The True Scapegoat: Abigail Williams Not At Fault

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Protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, both characters that are easily spotted in a story. In fairytales heard as children, the villains always pay for their crimes, because they are the people at fault. Yet, when reading The Crucible, the villain of the story is a teenage girl named Abigail, and it feels as if all the blame can lie on her shoulders, but is she really to blame? In the play written by Arthur Miller based off the Salem Witch Trials, the town of Salem is overrun by a witch scare and hysteria runs rampant, with many people being jailed and killed. Abigail is the girl to accuse numerous people for being a witch, and was the one to start accusations. However, she was nowhere near the first person to speak of witchcraft, and was actually only saying what those around wanted to hear; she was saying what could get her out of the situation, out of fault. Abigail is not at fault for the events in The Crucible because she was only giving into the assumptions of the people, the prosecutor Danforth was biased, and the trials were overall extremely faulty.

In the beginning, the assumptions of the townspeople about what was happening in the town are made clear; a rumor of a young girl named Betty being involved in witchcraft, flying over a barn. Abigail was known to be with Betty and a group of other teen girls in the forest, seemingly to be doing nefarious acts. So, when Abigail was first questioned by Reverend Parris alone, and her explanations were repeatedly shot down, in came Mrs. Putnum with assumptions and accusations of witchery in the town. In response, Abigail began her ‘confession’ of witchcraft occurring in the town soon after. Abigail says after being accused of participating in witchcraft, “Not I, sir- Tituba and Ruth,”(173). She points out Tituba in particular here for good reason, she was a slave who people did not trust or care for. Tituba was the easiest for her to pass the blame onto and get out of punishment. Abigail indicated many people in the play for being a witch, all of whom being already under scrutiny of the town or certain individuals. Also, throughout the first act of the play, Abigail continues to change her story from person to person, so not to get in trouble, and to conform to the likes and assumptions of the people around her. As the investigating reverends continued to snowball the story of witchcraft with leading questions, Abigail’s story goes from common dancing, to drinking blood, to accusing people of witchcraft that were outcasts. The text reads, “I didn’t see no devil!…I saw Goody Sibber with the Devil!” (187,189). Abigail continues to spout names of other she saw other the devil, with the other girls backing her up, all of them afraid to get in trouble. These girls are all teenage and younger, impressionable and fearful, and in the Puritan society they lived in, they were put under enormous pressure. Abigail was only conforming under the assumptions of those around her, and had no way to understand the scale of the events these actions would cause; that’s not the only reason she is not to blame.

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Another reason the Salem Witch Trials was not Abigail’s fault was prosecutor Danforth. Danforth was in charge of the witch cases and was extremely biased and cruel, even convincing the judge into bending to his will. Danforth only looked out for his own well-being and so when Abigail’s actions were questioned, he tried all he could to debase them. The Crucible reads, “The pure in heart need no lawyers. Proceed as you will,”(212). Danforth even denies that John Proctor needs a lawyer after he brought forth his testimony, leaving Proctor unsure and weak, not knowing when he can rightly defend himself or know when things were unjust. Danforth’s actions allowed, and even fueled, the trials to continue; without him, things may have ended differently.  


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