Both Abigail and Elizabeth are products of a Puritan society but they are both total opposites. Abigail is young, cunning, rebellious, and very authorative and does not go by the rules of a Puritan life whereas Elizabeth is a dedicated housewife who cannot be judged on her Christian life and is perfectly happy with the Puritan code. Although their way of life might be totally different, they do have some kind of similarities and this can be seen as the play goes on.
The Puritans have very strong beliefs about conduct and if the people of that society go against the beliefs they are thought to have a connection with Satan or witchcraft. Non-conformity leads to suspicion and severe punishment. The Puritans have a strong belief in the presence of Satan and also believe in witches. Being in a Puritan society they need to follow religious practices, read the Bible and accept authority of the church and its minister. They don’t believe in entertainment or dressing up because this might cause people to become vain and this will tempt sinning. Social activities for the Puritans were prayers, meetings and anything to do with the church which shows that the Puritans had to be very dedicated Christians. Sex outside marriage was called lechery and this was frowned upon. Men were always in charge and women just led a domestic life; women had to obey whatever the men said. Before women get married, they have to work as servants for families but after they get married they have to be housewives who look after the children and do all the work at home. This seems very strict to us as we are in a society where no one minds about what other people do but for a typical Puritan this rigid lifestyle would be normal.
Abigail does many things in this play, which reveals her attitude to the Puritan way of life. She proves herself to be rebellious by her dancing in the forest, the relationship she had with John and by how she laughs at prayers. She is determined to get John, as that’s why she starts all the lies about witchcraft and naming people because she wanted to take Elizabeth’s place. A devoted Puritan person would be devoted to their religion, Christianity, but by the way Abigail laughs at prayers it shows that she is not very religious at all and just takes it as a joke.
Sex outside marriage was forbidden in the Puritan society and John feels guilty for his mistake but Abigail does not, which shows that she is very passionate and wants sexual freedom. The Puritans expect people to have self-discipline but Abigail is not like that as she has very high desires. The feelings that she has for John and the thought of her getting rid of Elizabeth and taking her place leads her on a course which destroys many lives.
In a Puritan society the men are always meant to be in charge but Abigail changes this totally as she takes over the whole of the Puritan society when she started naming people. Abigail loves to be in control because in her society women weren’t really thought of as important. She is also good at manipulating and putting on an act to make people believe her which is also, in a way, putting that person under her control and this can be seen when she talks to her uncle in an innocent way which makes him believe her
‘It were sport uncle.’ ‘A dress?’ ‘There is nothin’ more. I swear it, uncle.’
She is an attention seeker and she craves for power and this is revealed at the beginning of the play when she threatens all the girls:
‘And I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring you a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it.’
The last sentence,
‘And you know I can do it,’
shows that the girls are well aware of Abigail’s power and that Abigail will do anything to get what she wants; the girls are scared of her and, clearly, are under Abigail’s control. Abigail can be called the ‘ring leader’ of the group. In the screenplay for the film, Miller develops the scene where the girls are in the woods experimenting with black magic. They seem like normal teenage girls wanting to create love potions, although this would have been banned by the Puritan society. Abigail goes one stage further and makes a voodoo charm, smearing herself with blood. This shows her determination to get what she wants.
However Abigail does not only want to have power and attention, she also wants to have some love and this maybe because her uncle Parris is not a fatherly figure at all and does not treat Abigail kindly and physical punishment was a common form of discipline. Her childhood must have been very disturbing as she saw her parents viciously murdered:
‘I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night,’
This may be a reason for her desperation to get John, as John might have been the only person who had made her so happy in her lifetime. This is the only thing in the whole play where the audience can actually feel sorry for Abigail. As the play goes on this feeling for Abigail by the audience changes because she becomes more and more manipulative and vindictive. Her attitude to Mary Warren is very cunning as she makes the people in the play believe that Mary Warren is scaring her in an indirect way. This can be seen in the yellow bird scene. This makes the audience’s hatred for Abigail to grow.
‘A wind, a cold wind, has come.’ (Her eyes fall on Mary Warren).
When the girls shout and get louder, Mary gets weaker but at the same time angrier too. Mary bursts out and starts crying because of the torture that she was going through, she had no choice and this was all because of Abigail’s wickedness. Abigail does no think about anyone but herself and she makes innocent people to be the ‘criminals.’
