What are the strengths, flaws, and motivations of Abigail Williams in The Crucible?

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Many of Abigail Williams’s strengths are also her flaws, or lead to them. Her original motivations are to acquire the love and security she needs so deeply, and when she does not get them, those are replaced with desire for revenge. Abigail was traumatized by her family’s slaughter, which left her destitute, homeless, and orphaned. Forced to take a job, she sought a safe haven in the Proctor’s home. Instead, the teenager ended up in a sexual relationship with her much older boss, John Proctor.

Arthur Miller presents Abigail initially as a tenacious, wily survivor. Although the audience soon becomes aware that her motives in participating in the conjuring in the woods were less than admirable, it gradually develops throughout the play that she has become obsessed with destroying not only Elizabeth Proctor and John but also their unborn child. Her childish fantasy that her relationship with John was love is shattered not only by his rejecting her but also by learning that Elizabeth is pregnant. Abby turns her considerable talents to her misguided purpose; strong-willed and single-minded, she manipulates first the other girls, then the men who run the court. She is resolute in her endeavor to ruin their lives and, ultimately, to cause their deaths.

One of the challenges The Crucible presents 65 years later is how to reconcile Arthur Miller’s characterization of Abby as a wily seducer and John as a decent man with what today audiences would understand as serious sexual misconduct. Although it could be argued that children reached adulthood earlier in the 17th century so that Abby was effectively an adult, the difficulty remains that John Proctor was both her employer and, because she was orphaned, a father figure.

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Abigail's strengths include determination and intelligence.  She is determined both to win back her former lover, John Proctor, as well as to exact revenge on any in her community who have impugned her reputation.  It seems likely that, once Abigail saw the power granted to Tituba to make accusations, she realized that she, too, could possess such a power, as she began, cleverly, to make accusations immediately afterward herself.  She is dedicated to John, so much so that she attempts to rid him of his wife, Elizabeth, by accusing her of witchcraft.

Abigail's flaws include dishonesty and selfishness.  Out of her dedication to John and her determination to justify herself to the community, Abigail tells  lies that result in the death and imprisonment of many people.  She selfishly puts her desire to be with John over the well-being of countless others, essentially murdering them to gain power for herself.

Abigail is motivated by love/lust and a desire for power.  When Parris asks her, at the beginning of the play, if her name is entirely "white" in the town, Abigail becomes instantly angry and defensive, insisting that there is no "blush" on her reputation (a lie).  She wants to gain power in the community so that she can punish those she believes to have wronged her as well as to eliminate those who she believes stand in the way of her relationship with John.

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