Is Thomas Putnam a fanatic or does he use common sense in The Crucible?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of all the characters in The Crucible, Thomas Putnam could be deemed as probably the one who is most fanatical about accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft. In the actual records relating to the trials, his name regularly appears, damning others as witches or practising 'the devil's work'. He is a vengeful, embittered man, who holds many responsible for wrongs he believes he and his relatives endured in the past. But Thomas is not only driven by a desire for revenge.

The author mentions that:

His vindictive nature was demonstrated long before the witch-craft began.

Thomas and his brother John had Burroughs jailed for debts the man did not owe.

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, or that his daughter led the crying-out at the most opportune junctures of the trials ...

A good example of this vengefulness is the hatred the Putnams had for Rebecca Nurse and her husband.

It was Edward and Jonathan Putnam who signed the first complaint against Rebecca; and Thomas Putnam’s little daughter was the one who fell into a fit at the hearing and pointed to Rebecca as her attacker. 

He also sees the trials as an opportunity to profit. He is also almost as fanatical about obtaining wealth, greater power and authority in the village, as he is vengeful. We see how keen he is to claim land which is not rightfully his. This creates conflict between himself and his neighbours. John Proctor, for example, accuses him of laying claim to land which he could not possibly own. The two of them have been at loggerheads in this regard for some time as the following extract shows:

Putnam: A moment, Mr. Proctor. What lumber is that you’re draggin’, if I may ask you?

Proctor: My lumber. From out my forest by the riverside.

Putnam: Why, we are surely gone wild this year. What anarchy is this? That tract is in my bounds, it’s in my bounds, Mr. Proctor.

Proctor: In your bounds! indicating Rebecca: I bought that tract from Goody Nurse’s husband five months ago.

Putnam: He had no right to sell it. It stands clear in my grand-father’s will that all the land between the river and -

Proctor: Your grandfather had a habit of willing land that never belonged to him, if I may say it plain.

Giles: That’s God’s truth; he nearly willed away my north pasture but he knew I’d break his fingers before he’d set his name to it. Let’s get your lumber home, John. I feel a sudden will to work coming on.

Putnam: You load one oak of mine and you’ll fight to drag it home!

Giles: Aye, and we’ll win too, Putnam - this fool and I. Come on! He turns to Proctor and starts out.

Putnam: I’ll have my men on you, Corey! I’ll clap a writ on you!

The same is true of Giles Corey who often accuses Thomas of trying to steal his land. Giles also accuses him of using his daughter, Ruth, during the trials to implicate those in whose land Thomas has an interest. Once an accused has been found guilty of witchcraft, he/she forfeits all property and Thomas is then quick to lay claim to such land or, being quite wealthy, buy it from the authorities.

The term common sense means 'sound practical judgment, not based on specialized knowledge'. There is not much to say about Thomas using 'common sense'. He is primarily driven by revenge and greed, and therefore his actions are guided by this. In practical terms, Thomas would definitely benefit, but his judgment is tainted by his lust for material wealth and vengeance, and is not based on common sense principles. 

Thomas Putnam, during court trials, supports the girls' claims wholeheartedly, even using his daughter, Ruth, to provide evidence against those with whom he is in dispute. Common-sense would have dictated that he should be sceptical about the girls' accusations and therefore have them investigated thoroughly. Also, common sense would have ruled that he, as a prominent citizen, should seek the protection of his fellow citizens for the good of the village. In this manner he could gain their trust, acknowledgement and more importantly, their respect. He, however, driven by selfish ambition, chooses to ignore the plight of his fellows and rather condemns them so that he may profit from their misfortune and gleefully 'pays them back'. 

It is clear that Thomas Putnam is a despicable man, one who is responsible for the tragic loss of many an innocent life.