Miller, Arthur (Vol. 15)
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, seeking, instead, a state of "heightened consciousness" for his heroes and audience. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 6, 10, 26, 179.
P. P. Sharma
[That the theme of the search for self-identity] is crucial to a proper understanding of [Death of a Salesman] and that Miller is in no small degree preoccupied with it, is supported by the frequency of its overt statement in the dialogue of the characters. 'The man', says Biff, referring to his father, 'didn't know who he was', and 'I know who I am …' Thus, the theme can be traced not only in the case of Willy but also in that of Biff. By showing that the father has failed in the search for self-identity, whereas the son is on the fair road to success, Miller has effectively used both the negative and the positive strategy to strengthen and reinforce his overall concern. The play has generally been interpreted as a conflict between Willy and his milieu; the conflict between father and son has been passed over as only a tangential and peripheral matter. The approach adopted in this paper, however, is to shift the centre of gravity to father-son conflict and then to examine why Willy dies unenlightened and in what manner Biff achieves an awareness about himself…. (p. 74)
Although Willy is aware, maybe dimly and imperfectly, that he is not cut out for success in the world of trade and commerce, he nevertheless nurses the dream of getting the better of everybody else. And this leads him into an alienation from himself, obscuring his real identity. (p. 75)
Presumably, his life would have been more...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
The process of playwriting is given a peculiar wavelike rhythm in Miller's own story of his efforts to realize his intentions from one play to the other. Troughs of dejection on being exposed to unexpected critical and audience responses to a newly completed play are followed by swells of creativity informed by the dramatist's determination to make himself more clearly understood in the next one. This wavelike rhythm of challenge and response is the underlying structural principle of Miller's "Introduction" to his Collected Plays. Behind it one may suspect the workings of a radical distrust of his chosen medium. The present essay will consider some of the effects both of this distrust of the theater as a means of communication and of Miller's theories of dramatic form on his career as a dramatist.
Arthur Miller is not alone in asking what he is trying to say in his plays, nor in being concerned that they may evoke other responses than those the playwright thought he had aimed at. From the early reviews of Death of a Salesman critics have observed that a central problem in the evaluation of Miller's work is a conflict of themes, real or apparent, within each play. (p. 1)
Miller himself has often spoken of modern drama in general and his own in particular in terms of a split between the private and the social. (p. 2)
[For Miller synthesis of the private...
(The entire section is 3466 words.)
Lawrence D. Lowenthal
[Incident at Vichy] is an explicit dramatic rendition of Sartre's treatise on Jews, as well as a clear structural example of Sartre's definition of the existential "theatre of situation."
[The] affinity between Sartre and Miller is understandable when one considers the existential development of Miller's later plays. Beginning with The Misfits, Miller's works begin to shift the tragic perspective from man's remediable alienation from society to man's hopeless alienation from the universe and from himself. After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, and The Price are all organized around "absurdist" themes of metaphysical anxiety, personal solitude, and moral ambivalence. Quite clearly, one presumes, the accumulated impact of international and personal tragedies has strained Miller's faith in man's ability to overcome social and spiritual diseases. Miller no longer has any illusion about a "Grand Design" whose revelation will enable man to live harmoniously as a social being. His characters now grope alone for values to sustain their dissipating lives and each value, once discovered, slips again into ambiguity. Most frightening of all is the realization that human corruption, once attributed to conscious deviation from recognizable moral norms, is now seen as an irresistable impulse in the heart of man. The theme of universal guilt becomes increasingly and despairingly affirmed. But Miller's belief in original sin in...
(The entire section is 1829 words.)
C. J. Gianakaris
The original title Arthur Miller chose for his play of 1949 was The Inside of His Head. But before the drama finally was produced or published, it had been rechristened Death of a Salesman, becoming perhaps the most popular serious drama yet written by an American playwright. Miller's ultimate choice of title succeeds in capturing the central theme of that brilliant work. Yet the earlier title is suggesive of the dramaturgical stratagems Miller was considering. Overtly designated in the title The Inside of His Head, for instance, was Miller's desire to enter into the mind of his protagonist, thereby psychologically to explore the inner recesses of human motivation and behavior. Most observers of Death of a Salesman concur that Miller achieved his larger goal with Willy Loman even if the basic format of that play remained essentially naturalistic. Not until After the Fall (1964) did Miller wholly spring loose of his instinctive roots in realism/naturalism. In that work, the exlressionistic dimension in his playwriting came to the fore. With After the Fall Miller finally had written his The Inside of His Head, drawing on his personal life in the process. (p. 33)
[In After the Fall] Arthur Miller is most vocal in expressing his dramatic and dramaturgical intentions. In stage directions for the opening of Act One, Miller specifies that the theatre stage become the inside view of...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
[The] consideration of Death of a Salesman [has been cluttered] with false analogies. The contradictory rules of capitalism were represented as the modern, humanistic equivalent to the conflicting laws of the ancient gods; while the gradual stripping-off of layers of illusion, the 'facing of facts about oneself', was compared to Oedipus's journey from Thebes to Colonus.
There is certainly a formal debt to the Greeks in Death of a Salesman, in the way in which the play is laid out; and the same could be said for almost any other serious play of the period. But … to stress the form at the expense of Miller's observation and almost intuitive moral insights is to trivialise the play. There is no analysis of capitalism in Death of a Salesman…. Willy is not so much a victim of inexorable economic forces as he is of what Hickey in O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh called 'pipe-dreams'…. What Miller kills in his play is not one anonymous salesman who could have been destined for better things, had circumstances allowed, but selling as a way of life.
Technically, Loman never can be a tragic hero in the Greek sense, because Miller lets us know from the start exactly what he is like…. [We] realise that he is a salesman who has lost his small ability to sell, and is therefore in danger of losing his job as well, his livelihood, his family and, above all, his self-respect. What follows simply confirms...
(The entire section is 380 words.)