Why does Abigail start accusing people in act one of The Crucible?

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Since her parents were killed, Abigail has spent her life as a poor relation in the house of the Reverend Parris. This cannot have been an easy or agreeable position, but it has given her a first-class training in the arts of dissimulation. Abigail has had to lie to her uncle regularly and often, to the point that she now lies by default and avoids the truth as a matter of preference.

When Hale is questioning Tituba, Abigail sees an opportunity to deflect attention from herself and her dancing in the woods. She pretends to repent of her own sin in dancing for the devil and then moves on, with all possible speed, to accusing others.

It may be that Abigail has already noticed Betty stirring when she begins her string of accusations. In any case, Betty quickly "picks up the chant," as Miller's notes direct, lending support to Abigail's accusations. Deflecting attention from her own transgressions is clearly Abigail's principal motive—and it may initially be her only one—but she is devious enough to consider other reasons for making these accusations, even in act I.

Abigail has tasted power in the effect her beauty has on John Proctor, and it is clear that she enjoys being powerful. He accusations make her, for a brief period, the most powerful person in Salem. She manipulates even the judges, Danforth and Hathorne. She has also been humiliated by the people of Salem for her tendency to laugh in church and for her hasty departure from the Proctor household. It cannot have been long before Abigail realized that these accusations were a perfect way of taking revenge on those who slighted her. Both these motives could have been in her mind from the very beginning, along with her determination to save herself.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 19, 2020
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First and foremost, Abigail starts falsely accusing people of witchcraft in order to save her bacon. She was the one cavorting around with the other girls in the forest that night, trying to raise the spirits of the dead. For the God-fearing Puritans of Salem, such behavior is tantamount to witchcraft, and Abbie knows full well that she'll be in serious trouble should her behavior ever become public knowledge. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, as they say, and Abbie figures that if she starts accusing people before they accuse her, then she'll have a head start over them.

Abbie also starts accusing people of witchcraft because it gives her a sense of power. And this is a whole new feeling for her. A young orphan without any real social status, Abbie is a marginalized figure in Salem society.

Yet all that changes as soon as she starts pointing the finger of suspicion. All of a sudden, a nobody has been magically transformed into a very important person about town. Making false accusations gives Abbie a real sense of power. People are afraid of her; the judges of the court hang on her every word; and revenge can be carried out against all those who've wronged Abbie in some shape or form, starting with John Proctor.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 19, 2020
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In Act One, Parris chastizes Abigail for dancing in the forest with his daughter. Parris continually asks Abigail if she was involved in any type of witchcraft, but Abigail swears that she was not conjuring spirits. The Putnams then arrive and begin to discuss the rumors of witchcraft. After the Putnams and Parris leave Betty's room, Mary Warren tells Abigail that the entire countryside is talking about witchcraft. Mary fears that all the girls, including Abigail, will be accused of being witches. When Reverend Hale arrives and begins questioning Abigail about dancing in the forest, she begins to feel pressured and blames Tituba. When Tituba enters the room, Abigail swears that she made her drink blood. After Tituba begins confessing, Abigail senses an opportunity to further distance herself and begins accusing other Salem citizens of witchcraft. Essentially, Abigail does not want to be punished for dancing in the forest which happens to be a serious offense in Puritan society. She begins to blame other citizens in order to avoid suspicion of being a witch and realizes that her accusations are taken seriously. Abigail continues to manipulate the Puritan court by accusing other citizens in hopes of destroying Elizabeth so that she can have a relationship with John Proctor. 

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To save herself. She knows that the penalty for practicing witchcraft is death by hanging. At first, she sees Tituba as the easiest target, but then things get out of hand. Eventually, thirty-nine people are accused.

Abigail becomes heady with power. Although she probably began her accusations to save her own neck, she comes to enjoy the thrill of having the town scramble around and loves watching the panic that ensues. As her power grows, she begins to wield it more skillfully (in her thinking), believing that she can get rid of her nemesis, Elizabeth Proctor. Elizabeth is her former lover's wife, and with her out of the picture, Abigail is sure the prize, John, will be hers.

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