Arthur Miller

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miller, Arthur 1915–

Miller is an American playwright. A moralist who has often been charged with didacticism, he poses questions for which he gives no answers, instead seeking a state of "heightened consciousness" for his heroes and audience. See also Arthur Miller Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 6, 15, 26, 179.

C. W. E. Bigsby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In many ways … The Price seems to mark a return to the world of Joe Keller and Willy Loman. Once again, it appears, we are invited to witness the struggles of a man who has "the wrong dreams" and who embraces too completely the ethics of a society intent on success at any price. But … since Death of a Salesman Miller has become aware of more fundamental influences than those exerted by Horatio Alger Jr. and while he continues to expose the vacuity of the American dream he is more concerned with probing the nature of human freedom than with exposing the social charade. [The Price], therefore, owes more to After the Fall and Incident at Vichy than to All My Sons and Death of a Salesman.

The line between Incident at Vichy and The Price is disturbingly direct. Miller has said that he is fascinated by the Nazi era because it constituted a turning point in man's perception of human nature. The war and the Nazi occupation of Europe produced not merely "a chilling of the soul by the technological apparatus" but also "the obstruction of the individual's capacity for choosing, or erosion of what used to be thought of as an autonomous personality." (p. 16)

As in Death of a Salesman and After the Fall we are at a point in time when the main characters are made suddenly aware of the futility of their lives thus far. For Willy Loman it had been an imperfect perception—a dull sense of insufficiency and failure. For Quentin it was a sudden realisation that his life had been dedicated only to self-interest. In The Price the crisis emerges from a meeting between two brothers. Both men are at a crucial stage in their own lives. Victor, a frustrated and bitterly disappointed policeman, looks back over his life and sees no meaning and no hope for his remaining years. He is poised. He lacks the courage to retire because this means that he will be forced to acknowledge his failure to create anything worthwhile through his career. Likewise he lacks the will to start again—to change a destiny which he has already rationalized away as the consequence of the economic determinism of the nineteen-thirties. His brother, Walter, is in a similar position. Although successful he can find no purpose or meaning behind his frenzied pursuit of wealth and fame. His personal life is in ruins, his professional integrity compromised. But after a serious nervous breakdown he feels at long last that he has begun to understand himself and as the play progresses it becomes apparent that he is determined to put this new, imperfect, knowledge into practice. For the first time he feels genuinely alive to the possibilities of a life built on something more substantial than mutual recrimination and obsessive guilt. Seized with a naive excitement he struggles against his old nature and fights to explain his new perception to his brother. (pp. 16-17)

What [Walter] now understands and tries to convey to his brother is that human failure can be traced not to some in-definable hostility in the universe or to the destructiveness of a particular social system but to the failure of individuals to recognise the paramount importance of some kind of genuine human relationship. The misery of their own family life, for example, was not a sign that "there was no mercy in the world" but rather that there was "no love in this house …". (p. 17)

[Miller failed], in many of the early plays, to trace moral and social failures to their source in the human character. In the person of Chris Keller, in All My Sons , he demonstrates the cruelty of the idealist without attempting to understand its cause while in the same play he draws a picture of a war-profiteer without questioning a human nature which could...

(The entire section is 5,231 words.)