Arthur Miller Miller, Arthur (Vol. 2)

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Miller, Arthur (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miller, Arthur 1915–

A major American prize-winning playwright, Miller is best known for Death of a Salesman. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 6, 10, 15, 26, 179.

Miller is no ideologue, no thinker, but he has written some good things. Apart from Death of a Salesman, about which I have mixed feelings, I think his best play is A View from the Bridge, a simple but trenchant dramatic poem. The Crucible, too, is a fine work, once we disregard the analogies with McCarthyism, an entirely different phenomenon from the Salem witch trials, analogies that are not really in the text which I have recently read, but in the mind of the audience that first saw it produced. Now Incident at Vichy has been much criticized by reviewers, though for reasons that seem to me somewhat external. Its actual ideas have not been examined in detail but mostly sneered at for not being deep enough. The trouble with these ideas, however, is precisely their apparent depth—depth without content.

Philip Rahv, "Arthur Miller and the Fallacy of Profundity," in his The Myth and the Powerhouse (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1963, 1964, 1965 by Philip Rahv), Farrar, Straus, 1965.

[The Price] is written in [Arthur] Miller's customary undistinguished prose, and though some critics hailed the influx of Jewish humor as a new and praiseworthy development, what strikes me most about the play is its relentless retrogression. There is no present or future to speak of; the whole thing is a long Ibsenesque exposition, a raking over of bygones with a few new facts coming to light, a harking back and leaning over backward to be nice to one's past—to forgive one's brother and enemy, and, in particular, to justify oneself. For The Price, like most of Miller's plays, seems a rather less than compelling but wholly obsessive dredging up of the same family trauma that must be exorcised. Alas, this drama in reverse gear is even more private than Miller's previous retrogressions. If you beat the same breast often enough, it wears thin; and the public washing of dirty family laundry has lost its mystic appeal in an era in which entire families, guilt and all, have been promenading mother-naked across the stage. Worst of all, Miller is looking backward even technically and ideologically: neither the stylistic nor the socio-political aspect of The Price has anything appreciable to say to our time.

John Simon, in Hudson Review, Summer, 1968, p. 322.

Miller set out to expose conscience—to show its signal failures and occasional successes, the latter highlighting the former. Joe Keller and his son Chris, Willy Loman and his two sons, John Proctor, Eddie Carbone, Quentin, Victor, and Walter Franz are all people of flawed conscience; only John Proctor rises to heroism….

Arthur Miller's real achievement … [is that he] operates with ideals instead of ideas, and his agony is that of an idealist disappointed. The dramatic result is pathos; but it is pathos which, unlike that of Chekhov, for instance, has spoiled itself by hoping to be tragedy.

What, then, can account for Miller's stature as a dramatist?… I suggest that what makes Death of a Salesman is not the character of Willy Loman…. Nor is it Willy's pitiful story. It is not even that image of Brooklyn where trees give way to concrete. Rather, it is the way all these serve to provide the actor with grist for his mill….

The plays will survive, I think, as a challenge to a certain kind of acting, as the achievement of a man of the theater, and not as literary works or expressions of social ideas.

Tom F. Driver, in Saturday Review (reprinted by permission of the author; copyright © 1970 by Saturday Review Magazine Co., July 25, 1970, p. 35.

[It] may well be that [Willy Loman's] durable stage thereness rests on the fact that all of us see, and especially hear, beyond him. Willy's vocabulary is totally familiar—endearingly so because it is...

(The entire section is 2,144 words.)