Putnam opposes Parris because of a long held grudge about his wife’s brother-in-law not becoming minister of Salem. Putnam is a powerful man in the town, and he believes that he should get what he wants. In this case, his wife’s brother-in-law was not selected, and someone else was. According to the author’s notes, Putnam feels wronged by this, and he begins to think some of the people in the town are against him. “In addition, certain families allied to the Nurses through blood or friendship…combined to break away from the Salem town and set up Topsfield, a new and independent entity whose existence was resented by old Salemites.” If we take into account that Salem was a theocracy, governed by religious authorities, it is no wonder Thomas Putnam was so upset. He would have had power over his wife’s brother-in-law, and when people broke away from the town, they took their land with them. Putnam, being a rich and greedy landowner, felt he was entitled to that land. Also, the more land, the more power in the town. When the trials begin, Putnam is one of the loudest voices crying out that his neighbors (whose land he could procure if they were dead or in jail) were witches.
Putnam is on Parris’ side in asking Hale to come to the town because he suspects Hale will “find witches” and he knows that the many landowners who are suspect in their behavior (such as John Proctor) may be questioned or jailed, at which time he can swoop in and take their land. “It was Edward and Jonathan Putnam who signed the first complaint against Rebecca…” The Nurse family had land near Putnam, and they were fighting over it, a “squabble which grew to the proportions of a battle in the woods.”
Mr. Thomas Putnam is a man with a grudge who takes whatever opportunities he can to satisfy his resentment against members of his community for the defeat of his brother-in-law as a candidate for the Salem ministry.
Because his brother-in-law James Bayley was defeated by George Burroughs who was, then, appointed to the ministry in Salem, the vindictive Putnam and his brother later have Burroughs unjustly jailed for debts. In fact, many accusations against citizens of Salem are written in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam. Further, Putnam also has resentment against the villagers who have disregarded him as an intellectual superior; therefore, he is motivated to become involved with any investigation of the residents of Salem. He talks with Parris:
PUTNAM: There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layin' hands on these children.
PARRIS: But, Thomas, you cannot---....
PUTNAM: ....There is a murdering witch among us, bound to keep herself in the dark....Let your names make of it what they will, you cannot blink [close your eyes to] it more.
An opportunist, Putnam may think that an investigation into possible witchcraft under the supervision of the Reverend Hale, who is known for his more scientific approach to things, will serve to possibly cast aspersions against the pretentious Parris, who is a fire and brimstone preacher. Since his daughter and niece are suspected of aberrant behavior, actions that are in opposition to the Reverend's fire and brimstone sermons, Parris's credibility as a religious leader will come into question and Putnam can wreak some revenge against the Reverend.
Certainly, Putnam fuels the fires against Parris as Hale looks at Parris's daughter as in this passage:
PARRIS: Will you look at my daughter, sir?....we discovered her...waving her arms as though she'd fly.
HALE: narrowing his eyes: Tries to fly.
PUTNAM: She cannot bear to hear the Lord's name, Mr. Hale; that a sure sign of witchcraft afloat.