It is safe to assume that Abigail Williams taught herself everything she knew about love. Abigail understood that her mother violently shoved her away as a little girl during the night because she loved her enough to see her live. Her mother had shown Abigail love just in time for the Indian’s truncheon to miss her head and hit the pillow instead, sending feathers up into the air. Her shoulder throbbed from the impact of her mother’s hand, but Abigail didn’t hold it against her. Actually, she didn’t have enough time to feel anything, for the Indian took aim and bashed her mother’s head into a pulp.
From this, Abigail learned that love was pain and loss, a feeling that left bruises behind.
With this belief true and close to her heart, loving John Proctor was of no shame to Abigail. What did it matter if he were married to Elizabeth Proctor? Somebody had to lose something when passion was involved, so it was only natural that the loser was Elizabeth. As far as Abigail was concerned, if Goody Proctor would let her husband dance behind her back and do nothing about it, she deserved her loss. That John would make love to her so tenderly and feverishly, despite the loss of his wife’s love, impressed Abigail, and she saw her lover in a glorious, romantic light. This was love in its perfection, with all the elements of aching and absence swirled in just the right mix.
Abigail felt no shock when Goody Proctor cast her from the Proctor House, because it was natural for a woman to do whatever she could to stop losing, but she could scarcely believe it when John raised not a word or hand to bring her back in. She watched his face as Goody Proctor opened the door and pushed her out, waiting for him to reclaim her as his own. For a moment, her heart wrecked at her chest as his lips opened, forming a round syllable on his mouth. But the moment flashed away, and Abigail was standing outside the threshold of the house, with John’s face a smoky vision that slowly wavered away into the air.
For days afterward, Abigail churned in confusion while her Uncle Parris chastised her for laziness and suspicion. Why hadn’t John protected her? Didn’t he love her? Why was it that their crystal love had to dissolve in such an abrupt way?
One day, the answer occurred to her—God had played a trick on her by switching around the roles of love, for now Abigail was the woman of loss.
It wasn’t quite the same pounding throb she felt when her parents died, but it was enough for Abigail to learn another lesson about love—that it was fickle and untrustworthy, and one couldn’t depend on it to stay faithful.
As Uncle Parris quoted a passage from the Bible during a sermon, Abigail decided to take love into her own hands, for being the figure of loss was completely unacceptable. She was justified enough. She had lost too much already to stand losing any more. With this decision, Abigail smiled and giggled in her planned vengeance.
So when the perfect moment came to reclaim her perfect love, Abigail leapt, caught it by the tender part of its throat, and dug her nails in.
“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!”
Her first few accusations of witchery frightened Abigail because she, herself, was scared out of her mind. The dancing in the woods had been innocent, for what was more pure and good than wanting to find love? It was all Abigail and the girls wanted. Uncle Parris and the other adults didn’t understand of course, so Abigail didn’t bother explaining her opinions of love and loss to him. What good would it do, since they were so wrapped up in their wholly requited love for God?
Poor Tituba. Abigail had decided long ago that Tituba’s people knew well the ways of love. If the slave didn’t lie, the Caribbean’s had charms that created love out of nothing. In order for this Caribbean love to exist in this world, Abigail’s mind conjectured, it had to take the place of other loves, shove them out of its way. This meant that where one girl’s love was formed from the charm, another’s would disappear, lose.
Such sentiments fit so perfectly with Abigail’s beliefs that she felt compelled to tell them to Tituba. Who better would relate to her ideas than the slave?
Tituba had laughed and called her, “You crazy girl,” when she had related her thoughts to her; but Abigail refused to let go of her theories.
Abigail lost faith in God when they believed her words so readily and took Tituba away. Weren’t liars punished? Weren’t all liars condemned to hell? Abigail had lied enough in her life to fear for her soul. So how could someone like her uncle, a man of God, accept her blatant lies that easily? How could God support her untruths like this?
But as far as Abigail could tell, she was rewarded rather than whipped for her pretenses. It didn’t matter how she really felt about God, so long as she proclaimed her love for Him in court. It didn’t matter if she only pretended to be possessed, so long as she was able to faint and sweat promptly on command. And it certainly didn’t matter if her accusations of witchcraft were true or not. God did not hold her soul in his hands anymore. Instead, she, Abigail Williams, a mortal girl, held his words in her palm, ready to mold and shape to her will. It felt almost as good as being in love.
But with all her power, Abigail, of course, did not forget her lover.
The natural step was, of course, to point her finger at Goody Proctor.
“May I see your poppet, Mary?” Abigail asked in court one day.
Startled, Mary Warren, a girl who had lost little and loved even less, shakingly handed the unfinished poppet over to her. It was all too simple to slip one of her own needles into the poppet.
If the village of Salem had not been against performing, Abigail would have made a splendid actress. She worried not when Mary came forth to confess their lies and pronounce them not the lights of heaven, but the voices of untruths and pretenses. Only a fool would go against Abigail, she who held all the knowledge of love and the absence of God. It was easy work for Abigail to fake another witching fit when Mary made her claims.
This time, however, Abigail put an extra effort into her performance, for the sight of John Proctor by Mary’s side infuriated her and lent additional acid to her cries and shouts. What was John playing at? Didn’t he realize that this pretense was all for him? She screamed, she hollered, she stretched her eye sockets into horrifying holes that expressed the terror and anger of God for letting evil witches live about, she gestured at ghosts and spirits, she cried to be set free from the witch’s evil spell.
And in her frenzy, Abigail then lost faith entirely.
“I have known her sir, I have known her,” John roared, with tears winkling at his eyes.
Abigail really did feel under a spell at his words. Loss in love was supposed to be never ending.
“My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore when she saw one!”
A whore… Abigail had her ideas about whores. Whores were girls who pretended to feel love, but only for a price. They were the kind of people who made fools of love and treated it like a mangy, cheap thing.
Abigail was no whore—that much she was certain about.
Danforth had given her a bewildered look at John’s accusations. Abigail could imagine what he was thinking. Only a girl who knew witchcraft could identify them, and such a girl might as well be a whore.
John shouldn’t have said that. John should have understood. John should have filled the place he had made and left in her heart. John should have felt a loss just as much as she had. John should have let his wife die. John should have… John should…
At that moment, Abigail decided that love did not exist.