (Rising, crossing to entrance. Titillated. Being aware of their relationship.) I‘d best be off. I have my Ruth to watch... Good morning, Mister Proctor. (Mercy sidles out. Since Proctor‘s entrance, Abigail has stood absorbing his presence, wide-eyed.)
With this description, Miller suggests Abigail’s infatuation with Proctor, the full measure of which will soon become apparent.