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In Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials, “The Crucible,” the character of Abigail Williams is the catalyst for a chain of events that will result in the deaths of 20 people, executed for the “crime” of practicing witchcraft. A sympathetic figure in that she was orphaned and now lives with the Reverend Parris and his family, including nine-year-old daughter Betty, and clearly occupies a lower rung on the local socioeconomic ladder than most of the rest of the town, her efforts at extricating herself from a series of embarrassing events leads to the allegations for which so many of Salem’s citizens are put to death. Early in “The Crucible,” Reverend Parris, struggling to consolidate his position in Salem and to earn the respect of his parishioners, confronts Abigail about her and Betty’s activities in the woods, and about Abigail’s failure to land a job seven months following her dismissal by the Proctors. Unable, or unwilling, to explain the real reason for her dismissal and failure to find work – she was having an affair with her employer, John Proctor, a respected member of the community whose wife, Elizabeth, discovered the adultery in her midst, leading to her dismissal – Abigail attempts to explain her failure to find a new job on exaggerated expectations of her duties as a housekeeper. In the following exchange from Act I, Reverend Parris questions Abigail regarding this matter:
Parris: Abigail, is there any other cause than you have told me, for your being discharged from Goody Proctor’s service? I have heard it said, and I tell you as I heard it, that she comes so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so close to something soiled. What signified that remark?
Abigail: She hates me, uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman!
Parris: She may be. And yet it has troubled me that you are now seven month out of their house, and in all this time no other family has ever called for your service.
Abigail: They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them.
It will require the accelerated chain of unfortunate events before John Proctor will muster the courage to confess his sin of adultery with Abigail in an unsuccessful effort at derailing the tragic events unfolding in Salem. It was that adultery that led to Abigail’s dismissal from the Proctor household, but she clearly feels she cannot admit to such an act when questioned by her “uncle,” Reverend Parris. Instead, she takes the easy way out of her bind by suggesting that Elizabeth Proctor had unrealistic expectations for a housekeeper, at least for a Caucasian housekeeper.
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