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Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman And The Crucible Essay, Research Paper

Arthur Miller, winner of many literary and dramatic awards, is an incredibly influential force in American drama. His plays deal with issues common to every society. He makes the audience face fault, weakness, and ignorance; subjects we would typical

hide from. At the same time he emphasizes strength, human spirit, and familial love.

Alice Griffin believes that Miller’s plays are important internationally (xii). He belongs to an international theater rather than a regional theater (Heilman 170). His plays are staged and studied by students to understand American life in Russia, P

and, Iceland, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and China to name a few (Griffin xi). Miller’s works thrived in England. The University of East Angelia named it’s center the Arthur Miller Centre (Griffin 1). They can relate to the sense

f identity, honor, recognition, and familial love (Griffin Preface). In a production in Beijing, Miller explained to a Chinese actor playing Biff the son’s feelings of guilt and “painfully requited” love for his father, the actor understood as it is v

y Chinese (Morath 79). The phenomenon of Death of a Salesman has been the same all over the world. Audiences all have a sense of their life story of their father, uncle, or brother (Griffin 35). In real life Miller had an Uncle Manny who had two sons

ho were in competition with Miller and his brother. Manny ended his own life because he failed at business. Miller’s personal history is demonstrated in his sensitive and passionate writing in Death of a Salesman (Griffin 41).

The Crucible (1952) was originally intended to be called Those Familiar Spirits, referring to a spirit that a witch presumably sends out to torment her victims. However, the well area at the bottom of a blast furnace is known as the crucible, it is whe

the molten steels collects being entirely broken down due to immense heat. Miller thought that this was a precise metaphor for what happened in Salem. Crucible also means a harsh trial or examination. John Proctor’s integrity was surely investigated.

He chose to die instead of confessing to being evil. According to Raymond Williams, The Crucible is a powerfully successful dramatization of the notorious witch trials of Salem. It is technically less interesting than its previous ones because it is b

ed on a historical event which is explicit enough to solve, the difficult dramatic problems which Miller had originally set himself. Miller brilliantly expresses a particular crisis “the modern witch hunt” in his own society, but it is not often, in ou

own world, that the issues and statements so clearly emerge in a naturally dramatic form (13). Miller used the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century, to make an indirect, but assertive comment upon McCarthyism in American life (Richard Watt, Jr. 536).

In 1953, when the play was produced, the United States was in social and political turmoil. Joseph McCarthy a Senator from Wisconsin and the play in comparison were both significantly politically infamous. The Senator was responsible for the investiga

ons to find communists in the State Department, Hollywood, and the U.S. Army. These investigations created fear and suspicion within our society. McCarthy was eventually found guilty of misusing his authority (Watts vii). Before being found guilty S

ator McCarthy accused the Democratic administration of sheltering and helping Communists in the American government. It was a fearful time similar to that in Salem. The United States government called McCarthy’s activities witch-hunts. In The Crucibl

Miller mentions that McCarthy accuses individuals of being Communist if they opposed him. Any government official who criticized his hearings was soon found to be defending himself against the charge of being involved in a Communist conspiracy. Miller

mpared McCarthy to the Salem judges in a broad sense (Cliffnotes 52). In 1953 The Crucible was attacked as a comparison to the current Senate “witch hunts.” Critics said it was not a good play at that time, however, later it was found to be superior.

he House Un-American Activities Committee summoned Miller to a hearing. Miller refused to name others as communist sympathizers. He also said that he would only take responsibility for himself and not others. Miller was fined and given a thirty day s

pended jail sentence because he spoke out like John Proctor in The Crucible (Griffin 7). During the McCarthyism period witnesses refused to answer questions and when they did they were scorned (Bentley 302). Thousands of people who refused to answer q

stions and confess were executed during the seventeenth century. Authorities believed that “believing in witches was extensive in America and Europe” (Cliffnotes 44 – 45). Eric Bentley provides us with information that “Arthur Miller had tried to apot

osize this heroic refusal to speak in dramatic literature (The Crucible). In real life, unhappily, such refusal was rendered suspect and ambiguous by its whole background in the life and hates of the Communist Party” (302).

Cushing Scott states that, “Miller has argued for (the) historical truth (of the play), pointed to its contemporary parallels, and defined its transhistorical subject as a social process that includes, but also transcends, the Salem witchcraft trials a

the anticommunist investigations of the 1950’s” (128). However, Miller was interested in the witch trials before he opposed McCarthyism however. He decided to write the play telling about the fear and hysteria McCarthyism caused. His play makes clea

the facts from the past that sinners and guilty people were mistaken for witches in Salem (Bu*censored* 128 -129). Elsom writes that Arthur Miller wrote about witch-hunting in Salem but it was really an indirect commentary on Joe McCarthy and the congression

sub-committees investigating un-American activities. (140) Joe McCarthy probably thought of Arthur Miller as a

“dangerous communist subversive,” but in Europe he was regarded to be agreeably “left wing” (Elsom 139). After a few years McCarthy had died and the committees were dissolved. The Crucible was included in schools as a modern classic. “A political jou

alist might have summed up Arthur Miller’s achievement like this: he had helped to rally the moderates against the forces of extreme right-wing reaction” (Elsom 140).

