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Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible

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Abigail Williams can be seen as a victim of her society in The Crucible because she is a young woman with limited power and agency in a patriarchal, puritanical community. Her actions, while manipulative and harmful, are partly a response to the oppressive societal norms that restrict her freedom and opportunities, leading her to use deceit as a means of exerting control.

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Which quotes show Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible?

Abigail Williams is far from being a sympathetic character, but there is plenty of evidence in the play to suggest that her position is an unenviable one and that she is a victim of the stifling society in which she lives.

After her parents' violent death, she was accorded the status of a poor relation in the home of the paranoid and tyrannical Reverend Parris, whose obsessive questioning of her at the beginning of act 1 shows how burdensome her position is. He reminds her of his charity in a way that must be very galling:

I have given you a home, child, I have put clothes upon your back - now give me an upright answer.

Finally, she has to ask him, with ill-concealed resentment:

Do you begrudge me my bed, uncle?

It is clear that life in Parris's house is miserable for Abigail, since she is a victim of his character defects as well as of the wider society that oppresses both of them. Moreover, her only escape was to accept the status of a servant in the Proctors' house.

She had no opportunity to form relationships with boys or young men of around her own age and ended up in an ill-fated affair with a married man twice her age (for which society and Elizabeth will blame her more than him). If there is any truth at all in her description of his behavior, which he does not deny, she can scarcely be accused of initiating the affair against his will:

I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I came near.

Her dialogue with John about their affair reveals the boredom and hypocrisy which have been the constant background to her life in the suffocating conformity of Salem:

I never knew what pretence Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!

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Which quotes show Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible?

Though she proceeds to turn society upside-down with her lies and false accusations of witchcraft, Abigail Williams is still subject to its norms and conventions. Indeed, on a number of occasions, she gives the distinct impression that she finds society's rules burdensome and oppressive. On one such occasion, she expresses her anger at the lowly position in society she's been forced to accept while working as a housemaid for the Proctors:

There be no blush about my name...[Elizabeth Proctor] 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!

There is not just personal animosity in these remarks (though there's certainly plenty of that). There's also real bitterness and hatred towards a society that limits the life chances of young women like Abigail. To some extent, Abigail's instigation of the witch-craze is her way of getting back at a society that looks down on people like her.

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Which quotes show Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible?

Another early interaction helps to show how Abigail has been a victim of her society.  When she speaks alone with John Proctor in act one, he rebuffs her renewed advances toward him; despite any lingering feelings he may have for Abigail, he will not resume their affair.  When she threatens his wife, Elizabeth, he threatens to whip her.  Abigail responds, 

I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart!  I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!  And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes?  I will not, I cannot!

We must not forget that Proctor is in his "middle thirties," while Abigail is seventeen, still a child in many ways.  Any sexual relationship between them nowadays would be considered statutory rape because Abigail is too young to legally consent to sex.  Obviously, this was not the law then, but their relationship still seems somewhat predatory as a result of their age difference and her youth.  Thus, she is victimized by John (even if she does not recognize it).  

Further, Abigail talks about the hypocrites of Salem, presumably referring to people who profess to be God-fearing Christians but who, in reality, do not act properly.  It sounds as though she has been harmed by them in some way, though it is not entirely clear to us how.  She identifies their hypocrisy, presumably something she was taught by Proctor, and seems to feel victimized by the community's "lying lessons."

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Which quotes show Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible?

In The CrucibleAbigail is a victim of the society that fails to help her recover from her parents' violent death.

Abigail does plenty wrong in The Crucible.  She demonstrates little hesitation in manipulating the truth and others in order to get her way.  However, in one of the first exchanges with the other girls, she displays a significant aspect to her characterization. Abigail is staying with her uncle, Reverend Parris, because of her parents' death.  It is clear that this was a very violent episode in her life.  When she has to wrangle the will of the other girls and stop them from confessing, Abigail threatens them with physical harm:   "And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!"  Abigail experiences the psychological effects of violence.  The experience of her parents' death has lingered within her. To a certain extent, people in Salem are to blame for not understanding the effect this would have had on a child.  Abigail is a victim of this violence and is a victim to a social order that fails to account for this traumatic impact on her psychological development.  This does not excuse what she does. However, it does show that people such as Abigail are not "born" the way they are, but rather made through specific interactions.  

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Which quotes show Abigail Williams as a victim of her society in The Crucible?

Although Abigail Williams is a young woman living in an austere, male-dominated society that expects her to remain humble, obedient, and silent, she does not conform to her society's expectations. Abigail is depicted as manipulative, ruthless, and controlling. In act one, Abigail displays her aggressive nature by threatening the other girls while they are alone in Betty's room. Abigail tells them,

Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. (Miller, 20)

In addition to threatening the other girls to follow her lead, Abigail begins falsely accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft and becomes a powerful, respected woman in Salem. In act two, Elizabeth Proctor tells her husband,

The town’s gone wild, I think. She [Mary Warren] speak of Abigail, and I thought she were a saint, to hear her. Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel. (Miller, 53)

As the leading official of Salem's court, Abigail ruthlessly wields her authority. She accuses and condemns anyone she desires and no one is safe. In act three, Deputy Governor Danforth questions the validity of her visions, and Abigail responds by saying,

Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it! (Miller, 108)

Once again, Abigail wields her authority and threatens individuals without any consequences. Her comments to Danforth reveal the extent of her power and authority over Salem's community and court. The fact that Abigail is such a revered, powerful young woman proves that she is not a victim of Salem's austere, male-dominated society. She refuses to conform to society's standards, exercises her personal agency, and quickly ascends the social ladder.

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Can you identify three ways Abigail Williams is a victim of her society in The Crucible?

Abigail Williams is one of the most complex characters in The Crucible. While she clearly exercises bad judgment as she lies, encourages other girls to lie, and aims to kill the Proctors and their unborn child, Arthur Miller also presents numerous factors about her life in relation to social conditions that could account for this malicious behavior.

Abigail suffers from what today would probably be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, intertwined with survivor guilt. As a child, she witnessed her entire family killed by Native Americans in a raid on their settlement.

Because she had no family to take her in, the orphaned Abigail had to go out to work at an early age. The society of the day had no safety net for children. Deeply lonely, she longs for a family to provide the security of the real family she lost.

While employed by the Proctors, John Proctor had a sexual relationship with her. As she was just a teenager and he was her boss, she was the victim of sexual abuse of a minor.

Caught up in her imagined world, she convinces herself that she and John were in love, when he breaks it off with her, she cannot let go and decides to take revenge. This sets in motion what proves to be an almost unstoppable chain reaction.

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