What is Abigail Williams' significance in The Crucible?

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Abigail Williams is Reverend Parris's niece who ends up getting caught dancing naked in the forest and reciting charms with Tituba and several other women. Her actions drive the plot of the play, and she is the catalyst that stirs the hysteria surrounding the witch trials. Abigail is depicted as a callous, malevolent individual who begins accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft in order to avoid punishment. She also physically threatens the other girls to corroborate her story and immediately takes the leading role in the witch trials. Her affection and lust for John Proctor motivates her to also accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft in an attempt to be with John. Abigail takes advantage of her authoritative position in Salem's court and enhances the hysteria in the community by continuing to accuse innocent citizens of witchcraft. When Mary Warren and John Proctor challenge her in act three, she reveals her "endless capacity for dissembling" by feigning a supernatural assault and accusing Mary's spirit of attacking her. Once she discovers that there has been a rebellion against the court in Andover, she flees Salem to avoid the repercussions of falsely accusing innocent citizens. Overall, Abigail Williams is depicted as the play's antagonist. She drives the plot by falsely accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft.

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Abigail, in many ways, seems to embody the worst aspects of human nature: our selfish, self-serving, impulse-gratifying side that cares nothing for the feelings and experiences of others. She threatens her "friends" when she fears that they might reveal the witchcraft in which she participated when they were in the forest; she "drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor." She promises that if anyone breathes "the edge of a word" about what she did, she will come to them in the middle of the night with a "pointy reckoning" (a knife, one imagines). She threatens murder in order to protect herself. In addition, Abigail is willing to murder Elizabeth Proctor in order to regain her sexual partner, John Proctor, with whom she imagines herself to be in love. She is willing to murder other innocents in order to continue to enjoy the power and popularity she's acquired as an accuser. Abigail never seems to concern herself with the needs or families or even the lives of those she accuses. She is so manipulative and horribly deceitful that she even plunges a needle a few inches into her own belly so as to provide spectral evidence against Elizabeth. She represents the worst aspects of our natures, and she demonstrates how quickly they can get out of control, how easily we can be led by them when we have something to gain.

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On one level, Abigail Williams represents the maliciousness, and the absurdity of the allegations of witchcraft. Her accusations, initially made to save herself, ruin people's lives. So in this sense, she is the embodiment of the play's central message. She plays on the fears of the people around her, and seems to enjoy the attention and the spectacle that she has created. 

On the other hand, Abigail is also a misfit, a person whose need for sexual gratification, embodied in her probably apocryphal affair with John Proctor, places her at odds with the moral foundations of her society. While she starts the craze through her accusations, that society is only too willing to believe her, and put them into action. So it is not Abigail alone who is responsible for the deaths of those hanged for witchcraft. As an actual historical figure, Abigail's role in the witch trials has attracted much interest. In her book In the Devil's Snare, Mary Beth Norton uses Abigail, whose parents were killed by Indians on the northern Massachusetts frontier, to support her argument that the trials were affected by lingering anxieties related to brutal war with the Wabenaki.

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What is the function of Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

Abigail Williams functions as a main antagonist who drives the play's cataclysmic events forward.  

Initially, Abigail Williams is completely averse to having anybody in the town even whisper about the possibility of witchcraft. She is adamant to Parris that she and the other girls were only dancing in the forest, saying, 

Uncle, we did dance; let you tell them I confessed it—and I'll be whipped if I must be. But they're speakin' of witchcraft. Betty's not witched.

As details about the girls' activities are revealed to the audience, we learn they also drank blood. Many of the girls are very worried, but Abby convinces them to keep quiet about everything. She is determined not to let any rumors of witchcraft survive, threatening,  

And mark this. 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. 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!

Had Abigail kept up that kind of attitude, the rest of the play's events would have played out very differently.  

Abigail doesn't keep trying to keep witch rumors away, though. After seeing the attention heaped upon Tituba for naming a supposed witch, Abigail immediately chimes in that she saw other people with the Devil, too.  

Hale: God will bless you for your help.

Abigail rises, staring as though inspired, and cries out.

Abigail: I want to open myself! They turn to her, startled. She is enraptured, as though in a pearly light. I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!  

From this point forward, Abigail is the leader of the girls who cry witchcraft, and she accuses whoever she feels like. At first, I believe Abigail enjoys the attention and reverence given to her. Later, Abigail realizes she can use her position of power to have Elizabeth Proctor killed. If Elizabeth is dead, Abigail believes she can resume her affair with John Proctor.  

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