Which one character is most responsible for the deaths of the innocent in Salem?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous commenter that Abigail Williams is, undoubtedly, the character most responsible for the deaths in the witch trials. However, I think one could make a good argument that Deputy Governor Danforth is, likewise, very responsible. She is the main accuser, but he is the one who gives legal weight to her accusations; she names names, but he believes her (or claims to). In Act Three, he tells Francis Nurse, "a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between . . ." Problematically, Danforth interprets people's fear of the court or any concern that the girls are dishonest as evidence that they could be working against the court. He believes that, if someone is innocent, then they have nothing to fear from the court, and we've already seen that this is flatly untrue.

Moreover, Danforth tells John Proctor, "We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment." Unfortunately, he is completely wrong here, too. The accusing girls are dissembling, led by the arch liar, Abigail, and her minion, Mercy Lewis. Danforth is so proud and so protective of his own authority and power that he cannot consider the possibility that he is being fooled by the children.

Speaking of pride, he also asks Corey, Proctor, and Nurse, "Do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature? . . . And seventy two condemned to die by that signature?"  He says this as though it were something to be proud of! The fact that he has condemned four hundred to jail and over seventy to death isn't something he should pride himself on. He can be proud of his experience, his education, and what have you, but to glory in the imprisonment and executions of individuals seems callous.

Then, he tests John Proctor's honesty in the court by publicly interviewing Elizabeth Proctor, his wife, and trusting in her honesty, as per his testimony that she does not lie. Rather than understand that his wife might lie in order to protect his reputation, Danforth takes her statement—that she only fired Abigail because she was displeased with the girl—as truth, and John's—that he had an affair with Abigail and that this is why Abigail lies now—as false. It's pretty ironic that he gets it wrong, considering his confidence in his own discernment.

In Act Four, we see that, though it is possible that the individuals scheduled to hang are innocent and that their hangings could cause a rebellion in the town, Danforth's primary concern is still his own authority. He says, 

I will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement. Them that will not confess will hang. Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this —I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.

Danforth cannot see anything but his own power. He will not consider doing anything that could reduce his power and authority, even if it is the better, the juster, thing to do. To say that he would rather hang thousands than listen to concerns about the corruption of the court says quite a bit. His concern for human life is small, if it exists at all; in this way, then, is he very responsible for the deaths in Salem. If he cared less about maintaining his power and more about finding the truth, the trials might have gone very differently.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While many different characters in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" pointed fingers at innocent other villagers, Abigail Williams is most responsible for the deaths which took place in the play. Although Abigail did not accuse all of those arrested and tried on witchcraft charges, she was the first character to "cry witch."

The hysteria that broke out in Salem, in the play, was all based upon the fact that Abigail could not face the fact that she had been caught by Reverend Parris dancing in the woods with Tituba. While not alone, there were many other girls with her, Abagail feared that the truth about her asking Tituba to create a potion to kill Goody Proctor would become common knowledge in the village. Abigail's name had already been soiled by Goody Proctor firing her after finding out about the affair between her husband (John Proctor) and Abigail. If it were to come out that Abigail had danced naked and drank blood in order to kill Goody Proctor her name would be even more blackened.

Therefore, in order to save herself, Abigail began the accusations by stating that Tituba was a witch. From there on out, the accusations began to fly. Not only did she name Tituba as a witch, Abigail named many other Salem women as witches as well.

While she was not responsible for all of the accusations, Abigail certainly put it into the minds of the other villagers that accusations would be taken very seriously by the courts. Therefore, Abigail Williams was (by far) the most responsible for the many deaths in Salem.

swiz67 | Student

Abigail. She starts the blame game, and she uses it to her advantage in order to point the finger ar someone else.