The Crucible, by Arthur Miller tells a story of the witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts, and how it affected everyone in their society. The city of Salem was and is known for their history of sorcery. Two women whose characters are portrayed to seem to contrast each other. One woman is basically characterized in the book as “good” and the other woman as “evil.” There is so much judging of character when Arthur puts these women in a black and white, “good’ and “bad,” categories, it becomes almost ironic. Miller portrays that illogical reasoning or thinking is dangerous. He explored the characters and motives of the two main women, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor, paralleling the message of the story as a whole. And I began to realize that more is going on than a surface of “good” versus “evil.”
The “bad” girl, Abigail Williams, is introduced in the play as the “gang” leader who led a group of girls to a outlawed gathering. Her main purpose at the gathering was to cast a spell upon Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor – whom she had an affair with when she lived with the couple as a servant. To John, the affair was a small detour from the path of righteousness. While, for Abigail, it was a doorway to a new world. Abigail is confused by his thought of their affair. Abigail’s reasoning suggests that if she had Elizabeth killed, she would have John to herself, this fits well among the illogical perspectives of the many characters in the book. Her motives were wrong, yet they were so well-hidden that only a few saw through the guise of her persecuted innocence. Since Abigail’s reasoning wasn’t logical and her motives weren’t pure, her methods definitely tipped the scale against her character in the reader’s perspective.
Abigail felt fine letting numerous innocent people be accused and die for her choices, and in many cases, she was the one sitting in the accuser’s seat. Right around this point having the play written as a novel would have been helpful, because the only time we get Abigail’s point of view was the discussion she had with John Proctor. In that conversation, Abigail seemed completely convinced of the virtue of her cause as well as delight by the fantasy that she would have John for herself once his wife was dead: “God gave me strength to call them liars … Oh, John, I will make you such a wife when the world is white again” (150).
Perhaps Abigail was truly deceived, or perhaps just good at playing the part, even towards John Proctor. By that point in time, she had played the sharade so long that, whether she believed in her lie or was deliberately faking the whole time, she knew stopping now would be suicide. At the end of the story, the “evil” woman escapes, innocent in the eyes of many, has stolen her uncle’s money, going into the night, to take her far from the unstable situation. If Abigail was gone, having stolen her uncle’s money, wouldn’t it stand to reason that perhaps her testimony should be questioned? Yet the idea never came up and the men who held the lives of the wrongly accused in the sway of their judgment continued on their oblivious path towards false sentencing and overall, murder.
Now the “good” woman, Elizabeth Proctor. She entered the story, fully, in the beginning of Act two, a scene almost uncomfortable to read. The unnatural conversation between husband and wife is one nobody wants to have. When John Proctor gets angry toward the end of their discussion, his words acted like a bullet to the heart, yet Elizabeth simply turned the power of judgment over to him, stating, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man” (55).
The heated conversation brings to light the issues that are beneath the surface in their marriage, which didn’t come out until the end of the book. The brightest view into Elizabeth’s mind and heart took place in the last conversation between her and John before he died: “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. … I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept” (137). Here, Elizabeth exposed her heart in a way that no other character did, and the deeper reason is shown as to why they had a tensed marriage. Elizabeth always thought herself as secondary, unlovable, only can one imagine her younger years of the world. Interestingly enough, it was all judgment and harsh rulings, not ever once in the book were concepts such as joy, abundant life, or forgiving love mentioned.
Elizabeth’s character represented, in a way, all those who grew up under the harsh thumb of a misguided belief systems. Her perspective and existence was a product of her childhood, although she is likely blind to it herself. In this aspect, Elizabeth’s character was not much different from Abigail’s. Not raised with with enough love and only a little true understanding of the world around them. These women’s only survival tactic was in their obedience to the rules that in many cases were neither logical or biblical. Both women were invaded by fear: Elizabeth feared that she would always be unloved and could never truly be loved for who she was; Abigail, feared that if she didn’t take matters into her own hands, her life would be spent alone and unhappy.
In the end, Elizabeth discovered that she was loved. Perhaps it was too little too late, but her husband did love her. Her husband was willing to give his life, perhaps not exactly all of it or entirely to her, but in a way his act represented his unselfish love. John Proctor’s love for his wife gave him the strength to confess his secret affair with Abigail, and although it put him in a bad place and brought him death, he still chose rather to die for the love of his wife than to live a life without her. History reveals that Elizabeth Proctor, although accused, was never sentenced. If Arthur Miller accurately portrayed her character, one can only hope that her life was brought out of the darkness by the fact that she learned she was loved. Perhaps she didn’t feel so plain and acted not to be suspicious, for true love will transform the heart in ways that cannot be put into words but only through experience. On the other hand, Abigail, escaped from the situation, running from her fear in the end. One can only assume, that it haunted her to the end of her days. Her story definitely was not a “happily ever after” as she never faced those things she feared the most. The “good” woman, Elizabeth, and the “evil” woman, Abigail, were both products of their childhood. They still had the power to choose whether this would change their decisions or whether they would rise above and take the more difficult path for acceptance and love.
The decisions they made in the end were not a surprise. There was no clear change in personality for the character of Abigail, though there was for Elizabeth, who came to understand love and forgiveness in a way she never had experienced by anyone, even herself. The “good” versus “evil” perspective is mostly shown through the characters actions and the way they responded to certain situations. The book shows that no matter what kind of society we live in, there are always stories that judge various perspectives.