There is an obvious and marked difference in the manner in which Rebecca Nurse practices her religious beliefs compared to Anne Putnam. We learn from the outset that Rebecca is an upstanding and respected member of Salem society for her piety, while little can be said for Anne's piety.
In Act One, when Anne's daughter, Ruth, is overwhelmed by the same ailment which is afflicting Reverend Parris' daughter, Betty, Anne quickly blames the dark forces for her daughter's condition. When Betty sits up screaming in bed, it is Mrs. Putnam who asks the astonished onlookers to mark her actions for she cannot bear to hear the Lord's prayers. This indicates her obsession with the supernatural.
Earlier in the play, Mrs. Putnam confessed she sent her daughter to speak to Tituba, Reverend Parris' slave from Barbados, to consult the spirits in order to find out why Anne had lost so many children. She admits this much by saying:
Reverend Parris, I have laid seven babies un-baptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born, and yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth. I have spoke nothing, but my heart has clamored intimations. And now, this year, my Ruth, my only - I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin' on her life too. And so I thought to send her to your Tituba -
Reverend Parris is horrified by Anne's frankness and warns her that it is a sin to conjure up the dead. Anne declares she would take it on her soul because she believes no one else can tell her what happened to her babies. Her determination to blame demonic forces for her daughter's condition is further emphasized by the following declaration:
They were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Mark it! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign, Mr. Parris!
This makes it obvious that Anne Putnam has more faith in the powers of darkness than in her own religion. She had not consulted Reverend Parris about the matter, and did not call on divine intervention or seek answers through prayer and devotion, either. Ironically, this attitude displays her own inherent wickedness, which is most pertinently revealed later in the play, with tragic consequences.
In contrast, Rebecca Nurse displays a calm and pious demeanor when she enters the room. She has a commanding presence and immediately brings about a peaceful mood. She is clearly faithful for, throughout her speeches, she makes constant references to the divine and the power of prayer. The stage directions give us insight into the power of her presence:
Everything is quiet. Rebecca walks across the room to the bed. Gentleness exudes from her. Betty is quietly whimpering, eyes shut, Rebecca simply stands over the child, who gradually quiets.
Mrs. Putnam can hardly believe her eyes when she notices Rebecca's remarkable effect on Betty and wants to know how she did it. Rebecca, an experienced and wise grandmother, calmly and with authority, advises her audience about how children should be treated. Mrs. Putnam, however, keenly disagrees, saying her daughter cannot eat, to which Rebecca responds by saying that she might not be hungry yet. This silences Anne.
Rebecca expresses fear that there are rumors of loose spirits around and asks Reverend Parris to request Reverend Hale to return home, for his arrival will just add fuel to the stories about witchcraft. She states that they should rely on the doctor and good prayer. Anne Putnam, however, ignores the recommendation about good prayer and states that the doctor is baffled. Rebecca, who clearly has more faith in divine power, then says:
If so he is, then let us go to God for the cause of it. There is prodigious danger in the seeking of loose spirits. I fear it, I fear it. Let us rather blame ourselves and -
The contrast between the two women's religious faith is pertinently illustrated when Anne Putnam cries out:
You think it God's work you should never lose a child, nor grand-child either, and I bury all but one? There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!
Once again, Anne illustrates her obsession with the dark forces. Her faith is limited to passing blame, instead of acknowledging God's power in determining destiny, as Rebecca does. When John Proctor later expresses his disdain for Reverend Parris, Rebecca admonishes him by saying:
No, you cannot break charity with your minister. You are another kind, John. Clasp his hand, make your peace.
It is more than obvious that Rebecca practices her faith and lives her life by example. Even Reverend Hale, after his arrival, says as much when he responds to her question about whether he knows her:
It's strange how I knew you, but I suppose you look as such a good soul should. We have all heard of your great charities in Beverly.
The above extracts make manifest the great distinction between the two women and how they exercise their religious beliefs. It is, therefore, tragically ironic that the good in Rebecca Nurse is never given its due and that the evil in Anne Putnam is not recognized and, in an appallingly unfortunate result, evil eventually triumphs.