Abigail Williams is the vehicle that drives the play. She bears most of the responsibility for the girls meeting with Tituba in the woods, and once Parris discovers them, she attempts to conceal her behavior because it will reveal her affair with Proctor if she confesses to casting a spell on Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail lies to conceal her affair, and to prevent charges of witchcraft. In order to avoid severe punishment for casting spells and adultery — not to mention attempted murder when she plots Elizabeth's death — Abigail shifts the focus away from herself by accusing others of witchcraft. This desperate act of self-preservation soon becomes Abigail's avenue of power.
Abigail is the exact opposite of Elizabeth. Abigail represents the repressed desires — sexual and material — that all of the Puritans possess. The difference is that Abigail does not suppress her desires. She finds herself attracted to Proctor while working in the Proctor home. According to the Puritanical mindset, Abigail's attraction to Proctor constitutes a sin, but one that she could repent of and refuse to acknowledge. Abigail does the opposite. She pursues Proctor and eventually seduces him.
Abigail's willingness to discard Puritan social restrictions sets her apart from the other characters, and also leads to her downfall. Abigail is independent, believing that nothing is impossible or beyond her grasp. These admirable qualities often lead to creativity and a thirst for life; however, Abigail lacks a conscience to keep herself in check. As a result, she sees no folly in her affair with Proctor. In fact, Abigail resents Elizabeth because she prevents Abigail from being with Proctor.
Abigail gives new meaning to the phrase "all is fair in love and war." She has brooded over her sexual encounter with Proctor for seven months. The more she thinks about the affair, the more Abigail convinces herself that Proctor loves her but cannot express his love because of Elizabeth. Abigail continues to review and edit her memories until they accurately portray her as the center of Proctor's existence. Rather than seeing herself as an awkward seventeen year-old who took advantage of a man's loneliness and insecurity during his wife's illness, Abigail sees herself as Proctor's true love and his ideal choice for a wife. She believes she has only to eliminate Elizabeth so that she and Proctor can marry and fulfill her fantasy.
Abigail's fantasy reflects her age. She is a young girl daydreaming about the ideal male. However, she possesses shrewd insight and a capacity for strategy that reveal maturity beyond that of most other characters. Declaring witchcraft provides her with instant status and recognition within Salem, which translates into power. Abigail uses her authority to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. She threatens the other girls with violence if they refuse to go along with her plans, and she does not hesitate to accuse them of witchcraft if their loyalty proves untrue. Such is the case with Mary Warren.
Abigail develops a detailed plan to acquire Proctor and will stop at nothing to see her plan succeed. Her strategy includes establishing her credibility with the court and then eliminating Elizabeth. The achievement of her plot requires cold calculation, and so Abigail carefully selects the individuals that she accuses in order to increase her credibility. Thus, she first accuses the town drunk and vagrant, knowing that society is already predisposed to convict them. Each arrest strengthens her position, and demonstrating fits and trances increases her authority even more. Her decision to wait until the court sees her as irrefutable before she accuses Elizabeth reveals her determination and obsession with Proctor. Abigail thinks nothing of the fact that she condemns innocent people to die; those people merely serve as necessary instruments for her use in the fulfillment of her plan. At the end of the play, when Abigail realizes that her plan has failed and that she has condemned Proctor to hang, she displays the same cold indifference that governs her actions throughout the play. She flees Salem, leaving Proctor without so much as a second glance.