Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430

In his introduction to the first edition of The Portable Arthur Miller (1971), Harold Clurman made an observation about Miller’s plays that still holds. “All his ideas are parts of one Idea,” he wrote, and that idea is that “[w]e are all part of one another; all responsible to one another.” This idea appears in Miller’s plays as a moral conflict between the visions of English poet John Donne and English naturalist Charles Darwin: Donne’s view that existence means “no man is an island” and Darwin’s belief that existence is fundamentally about “survival of the fittest.” In play after play, Miller expresses this conflict through acts of betrayal—of a spouse, a parent or child, a sibling, a friend, a group, or a principle. At times the betrayal is primarily domestic—for example, in Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949), A View from the Bridge (pr., pb. 1955), The Price (pr., pb. 1968), and The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. At other times it is social and political—such as Incident at Vichy (pr. 1964, pb. 1965). Most often it is both, as in All My Sons (pr., pb. 1947), The Crucible (pr., pb. 1953), or After the Fall (pr., pb. 1965).

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Much of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan consists of conversations in which Lyman tries to justify his betrayals and charge the others with complicity; at times, he seems to make some convincing points against them. However, his rationalizations, his charges against Theo and Leah, his claims of having gone beyond guilt, and the play’s frequent humor do not alter his status in the conflict that the play...

(The entire section contains 430 words.)

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