Miller, Arthur (Vol. 10)
Miller, Arthur 1915–
Miller is an American playwright. A moralist who has often been charged with didacticism, he poses questions for which he gives no answers, instead seeking a state of "heightened consciousness" for his heroes and audience. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 6, 15, 26, 179.
C. W. E. Bigsby
In many ways … The Price seems to mark a return to the world of Joe Keller and Willy Loman. Once again, it appears, we are invited to witness the struggles of a man who has "the wrong dreams" and who embraces too completely the ethics of a society intent on success at any price. But … since Death of a Salesman Miller has become aware of more fundamental influences than those exerted by Horatio Alger Jr. and while he continues to expose the vacuity of the American dream he is more concerned with probing the nature of human freedom than with exposing the social charade. [The Price], therefore, owes more to After the Fall and Incident at Vichy than to All My Sons and Death of a Salesman.
The line between Incident at Vichy and The Price is disturbingly direct. Miller has said that he is fascinated by the Nazi era because it constituted a turning point in man's perception of human nature. The war and the Nazi occupation of Europe produced not merely "a chilling of the soul by the technological apparatus" but also "the obstruction of the individual's capacity for choosing, or erosion of what used to be thought of as an autonomous personality." (p. 16)
As in Death of a Salesman and After the Fall we are at a point in time when the main characters are made suddenly aware of the futility of their lives thus far. For Willy Loman it had been an...
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[Of the failures of All My Sons, most] notable is what might be termed its failure in mode, a serious flaw in methodology: simply and baldly stated, the play is too insistently "realistic"—which is, of course, what Miller meant it to be—to accommodate Chris' fine speeches or to give any weight or resonance to their words. In the narrow and pedestrian setting of the Keller back yard they announce themselves as speeches, in this mundane place the words ring loud and hollow…. The realistic mode is adequate to All My Sons as long as the play is dominated by the family relation; it is not adequate to the social relation Miller requires the play to represent, nor does Miller attempt to express that social relation in another, less realistic mode. The problem is clearly illustrated in the case of appropriate stage speech:
When one is speaking to one's family one uses a certain level of speech, a certain plain diction perhaps, a tone of voice, an inflection, suited to the intimacy of the occasion. But when one faces an audience … it seems right and proper for him to reach for the well-turned phrase, even the poetic word, the aphorism, the metaphor.
Chris' speeches fall flat because they violate our sense of suitability, our sense of context. They are made at the wrong time in the wrong place to the wrong people. (p. 22)
All My Sons does not...
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Death of a Salesman contains the idea for a great play, and I would maintain that its immense international success comes from the force of that idea prevailing over the defects in execution. The force takes hold with the very title, which is highly evocative, and is amplified by the opening sight of Willy Loman coming in the door. That sight is a superb theater image of our time, as unforgettable an icon as Mother Courage and her wagon (another traveling salesman!): the salesman home, "tired to the death," lugging his two heavy sample-cases, rejected by the big milk-filled bosom of the country from which he had expected so much nourishment.
The force of the play's idea continues fitfully to grasp at us: the idea of a man who has sold things without making them, who has paid for things without really owning them; an insulted extrusion of commercial society battling for some sliver of authenticity before he slips into the dark.
But to see the play again is to see how Arthur Miller lacked the control and vision to fulfill his own idea. First consider the diction of the play, because a play is its language, first and finally. Salesman falters badly in this regard. At its best, its true and telling best, the diction is first-generation Brooklyn Jewish. ("Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.") But often the dialogue slips into a fanciness that is slightly ludicrous…. When Miller's...
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Arthur Miller's short stories "Monte Sant' Angelo" and "I Don't Need You Any More" share a supplementary relationship to his essay on "The Family in Modern Drama." All develop themes that prove essential for an understanding of Miller's imagination, and all deal with man displaced from the enveloping context of the family. The meaning of this displacement includes the loss not only of mother, father or brother but also a psychological state of being, a cultural and religious inheritance, a position in the community and in human history. "I Don't Need You Any More" illustrates the process by which a child becomes isolated from his family, losing that state of equilibrium, identity and completeness that Miller defined in his essay as man's fundamental state of satisfaction. "Monte Sant' Angelo," however, presents a set of experiences by which an adult comes to feel himself at home in the larger world outside the family structure, reconstructing that earlier state of satisfaction with later materials and experiences….
[In "Monte Sant' Angelo"] Appello maintains his identity as an American but also enjoys status as a "son of Italy" with an assured place in a long family line of some prominence. He can trace that line from town to town [in Italy] and receive immediate recognition for the very fact of his name. (p. 507)
Dissociated from an historical past, [his friend Bernstein] senses himself dissociated from a personal...
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Robert A. Martin
When The Crucible opened on January 22, 1953, the term "witch-hunt" was nearly synonymous in the public mind with the Congressional investigations then being conducted into allegedly subversive activities. Arthur Miller's plays have always been closely identified with contemporary issues, and to many observers the parallel between the witchcraft trials at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and the current Congressional hearings was the central issue of the play.
Miller has said that he could not have written The Crucible at any other time, a statement which reflects both his reaction to the McCarthy era and the creative process by which he finds his way to the thematic center of a play. If it is true, however, that a play cannot be successful in its own time unless it speaks to its own time, it is also true that a play cannot endure unless it speaks to new audiences in new times. The latter truism may apply particularly to The Crucible, which is presently being approached more and more frequently as a cultural and historical study rather than as a political allegory. (p. 279)
The Crucible has endured beyond the immediate events of its own time. If it was originally seen as a political allegory, it is presently seen by contemporary audiences almost entirely as a distinguished American play by an equally distinguished American playwright. As one of the most frequently produced plays in the American...
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When the twentieth century is history and American drama viewed in perspective, the plays of Arthur Miller will undoubtedly be preserved in the annals of dramatic literature. Few will dispute that Miller's plays, along with those of O'Neill and Albee and Williams, constitute the "best" of American theater. This may, however, be more a comment on the state of American drama than on the excellence of Arthur Miller, for, in a larger perspective, there is little in Miller's drama other than well-plotted social and psychological realism, coming decades after the form was established by Ibsen and Shaw.
When Miller defends such realism in his "Preface to an Adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People" (1951)—one of 23 essays and three interviews collected in [The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller]—one experiences a déjà vu and wonders why what by then was a donnée of the modern theater needed defense….
With a few exceptions, the essays and interviews which constitute this book are singularly unnoteworthy. Miller's views on the state of the theater reflect a professional's, not a literary critic's, awareness; his ideas concerning form are anachronism offered as innovation; and his prefaces, while helpful as such, are incomplete in isolation. The exceptions are Miller's two anti-Aristotelian documents, "Tragedy and the Common Man" (1949) and "The Nature of Tragedy" (1949)…. (p. 345)...
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