Ruth Putnam in The Crucible

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  • 0:04 Ruth Putnam in the Play
  • 1:27 An Only Child
  • 2:42 Ruth Is Faking
  • 3:42 A Nefarious Plot
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of the character of Ruth Putnam and the role she plays in Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible.' Ruth's part is a small one but manages to have a significant effect in the play.

Ruth Putnam in the Play

Sometimes a person's example, presence, and actions can have a greater impact than any words spoken. In Arthur Miller's play about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible, Ruth Putnam has no lines of dialog whatsoever and yet still manages to have a significant impact on the overall trajectory of the play. She is the daughter of the Putnams, a couple who come to visit their neighbor's sick daughter Betty.

After observing that Betty's eyes are closed, Mrs. Putnam remarks, 'Why, that's strange...ours is open.' The 'ours' refers to their own child, Ruth. This simple line alerts both the audience and the other characters on stage that Ruth Putnam is also afflicted in some strange way. It's quite possible for two girls to lie in their beds at the same time for completely unrelated reasons, but Mrs. Putnam insists upon linking the two situations.

Before the entrance of Mrs. Putnam and her assumptions, Reverend Parris (Betty's father) was very resistant to the idea of witchcraft. However, Ruth's similar affliction and Mrs. Putnam's assertions that this is all 'a notorious sign of witchcraft afoot' provides the kindling for the fire of hysteria to take hold of the town. Simply by virtue of lying still in her bed (and perhaps also by having slightly nutty parents), Ruth Putnam has helped lay the foundation necessary for the Salem witch trials to occur.

An Only Child

We also learn that Ruth is an only child - at least an only surviving child. Ruth is the only one of eight children who made it past early childhood in her family. From a psychological standpoint it stands to reason that Ruth's relationship with her parents could be somewhat overshadowed by whatever grief or anxiety might afflict a parent after losing seven babies. We see that Mrs. Putnam is certainly affected by this as she declares of her lost children 'they were murdered!'

Mrs. Putnam's grief and unrest lead her to send Ruth to Reverend Parris's servant, Tituba in an effort to conjure up the spirits of her dead children. In Puritanical 17th century Massachusetts, this was considered a formidable sin, but Mrs. Putnam tells Reverend Parris, 'who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?'

This exchange reveals that Mrs. Putnam is quite haunted by and perhaps obsessed with her deceased children. It is also clear that she does not hide this fact from Ruth but rather involves her in it by sending her to conjure up spirits in the woods. We are not told exactly how old Ruth is, but she is younger than 17. Chances are she has endured this mania in her mother for some time - perhaps all her life. This would doubtless have some bearing on her development!

Ruth Is Faking

Throughout the course of the play, it is revealed that Ruth, Betty and the other girls were only pretending to be affected by witchcraft. Their accusations are discovered (by the audience and at least some of the characters) to be false, and it turns out those who are imprisoned and even executed are actually innocent. Likewise, it is therefore implied that the initial 'illness' of Ruth Putnam and Betty Parris is entirely feigned.

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