In The Crucible, what is the message that Miller sends through this character: Abigail?
Throughout the play, Abigail Williams is portrayed as a malevolent, manipulative individual who enjoys her position of authority as she falsely accuses innocent citizens of witchcraft. Despite Abigail's flaws and wicked nature, the audience can sympathize with her difficult situation. As a child, Abigail witnessed Indians murder her family, which is an extremely traumatic experience. Abigail also lives with her greedy, callous uncle, Reverend Parris, and has been neglected by John Proctor following their affair. Abigail also lives an oppressed life as a young woman living in the austere community of Salem. It is important to remember that Abigail initially accuses Sarah Good and Goody Osburne of witchcraft to avoid being punished for dancing in the woods. In the overture of The Crucible, Miller elaborates on the social status of young women like Abigail by writing,
"He [Reverend Parris] was a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them. He regarded them as young adults, and until this strange crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak" (3).
Given Abigail's background and strict environment, Miller's message is directed more towards the austere, oppressive community of Salem than it is towards Abigail Williams. She is essentially a traumatized, marginalized member of Salem's community who initially avoids punishment by blaming innocent citizens. As the play progresses, Abigail enjoys her new position of authority throughout the community, which is one reason why she continues to falsely accuse people. Overall, Miller uses Abigail's character to illustrate the negative, harmful effects of an oppressive, rigid community that marginalizes citizens and publicly punishes them for minor infractions.
On the surface, it would seem that Abigail is the primary cause of the accusations, the hysteria, the trials, and everything that leads to Salem's downfall. However, Miller shows that it is the culture of Salem, not Abigail, that is to blame for all of these things. Abigail and the other girls are being mischievous in the woods as adolescents do. When they fear the retribution of their fanatic, religious elders, they agree to make up stories about witchcraft. It is the strict religious culture of Salem, not the actions of the girls, that leads to the hysteria of witchcraft.
Abigail has no parents. Parris provides for her but seems to give no emotional support or affection. Therefore, Abigail acts out (with the other girls) and she seeks affection from other adults, namely John Proctor. While Abigail does do malicious things, she is a product of her circumstances and the culture of Salem. It would be easy to condemn Abigail but considering the lack of parental guidance and love she's gotten, she deserves some sympathy. She acknowledges this in Act One during her conversation with John:
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!
Other than John, who eventually casts her aside, Abigail never gets the support/love she needs from Parris or anyone else in Salem.