Arthur Miller

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Miller, Arthur (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miller, Arthur 1915–

Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, author of Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge, After the Fall, and The Price. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 2), and Volumes 6, 10, 15, 26, 179.

Miller's tragedies … tend to fluctuate, often uneasily, between Greek drama with its emphasis on external causes (though Miller tries to avoid its fatalism) and Christian drama, which involves freedom and responsibility and which seeks the source of tragedy in the individual. His drama is unlike both in that for the most part it rejects a religious framework. Miller, like most modern tragedians, has been seeking a new explanation of the human situation with its tragic aspects. He seeks it in naturalistic and humanistic terms, not transcendental ones. Our ignorance, our lack of consciousness, is remediable. Our man-made ethical system, though incomplete and faulty, can be improved. Our environment, which restricts and defeats us, which prevents us realizing ourselves (a failure which to Miller is the heart of the tragic experience) can be changed—if we will.

M. W. Steinberg, "Arthur Miller and the Idea of Modern Tragedy," in Dalhousie Review, Vol. XL, 1960, pp. 329-40.

[Miller's] writing, although it usually has an axe to grind, does not attempt to startle society with new ideas. Indeed, he does not believe that the theatre can promulgate entirely new ideas, because it must gather the assent of its audience as it moves along, and this is impossible with the radically new…. What Miller asks for is a theatre of "heightened consciousness." He speaks of two passions in man, the "passion to feel" and the "passion to know."… [But] Miller seems to flinch before that assertive act of the imagination which uncovers (or, in religious language, receives) the ontological ground upon which the truly meaningful act must stand. This is a level of the real which Miller has not yet explored, although it is the level demanded of one who would break out of the confusions that enveloped Willy Loman.

Tom F. Driver, "Strength and Weakness in Arthur Miller" (reprinted by permission of the author © 1960 by Tulane Drama Review), in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. IV, No. 4, 1960, pp. 45-52.

Mr. Miller's steadfast, one might almost say selfless, refusal of complexity, the assured simplicity of his view of human behavior, may be the chief source of his ability to captivate the educated audience. He is an oddly depersonalized writer; one tries in vain to define his special quality, only to discover that it is perhaps not a quality at all, but something like a method, and even as a method strangely bare: his plays are as neatly put together and essentially as empty as that skeleton of a house which made Death of a Salesman so impressively confusing. He is the playwright of an audience that believes the frightening complexities of history and experience are to be met with a few ideas, and yet does not even possess these ideas any longer but can only point significantly at the place where they were last seen and where it is hoped they might still be found to exist.

Robert Warshow, in his The Immediate Experience, Doubleday, 1962, p. 194.

[The] plays of Miller have more than a merely structural similarity to those of Sophocles and Racine and Ibsen. Like the plays of those earlier men, Miller's also vitally embody the austere tragic spirit. That embodiment, in a time which is overwhelmingly eclectic and experimental, gives the real meaning and the real importance to the work of Arthur Miller. (p. 6)

[The] premise … that the most valid and fertile subject for the drama is the attempt to show man struggling to be at one with society … is basic to all of Miller's work up to The Misfits. (p. 8)

Despite the realistic manner of The Man Who Had All the Luck, All My Sons, and The Crucible, Miller has never regarded realism as an end in itself, but only as a tool to be mastered…. In his mature plays, Miller has been absorbed by the problems that Ibsenian realism did not...

(The entire section is 4,072 words.)