Timebends Critical Context
by Arthur Miller

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Ultimately, Timebends is not the principal work on which Arthur Miller’s reputation will rest; if he had not written the handful of plays that have entered the standard theatrical repertoire, this autobiography would not be read, but then neither could it have been written. It is the summation, from the perspective of early old age, of Miller’s growth, through 1987, as a writer and a human being. Miller has published one novel, Focus (1945); one volume of short stories, I Don’t Need You Any More (1967); and numerous essays. He will be remembered, however, as he remembers himself—as a playwright—and this book is a drama of ideas brought to another stage.

Timebends provides suggestive but elusive insights into the creative process and will be a valuable resource to anyone investigating the genesis of Miller’s plays. He presents his salesman uncle, Manny Newman, as in part a model for Willy Loman, and, while acknowledging that After the Fall draws on the circumstances of his troubled marriage to Marilyn Monroe, he refuses to concede that it exploits that relationship. The book is also a remarkable participant’s account of the social, political, and theatrical history of the United States during the decades that followed World War II.

Age has not softened Miller’s desire for social justice or his contempt for the unexamined life he sees too many of his countrymen living. Like Miller’s plays, Timebends is a jeremiad, made compelling by the authority with which Miller’s achievement as playwright endows him. Convinced that “there could be no aesthetic form without a moral world, only notes without a staff,” he offers these notes of a career spent trying to reconcile the aesthetic and the moral. Timebends is ambitious in its literary design and in its designs on the reader’s imagination. “A failure to imagine will make us die,” declares Miller in this imaginative account of a playwright’s life.