Thomas Putnam illustrates the way secular grievances and religious superstitions can come together to wreak havoc on a community.
Putnam is bitter for a variety of reasons that include feeling cheated of his rightful inheritance, feeling betrayed when his wife's brother-in-law, John Bayley, is not made Salem's minister, and believing it is unfair that he has lost seven of his eight children when he wanted a large family—and many of his neighbors have large broods. Fear and bitterness drive his behavior.
Putnam cynically promotes the witchcraft allegations because he is a bitter and greedy man. He hopes that by denouncing neighbors with large landholdings, he will be able seize their lands and make up for not getting, in his opinion, his rightful inheritance. He also exploits the witchcraft accusations to settle a score with the Nurses, a family with whom he has a feud.
But his support of the witchcraft accusations is not entirely cynical: he also bitterly fears that demonic spells might take his final child from him.
Miller wrote the play to denounce McCarthyism, in which many innocent people had their careers destroyed over accusations that they supported communism. These fears were often quite irrational, but also a way to settle scores, and the highly publicized hearings were sometimes called witch hunts. Through Putnam, Miller is exploring the various ways a bitter person can be motivated to participate in persecuting others.