Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

A back injury prevented Arthur Miller from serving in the armed forces during World War II, but in characteristic fashion, he became involved in the war effort by gathering material for a screenplay, “The Story of GI Joe,” which was never filmed but instead became the basis of his book Situation Normal, in which he reported on army camps in the United States and on soldiers’ attitudes toward the war in which they were preparing to fight. For the most part, the soldiers had no great interest in the democratic principles for which Miller believed the war was fought, but he elevated one war hero, Watson, to a representative position as a figure whose intensely avowed loyalty to his company represents the democratic solidarity many others cannot articulate. Miller admitted candidly the skepticism of Watson’s company commander, who doubted Watson’s wholehearted commitment to rejoin his fellow soldiers in one of the most dangerous theaters of the war: “The company pride that made him do the great things he did do is gone now and he is left unattached, an individual,” who yearns for—yet probably fears—returning to men he knows he will never see again. Thus, Situation Normal was transformed into the drama of how Miller’s innocent convictions about the war were challenged by psychological and social complexities; indeed, the book is informed by a crisis of conviction that Miller did not fully recognize until the writing of After the Fall and Incident at Vichy.

The Man Who Had All the Luck

Even in an early play, The Man Who Had All the Luck—Miller’s first Broadway production—there is some awareness of the dangers inherent in the innocent attitude of characters such as David Frieber, who insists that the world conform to what his employer, Shory, calls “the awards of some cloudy court of justice.” At twenty, Frieber is still a child, Shory suggests, and Frieber admits that he does not know what he is supposed to be. He believes that he must somehow earn everything that comes to him. That good fortune and the complex interplay of societal forces he cannot control also contribute significantly to his success is an idea that disturbs him. In his quest to become self-made, he withdraws from society, from his family, and ultimately from himself. In the midst of his guilty obsession with the fact that others have aided him, he is unable to see that he has already demonstrated his resourcefulness. In his delusion that he can measure himself, he gives up everything he owns and starts a new business. Frieber’s lunacy seems somewhat forced—much too strident, making it all too obvious that Miller has a point to prove. Moreover, Frieber’s quasi-philosophical declamations disturb what is otherwise rather well-executed midwestern dialogue.

All My Sons

Miller comes even closer to fluent dialogue and carefully crafted dramatic structure in All My Sons, his first Broadway success and the first play he deemed mature enough to include in his Collected Plays of 1957. Critics have long admired the playwright’s suspenseful handling of the Keller family’s burden: the father’s permitting defective parts to remain in warplanes that subsequently crash. Not only does Joe Keller fail to recognize his social responsibility, but also he allows his business partner to take the blame and serve the prison term for the crime. Gradually, events combine to strip Keller of his rationalizations. He argues that he never believed that the cracked engine heads would be installed and that he never admitted his mistake because it would have driven him out of business at the age of sixty-one, when he would not have another chance to “make something” for his family, his highest priority. “If there’s something bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head!” he exclaims. He also claims that other businessmen behaved no differently during the war and that Larry, his son who died flying a warplane, would have approved of his actions: “He...

(The entire section is 6,814 words.)