Arthur Miller

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Miller, Arthur (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miller, Arthur 1915–

Miller is one of the most celebrated American dramatists of our time, whose fame derives primarily from the four plays of 1947–55: All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View from the Bridge. In their examination of identity crisis and portrayal of the moral and physical degeneration of very ordinary people, these plays constitute "some of the most devastating comment ever made on the American way of life." Miller has won many important awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1949 for Death of a Salesman. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 10, 15, 26, 179.

Miller, sad emperor with new clothes, is more to be pitied than condemned, once it is understood that he is his own victim as well as that of the cult of success which flourishes so ferally in the jungles of the popular theatre. He is a master faute de mieux, a playwright whose dramatic imagination has always operated within the most stringent limitations, a narrow realist with a hopeless aspiration to poetry, and a moralist with greatly inadequate equipment for the projection of moral complexity. Only once, in Death of a Salesman, did his powers prove commensurate with his theme, so that he was able to compose a flawed but representative image of an aspect of our experience. One other time, in The Crucible, his deficient language achieved a transcendence through its borrowing from history. And that is all, literally everything.

After the Fall is Miller's attempt to come to terms with the fact of his silence, the eight years since his dismal A View from the Bridge announced the terrible possibility that even within his constricted area he might no longer have anything to say. It is his "8 1/2," his document at the crossroads; in it he wishes to fashion a new basis for the continued impulse toward art and, by extension, life, to make a fecundation of what has become sterile. But unlike Fellini, whose film broke through his personal dilemma by the highest acts of the imagination, by making its theme into its form and its terrors into its acceptances, Miller has simply laid out the raw material and done nothing to transform or transfigure it. And what is worse, he has engaged in a process of self-justification which at any time is repellent but which becomes truly monstrous in the absence of any intelligence, craft or art, since it is precisely in those things that self-justification for a creator lies.

The play is so entirely autobiographical that one wonders why Miller did not take a deep breath and go the whole way, why he did not retain himself as a playwright instead of making himself a lawyer and keep Marilyn Monroe as an actress instead of turning her into a singer. Had he been that straightforward the work might at least have gained in the gossip-column interest, which is the only sort it possesses. As it is, his life is spread before us in the manner of a confession whose thin factual disguises only irritate us because of their pretense at striking out for universal meaning. In his self-exposure,… Miller has succeeded in conveying no meaning whatsoever, but only an endless sophomoric revery about meaning, an internal bull-session with not even the minor drama of contradiction or opposition.

For there is almost no drama at all, no true confrontation and no movement from confrontation to understanding; there are only wind, shadows and purple smoke. The very form of the play, which Miller has described, to our unbearable embarrassment for him, as revolutionary, is exactly suited to its incorporeality and adamant refusal of dramatic life. On the edge of the bare apron stage …, a figure called Quentin speaks to a "Listener" theoretically seated just beyond the footlights, while the events of the play, which are described in a program note as occurring within the "mind, thought and memory" of Quentin, unfold from time to time in the areas behind him and in the interstices of his monologue.

They are not actually events but...

(The entire section is 12,349 words.)