The motivations in the crucible are different for each character and suit their needs at the time (for example, Parris is motivated by reputation). Arthur Miller makes some characters (like John Proctor) very obvious in their motivation while people like (Thomas Putnam) need some more information to be figured out.
Abigail is most likely to be motivated by power and social status than anything else. Although her actions have made a multitude of people lose their lives, it is somewhat understandable to a degree. As a girl, she says she “saw Indians smash my dear parents head on the pillow next to mine”.
The fact that she was exposed to such levels of brutality frequently (she also claims she has seen “some reddish work done at night”) partially negates the surprise the audience has at her accusative attitude.
Although her purpose in these things is to silence the girls involved, the audience can believe her as she would sacrifice her “friends” to save herself (for example, when Mary Warren goes with John to the court).
Another argument is that Abigail, seeing that Tituba escaped the situation by confessing. Claiming that “I want to open myself”, Abigail automatically escapes the hanging, whipping and all the other punishments. To protect herself, she lies that she conjured with the devil and even goes as far to accuse other people and condemn them to being hanged.
When Mary Warren suggests that the girls tell the truth and accept the punishments waiting for them, Abigail rejects it and threatens all of them, all to save her own skin.
However, having a low social position also motivates her to bring the witch trials into place in Salem. She is an orphan, an unmarried, dependent teenager and worst of all, for her (especially in the patriarchal Puritan society) a female. As a result, the only people below her are slaves and social outcasts (like Tituba and Sarah Good).
Also, seeing how much Tituba controls the adults at first, leads her to desire all that control for herself. This makes it very understandable that she would leap at the first opportunity to seize any chance to obtain a higher social position and some control over others (as is shown by her control over the other girls). This motivation wasn’t clear at first as the point above but develops later on.
When in court, Abigail’s power and reputation has been described. This description is as follows, “when she walks, the courtroom parts for her as the sea parted for Israel”. It is natural choice to go from worth nothing to extreme importance.
A more subterranean motivation that Abigail has is her “love” for John Proctor and her jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor. While she was a servant for John and Elizabeth Proctor, Elizabeth contracted an illness and was unable to fulfill her husband’s desires. As a result, he was seduced by Abigail which Abigail saw as a sign of love.
However, what it actually signified was a physical intimacy at most and that John still loves his wife. Abigail naively believes that John Proctor likes her instead and that Elizabeth is the only obstacle between Abigail’s dreams, or rather her delusions.
Getting rid of Elizabeth will, in Abigail’s mind, open John’s heart to her which results in the witchcraft in the woods (as Abigail drinks a charm to kill Goody Proctor) as well as Elizabeth being convicted as a witch. Abigail wants Proctor for herself and will go to any length to secure him.
John Proctor is a more simple and plain character, showing his true colours throughout the play. He is motivated to find falsehood and expose it. When he first enters the play, he is known to have “a sharp and biting way with hypocrites” and in his “presence a fool felt his foolishness instantly”.
To expose the lies associated with the witchcraft, John uses a number of weapons. First of all, he uses the Putnam’s situation to prove that they encouraged the girls to pretend they were being attacked. The Putnams had eight children but only one survived, yet even the one alive is having problems thus showing that the Putnams are jealous.
He also forces Mary warren to confess that all the nonsense of the witch trials was only “pretence”. However, when this failed, Proctor decided to sacrifice and ruin his own reputation to point out Abigail’s dishonesty and falsehood. When everything fails and all the blame hangs on his shoulders as well as accusations of witchcraft, Proctor refuses to save his own life with a lie and would die to demonstrate the truth.
It is also arguable that John is motivated to save his wife and his friends. Although at first, he believed that the witchcraft hysteria would end quickly and with no casualties, the situation changed drastically when Abigail accused Elizabeth of witchery. At this point, John is motivated to free his wife. However, his motivations change when he is told his wife is safe. When he is questioned about his intentions, he exclaims that “these are my friends. Their wives are also accused”.
Yet it is most likely that John went to court to redeem himself in front of his wife but more likely to prove to himself that he is not a fraud. Proctor extremely dislikes hypocrites and by being a lecher, he is automatically a hypocrite. It is in this way that John Proctor regards himself as a fraud. By accepting his sin and broadcasting it to protect others, in some way, Proctor is attempting to prove to himself that he is an upright person.
Reverend Hale is a complex character. At first, he is motivated by an honest cause, to help the people in Salem afflicted by witchcraft, starting with Betty Parris. Arthur writes that “his goal is light, goodness and its preservation”.
He believes that he is the right man to do this as he has spent his whole life training to be the best witch hunter and he is finally psychologically prepared to “tackle” the devil.
He is also motivated by the administering of justice and the non-corrupted legal proceedings of a fair unbiased court. He believes that through his actions, he can stop something wrong and manipulate it into something good and right (as is shown when Tituba confesses to the devil, Hale decides to rip her out of the devil’s grasp).
He contests the idea of condemning innocent people to hang but he realises that the girls are frauds too late to be able to stop the out of control trials of the court.
As the play goes on, his motivations begin to change. When confronted with the truth, he is uncertain about admitting his error, probably because he had never fathomed the idea of the accusers being wrong.
If this was the case, then all the death warrants he has signed where in error, resulting in the innocent blood being placed on his shoulders. Also, admitting his error would automatically diminish his reputation as well as the public’s trust.
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