Like many of Arthur Miller’s other plays—Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, A Memory of Two Mondays (pr., pb. 1955), and A View from the Bridge (pr., pb. 1955)—The Price deals with the American dream of improving one’s income, education, and social class. The four characters of The Price share this dream, but only Walter has achieved it. Solomon has built and lost several fortunes, while Victor and Esther have to be content with wage-earner prospects. Only a full scholarship to a prestigious university has rescued their son. The Price, however, is not an index of personal outcomes for its characters but a measure of the cost of pursuing the dream. The dilemma of Victor and Walter—choosing between their own ambitions and their father, who was broken in spirit by the Depression—is one many Americans share. Victor and Walter are not simply two parts of the same man, as Walter believes; they represent the contrary impulses in most Americans. The genesis of both impulses—selfishness and loyalty—is in the family, a family that Miller has observed acutely in all of his plays.
The goods of this world—its tape recorders, refrigerators, and Chevrolets—are important in Death of a Salesman, and they are in The Price as well; in the latter play, however, the harp, chiffoniers, divans, and dining-room table for twelve are decidedly upscale. Where Willy Loman was worried about objects being worn out before he could even pay for them, in The Price the furniture of the Franz family is imposingly solid and heavy with tradition. Such furniture is a challenge, Solomon observes, because it is not disposable and limits one’s freedom to shop. Interestingly, Walter takes none of his family’s possessions, while Victor only takes his foil, mask, and gauntlets. With these choices, Miller may be asking what is necessary, how much one needs. This issue has caused some critics to question the intensity of The Price, for Victor (and even Walter or Esther) is far from the hungers and appetites of a Willy Loman or a Joe Keller (in All My Sons). The Price, however, is clearer in its statement of its social dilemma than Miller’s more famous plays.