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The play The Crucible by Arthur Miller is full of conflicts between people and within themselves. Several conflicts are introduced in Act I. One of those is built around the affair between Abigail Williams and John Proctor. Another conflict is within John Proctor himself as he confronts difficult choices between protecting himself or his wife Elizabeth Proctor, both of whom are at risk from the affair with Abigail. Both of these conflicts, the one between Abigail and Proctor, and the conflict within Proctor, define what is to come in the play by causing further conflicts that will affect other characters as well as these characters themselves.
Miller’s character Abigail is a misguided young girl around the age of 17. Her hormones and the lies that she tells get her into trouble time after time. Abigail has been involved in an affair with a married man named John Proctor. Although Proctor has realized his selfish sins, Abigail, being the hormonal teenager that she is, isn’t willing to move on. Abigail’s determination to continue the relationship is clear during a heated conversation with Procter during his visit to Salem. Her desperation becomes anger when she goes into a rant saying:
ABIGAIL. 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! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! he turns abruptly to go out. She rushes to him John, pity me, pity me! (Miller 24)
Abigail is being stubborn and not letting Proctor go. She has convinced herself that the same man who cheated on his wife with her is still committed to their illicit relationship. She goes to the dangerous extreme of threatening the town of Salem, possibly foreshadowing an ill-advised retaliation against the strict religious nature of her hometown. She begins to blame the conservative mores of Salem for Proctor letting her go. Miller proves through this heated conversation that one teenage girl can have a huge impact on a little town by putting others at risk of Abigail’s reaction to her jealousy of Elizabeth. This conflict is a significant one because of the way Abigail has identified the causes she blames for the break up which embroil many characters and aspects of the society in which they live in. Proctor and Abigail are directly affected as the conflict is between them, but Proctor’s wife Elizabeth as well as the town of Salem are indirectly affected due to the possible future actions of Abigail against them.
As for Proctor, Miller portrays him as a man whose heart conflicts his head. When faced with a decision between his spouse and his mistress, Proctor strays from his original values in order to keep everyone else happy. In the same conversation as Abigail’s angered rant, Proctor confesses his feelings for Abigail and Elizabeth at the same time in an outburst to Abigail. At first he focuses on Abigail and says:
PROCTOR. Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby ( Miller 23).
Proctor still has urges for Abigail but he is a man of good morals. He has acknowledged his sins and is trying to make his marriage one of trust and honesty. To achieve that he seeks to deny the temptation Abigail presents by staying far away from Salem and Abigail. Shortly after his confession that he still has feelings for Abigail, Proctor quickly comes to the defense of his wife Elizabeth after Abigail says:
ABIGAIL. with a bitter anger: Oh, I marvel how such a strong man may let a sickly wife be-
PROCTOR. angered-at himself as well: You’ll speak nothin’ of Elizabeth! (Miller 23)
Proctor is aware of Abigail’s capability of revenge and his own weakness. In the stage directions, by saying “angered- at himself as well”, Miller is showing the first glimpse of regret from Proctor. If he had never been involved with Abigail he would not have to choose between his head and his heart in order to keep the ones that he loves out of harm’s way. This internal conflict within Proctor is a conflict of lesser importance in Act I. His previous actions mean that whatever he chooses to do, stay with either Abigail or Elizabeth, the result will other conflicts, and even then it’s not clear that his internal conflict can ever be fully resolved. Ultimately it is the conflict inherent in the choice between becoming the hero of the story for saving his wife or the villain for returning to his sinful ways out of lust for Abigail. If he chooses to continue his affair with Abigail in order to protect Elizabeth, Proctor’s fate lies in the hands of the community’s opinion.
Both of these conflicts have two main characters in common, Proctor and Abigail. Abigail might be a teenage girl who has gotten herself wrapped in a web of lies, but she has enough power to shape the way Salem runs in order to protect herself. Proctor, on the other hand, will sacrifice himself for others in turn causing his power to be diminished. These two conflicts result in one major overarching conflict that continues throughout the whole play. It is a question between selflessness and selfishness, and the amount of power that comes along with it. So far, Abigail has shown that the only way to maintain power in Salem is to think about herself and to take out anyone who gets in the way of what she wants, while Proctor takes other’s feelings and safety into account before making any rash decisions. Abigail’s lack of selflessness with will most likely solve the conflict with Proctor as well as Proctor’s internal conflict. The power that comes along with being selfish will cause Abigail to change the beliefs of the people of Salem’s beliefs to turn them in her favor.
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