In Act I of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, why is Thomas Putnam willing to speak of witchcraft?  How does Mrs. Putnam know what Ruth was doing in the woods?

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Mr Putnam is not only willing to talk about witchcraft, he insists on it. The paranoid Reverend Parris fears such talk and tries to discourage Putnam from mentioning it, to no avail. Mr Putnam clearly has a hidden agenda. He is the son of the richest man in the village and has many grievances against those he feels have been limiting his ambition. He has, unsuccessfully, made numerous attempts to enhance his status and reputation and is an embittered and vengeful man who wishes to punish his opponents.

Furthermore, Putnam is also driven by greed. He has consistently been trying to break his father's will which left a large amount of property to a stepbrother. To make up for this seeming loss, he has laid claim to many properties. This has brought him into direct conflict with many whom he now regards as enemies, such as the Nurses, John Proctor and Giles Corey. In his quest for land, he would later even use his daughter, Ruth, to accuse an innocent villager, George Jacobs, of being a witch so that he could purchase his property cheaply at auction once it has been dispossessed by the state on the accused's arrest and incarceration.

In addition, Putnam shares his wife's paranoid and misguided belief that witchery was responsible for her losing so many of her babies in childbirth or soon after. Anne Putnam is overwhelmed by regret and believes that she and her children were bewitched by some pernicious individual or individuals preventing her from raising the seven children whom she had lost. It becomes clear later that their prime suspect for this accusation is Goody Nurse, a respected and much admired villager. 

In his notes, the author says the following about Thomas Putnam:

So it is not surprising to find that so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam, or that his name is so often found as a witness corroborating the super-natural testimony,...

For Thomas Putnam then, proof of witchcraft will afford him the ideal opportunity to not only get rid of his enemies but is also a means to benefit in a material sense.

Mrs Putnam knows what Ruth was doing in the woods for she confesses:

And so I thought to send her to your Tituba -

and later,

...Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir...

Mrs Putnam had evidently sent Ruth to Tituba to conjure up her dead sisters. She was concerned that Ruth, herself, would also shrivel up and die. If Tituba could call up the dead, Mrs Putnam would be able to establish why they had died or what malicious person or power had stolen their lives and, presumably, how Ruth could be saved. 

favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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In the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Putnam are quite willing to believe in witchcraft in the village because seven of their eight children died within a day of their births, and, now, their one living child, Ruth, "shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin' on her life too."  They believe that these children must have been murdered because they seemed so healthy when they were born, and now that Ruth is ailing, they are panicking and feeling certain that there must be something supernatural behind it because her illness does not seem to be natural. 

Mrs. Putnam knows some of what Ruth and the other girls were doing in the woods the night before because she sent her to Reverend Parris's Barbadian slave, Tituba, to conjure the spirits of the dead babies and find out who killed them.  She is not aware of the fact that Abigail also drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor, but she does know about the spirit conjuring, and she says that she will "take [the sin of] it on [her] soul" because she doesn't see any other way to find out the truth about her children.

renelane's profile pic

renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Goody Putnam asked Ruth to go to Tituba. She wanted Tituba to talk to her seven dead babies. Thomas Putnam is vengeful, and land-greedy, so he will take any opportunity to spread a bad word of anyone.

Of course,l he thinks that he is above all suspicions.


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