Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What ethical compromises do some of the major characters in Arthur Miller’s plays make? Why do they make such compromises?
Discuss the role that personal and societal failure play in some Miller plays that you have read.
Discuss the roles that parent-child and husband-wife relationships play in the Miller plays that you have read.
Discuss Miller’s concern with the nature of guilt as reflected in his writing.
To what extent do his main characters bear responsibility for their own actions?
Discuss the interplay between reality and fantasy in one or more of Miller’s plays.
What specific elements of historical events play a part in Miller’s writing?
What effect do social pressures have on at least three of his major characters?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Although Arthur Miller’s major reputation is as a playwright, he also published reportage, Situation Normal (1944); a novel, Focus (1945); a novelized revision of his screenplay The Misfits (both 1961); a screenplay entitled Everybody Wins (1990); collections of short stories; three book-length photo essays in collaboration with his wife, Ingeborg Morath, In Russia (1969), In the Country (1977), and Chinese Encounters (1979); and one television drama, aired in 1980, Playing for Time. Most studies of Miller’s career neglect his nondramatic writing, even though he demonstrated an impressive command of the short-story form and proved himself remarkably adept at blending reportage, autobiography, and dramatic reflection in his later essay-length books, such as “Salesman” in Beijing (1984) and Spain (1987). All the important themes of his plays are explored in his nondramatic work, which also contains considerable comment on the nature of drama. The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller (1978), edited by Robert A. Martin, and Conversations with Arthur Miller (1987), edited by Matthew C. Roudané, are essential to an understanding of Miller’s theory of drama, his career in the theater, his political views, and his work as a whole; as is his autobiography, Timebends (1987).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Arthur Miller has been acclaimed as one of the most distinguished American dramatists since Eugene O’Neill, the father of modern American drama. Because of his direct engagement with political issues and with the theoretical concerns of contemporary drama, he was frequently a significant spokesperson for his generation of writers. His reputation seems secure both nationally and internationally, and his plays continue to be performed live or through screenplay adaptations all over the world.
Miller successfully synthesized diverse dramatic styles and movements in the belief that a play should embody a delicate balance between the individual and society, between the singular personality and the polity, and between the separate and collective elements of life. Miller was a writer of social plays whose concern with the moral problems in American society led him to probe the psychological causes of behavior. He built on the realist tradition of Henrik Ibsen in his exploration of the individual’s conflict with society but also borrowed Symbolist and expressionist techniques from Bertolt Brecht and others. He based his plays on the assumption of an objective reality that is comprehensible as well as a subjective reality that makes life problematic and ambiguous. Therefore, all attempts to interpret his work from either an exclusively political or an exclusively psychological standpoint fail, for Miller regarded his plays as indissoluble amalgamations of inner and outer realities.
Miller’s achievement as a dramatist has been recognized with numerous awards. These include the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Death of a Salesman; the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for All My Sons in 1947 and for Death of a Salesman in 1949; the Antoinette Perry Award in 1949 for Death of a Salesman and for The Crucible. In 1956, Miller received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Michigan, and he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1958. During the 1990’s, he received the William Ingle Festival Award for distinguished achievement in American theater and the Edward Albee Last Frontier Playwright Award. In 1998, Miller was named Distinguished Inaugural Senior Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. In 1999, he received the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (Death of a Salesman) and in 2001 a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship and the John H. Finley Award for Exemplary Service to New York City.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bigsby, Christopher. Arthur Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009. Even though this biography covers only the first 48 years of Miller’s life, it is nearly 800 pages long and is rich in detail. Bigsby covers Miller’s childhood, writing, politics, and marriages. It is a more thorough study of Miller’s life than even his 1987 autobiography. This book is essential for any fan of Arthur Miller.
Bigsby, Christopher, ed. Arthur Miller and Company. London: Methuen, 1990. A series of impressions on Miller’s works from noted writers and theater personalities. Presents a variety of insights into Miller and his work.
Bigsby, Christopher, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Contains a detailed chronology, an essay on the tradition of social drama, and chapters on the early plays, the major plays, and Arthur Miller in each of the decades from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. There follow chapters on Miller’s involvement with cinema, his fiction, and his relationship with criticism and critics. Includes a bibliographic essay and an index.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Arthur Miller. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. This volume consists of essays on Miller’s major drama from All My Sons to The American Clock, a brief introduction discussing Miller’s significance, a chronology, a bibliography, and an index. Includes important early essays (Raymond Williams and Tom F. Driver on the...
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