The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The Price begins with Victor Franz’s entrance into a room crowded with old furniture that is ugly but impressive. A nice-looking uniformed police sergeant, Victor steps meditatively, gazing at his deceased parents’ furniture; various pieces attract him, before the phonograph draws him and he puts on a “laughing record.” Two comedians’ attempts to utter a sentence are interrupted by gales of laughter, and Victor himself chuckles and then begins to laugh hard.
Esther, his wife, enters, hears the laughter, and thinks that a party is occurring, and Victor worries that she has been drinking. While both wait for a furniture dealer, Victor tells her about his brother’s refusal to take his calls regarding the furniture sale, and Esther cautions him to bargain with the appraiser. Money and class are important to Esther; she is upset about going to a film with Victor in uniform rather than a suit. Victor wonders whether the cause of her unhappiness is the departure of their son, Richard, to college. Esther does not deny this possible cause, but additional matters bother her, such as the absence of communication between Victor and his brother, Walter, and, more important, Victor’s failure to retire from the force, return to college, and pursue the scientific career he had desired as a young man. Victor’s indecision bewilders Esther, who all but calls him a failure. Before going to pick up his suit at the cleaners, however, she tries to cheer her husband by asking to see a fencing move (she has noticed his foil and mask).
As Victor playfully lunges at Esther with the foil, the furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, enters. The courtly Russian Jew is nearly ninety and walks with a cane but is straight backed. To show her confidence in Victor, whose feelings she has hurt, Esther goes to pick up his suit and leaves the men to bargain. Solomon is pleased by the harp and several other pieces and would like to purchase them individually, but Victor insists that everything must be sold because the building is scheduled for demolition.
Believing that no deal can be made without trust, Solomon tries to win Victor’s confidence, telling him stories about his varied past. Victor is suspicious and impatient, wanting only a price, and the old man is so upset that he rises to leave several times. Victor, Solomon says, must have used an old telephone book to contact him, since he had cleaned out his store two years earlier. Having overcome his fear that he will not live to finish selling the furniture, Solomon...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
One of the most difficult tasks onstage is to move back in time. In All My Sons (pr., pb. 1947), Arthur Miller adopted a dramatic form used by Henrik Ibsen that ties progressive suspense to a discovery of a secret in the past. In Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949), Miller used projected images in lighting, music associated with character and time, and Willy Loman’s partially transparent house to establish past, present, and Willy’s dreams. The Price does not use the special effects of Death of a Salesman, but Miller does adapt Ibsen’s structure by using a room full of furniture as a portal to memory and fantasy for Walter, Victor, and Esther, and even for Solomon, though he is not a member of the family. The furniture thus enables an audience to see the characters both at the time they were making life-shaping decisions and nearly thirty years later, as they struggle with the consequences of those choices. The harp, with its cracked sounding board, is almost a stand-in for Victor and Walter’s mother, and the worn easy chair represents their father.
Just as the props are entries to the past, so too are Gregory Solomon and Esther. They are indeed the furniture appraiser and Victor’s wife, but they are also measures of response by Walter and Victor to their father and mother. Victor is kind to and protective of Solomon just as he was toward his father; Walter tries to get Esther’s approval and favor just as he...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Centola, Steve, ed. The Achievement of Arthur Miller: New Essays. Dallas: Contemporary Research, 1995.
Chaikin, Milton. “The Ending of Arthur Miller’s The Price.” Studies in the Humanities 8 (March, 1981): 40-44.
Cohn, Ruby. “The Articulate Victims of Arthur Miller.” In Dialogue in American Drama. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971.
Miller, Arthur. Timebends: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 1987.
Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller. Rev. ed. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.
Nelson, Benjamin. “I Just Didn’t Want Him to End Up on the Grass.” In Arthur Miller: Portrait of a Playwright. New York: McKay, 1970.
Schlueter, June, and James K. Flanagan. Arthur Miller. New York: Ungar, 1987.
Schroeder, Patricia R. “Arthur Miller: Illuminating Process.” In The Presence of the Past in Modern American Drama. Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.
Weales, Gerald. “All About Talk: Arthur Miller’s The Price.” Ohio Review 13 (1972): 74-84.