The sinful sexual relationship in which John Proctor, a married local farmer, and Abigail Williams, the seventeen-year-old niece of the town minister, engaged in some seven months prior to the start of the play is the private sin that is at the heart of the accusations and hysteria. Abigail still has passionate feelings for John, though his wife had guessed at the affair and fired Abigail, who was employed as a servant in their home at the time. John even admits that he still has "soft" feelings for Abigail, but he vows that he will never touch her again and that their relationship is well and truly over.
Abigail desperately wants to reunite with John and is willing to do just about anything to make this happen. She badmouths Elizabeth, she attempts to do witchcraft in order to kill Elizabeth, and, finally, she accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft in order to get rid of her so that Abigail can take her place as John's wife. When she sees the power Tituba, the woman enslaved by Reverend Parris, acquires by accusing two local women of witchcraft, Abigail seems to realize that anyone who makes such accusations will wield enormous power, no matter how relatively powerless they have been in society. This is when she begins making the accusations that will eventually lead to her accusation of Elizabeth Proctor, John's wife.