Elizabeth has all the values that a woman of the Puritan society admires although she is not without personal flaws.
John chooses Elizabeth over Abigail because Elizabeth an excellent Puritan women and he is aware of her goodness; she is a perfect role model for the Puritan society. Elizabeth is a very good housewife who loves and cares for her children dearly and this can be seen when just before Elizabeth is arrested she gives an extremely touching speech:
‘Mary, there is bread enough for the morning……… When the children wake, speak not of witchcraft – it will frighten them.’
Although she is aware of the lechery that Proctor has committed (she obviously is hurt inside) she still respects and cherishes him as a husband and looks after him properly. Being a good housewife is something, which is expected from Puritan women, but Elizabeth shows no emotion or feelings toward the sin that Proctor has committed and this shows her coldness. One might think that Proctor has a reason to commit lechery as he might feel that he doesn’t get the right happiness and comfort, that he wants, from his wife.
Self discipline plays an important role in the Puritan society and Elizabeth goes by this and is very steady but one might think she’s too steady as she never tells Proctor how much she loves him and she never assures him that she loves him. Although she does express her true feelings about John at the end of the play as she says:
‘Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love.’
She is a very cold woman on the outside but is quite passionate on the inside as can be seen in her outburst against Abigail:
‘The girl is murder! She must be ripped out of the world.’
Elizabeth is insecure in her personal life but she is very confident about her moral standing:
‘I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, that no honest love could some to me.’
There is a point in the play where Elizabeth boasts about her self to Mr Hale by saying:
‘I am a good woman,’
which shows us Elizabeth’s self-assurance. Here, she challenges Hale because she wants to prove to him that she is a good woman. In the Puritan society, men talk and women listen without answering back but Elizabeth goes against that and talks up for herself. She is quite proud of herself and is determined to assure Mr Hale that she is a good woman. This is a similarity between Elizabeth and Abigail as both of them have determination to do what they want or what they believe. Elizabeth has determination to prove to Mr Hale that she is a good woman because she truly believes it and Abigail is totally determined that she has to get Proctor because she believes that she loves him more that anyone.
Elizabeth shows great love and self-denial when she lies for John in court. This scene builds up a lot of tension because Elizabeth is known to be a ‘model Puritan woman’ who never tells a lie but she decided to commit a sin rather than to condemn her husband publicly. In the film, this scene was made to stand out individually because to me, it is a major part of the play. Everything depended on Elizabeth’s answer. In the film us, the audience, can see Abigail, John and Elizabeth’s face but none of them can see each other’s face and this makes it 10 times worse. Although things didn’t turn out as we wanted it to, it still proves Elizabeth’s love for her husband and she puts herself down to save her husband and as a Puritan woman, she put her husband before her.
Both Abigail and Elizabeth have determination although Elizabeth’s determination is for a good cause where as Abigail’s is for a bad cause. Elizabeth’s is to prove that she is a good woman and that she is a true Christian but Abigail’s is to get John, who is already a married man. Elizabeth challenges Hale that she is a good woman but Abigail takes over all the people of the village and accuses it on witchcraft in order to get John. One more aspect where it can be seen that Elizabeth and Abigail are the same in some way is when both of them go against the religious beliefs of the Puritans.
Elizabeth, once again, does it for a good cause and Abigail, once again, does it for a bad cause. Elizabeth does it to prove that she’s a good woman and Abigail does it to get John. The causes for their misdoings have been the same throughout except that Elizabeth does it for a good cause and Abigail does it for a bad cause. Elizabeth is a model Puritan woman and although she shows some coldness of spirit, it can be understood in terms of Puritan repression of discussing emotions. Abigail’s attitude towards the Puritan society can be understandable if she had done something far less cunning than this but what she did was unforgivable as it cost so many innocent peoples lives. At the end of the play Abigail runs away and this is evidence for her guilt and then she becomes a prostitute, which is evidence for lust for sexual freedom. I would conclude that Abigail is a definitely not suitable for a Puritan society and that Elizabeth definitely is. They do have some similarities but that can hardly make both of them the same because Abigail is full of evilness and Elizabeth is full of goodness.