Guilt… was directly responsible for the ’social compliance’ which resulted in McCarthy’s reign of terror in the 1950’s:

‘Social compliance’… is the result of the sense of guilt which

individuals strive to conceal by complying… It was a guilt, in this historic sense, resulting from their awareness that they were

not as Rightist as people were suppose to be (Bu*censored* 133).

The Crucible made a statement for the subject of the free man’s fight against emotional terrorism to put him down. Arthur Miller was completely involved with the social and moral problems of American society and inevitably made an impact on the world.

he danger from Russian subversion was a more obvious danger than the witch hunts of innocent people in 17th century Massachusetts (Watts viii). The comparison in 1953 was harmful to Arthur Miller and his drama. The similarities of the two eras dealing

ith freedom of judgment against barbaric control remains an issue today. Witch-hunting and the evil Salem trials in The Crucible was a work of social dramatic art making a statement of evil intolerance for global history (Watts viii). Miller wrote The

rucible to prevent history frm repeating itself.

Miller does not use an ordinary plot in The Crucible. “… tension inheres in episodic conflicts rather than in an over-all advancing action. The sense of an evolving general situation, so well achieved by tight structure in The Crucible… is larg

y gone” (Heilman 151). Heilman states that Miller,

turned to more vigorous characters who cause suffering

rather than uncomprehendingly suffer, he portrayed an

evil rooted in human nature overwhelming the community,

he made advances toward complexity of motive, and he

began to discover inner division (160).

In Salem, Massachusetts, a black slave woman and twelve teenage girls were caught dancing around a bubbling cauldron in the woods, despite the fact that dancing was not allowed by the Puritans. The Puritan government ruled the church in 1692 and relig

n believed that women who dance with the Devil are witches.

Fearing being hanged the girls blamed each other. Everyone in the town panicked and began accusing everyone else of witchcraft. The Puritans believed that the Devil was continually enticing man. If a person sinned they had to confess it, regret it, a

perform some act of penance. To avoid being hanged many people in The Crucible confessed to sins they did not commit. Fearing that she would be damned forever Rebecca Nurse refused to confess. Adultery was one of the worst sins someone could commit.

The Puritans also thought that anything pleasant was the work of the Devil, therefore, they were a serious and fearful group. It was an atrocious sin for children to even dance, so to avoid punishment they would pretend to be under the spell of the Dev

. The Puritans believed that a person became a witch by entering into an agreement with the Devil. They further believed that the Devil or one of his witches could take over the body of an innocent person (Cliffnotes 44 – 47). It is a complex story b

Miller makes it easier because he starts each new act telling us of the dreadful possibilities and ending each act with the possibilities happening. Miller uses a repetitive style of questions and answers forming the rhythm of the play. The story is t

d in John Proctor’s perspective (Barron’s Booknotes 7 – 8).

The Crucible has a narrator, a voice not a character, that tells us about the characters and the action and helps us to understand the moral implications.

The director of the l958 off-Broadway revival for The Crucible drew

the consequences of the revised text and introduced ‘a

narrator,’ called The Reader, to set the scenes and give

the historical background of the play. The introduction

of a ‘narrator’ element in The Crucible is closely related

to Miller’s attempts to have a separate voice present the

author’s view of the ‘generalized significance’ of the ‘action’

in the later play (Overland 57).

The Crucible has a “series of non-dramatic interpolated passages in the first act, where the playwright takes on the roles of historian, novelist and literary critic, often all at once, speaking himself ex cathedra rather than through his character ex

ena” are concerned with motivation. “Psychological, religious and socioeconomic explanations of the trials are given… Miller has also been seen to depart from the second of his basic principles of playwriting in introducing narrative and expository p

sages into The Crucible” (Overland 57 – 60). Overland writes that Miller tends to confuse the characters with the real people with the same names from the seventeenth century, such as Parris, Putnam, Rebecca, and Francis Nurse (60).

“Conflict between a man’s raw deeds and his conception of himself,” poses as the struggle for John Proctor to attain high standards. To understand the character Proctor it is important to realize his sense of guilt, which is made clear to us by Elizab

h’s remarks and his behavior. Individual tragedy to John Proctor is the back bone of the play. The first Puritans struggled to survive. John Proctor and John Hale went against the order of the Puritan society in The Crucible. Reverend Hale declares

at the Devil can delude God so he can certainly fool humans. (Cliffnotes 43). During the witch trials there would be no half way point it was either black or white. If guilty you were to be hanged. You had to remain obedient. Rebecca Nurse symbolize

a wise woman who knew her place, the place of the church and the dangers of witchcraft. The danger could be brought forth at any time within the play. The confrontations within the play were brought together in precise detail but the powerful were bro

ht to a lower level throughout the play. You could not be fearful or you would be among the guilty. Ezekiel Cheever arrested Elizabeth Proctor, even though he was on her side, because he had no other choice. Abigail Williams was described by Rebecca

“the very brick and mortar of the church.” All hell broke loose due to the evil of Abigail Williams, seeking revenge on the Proctors when John stopped the affair. Miller writes as though he belittles his characters and condemns them as he sees fit to

unt down all dwellers of the Salem society. The irony was that the purist of the citizens hunted down the innocent people and plagued them with crimes, when they themselves were now a part of the crime of the hunt. Hale was the first to come to the re

ity to oppose the view of the court proceedings and terminate his position in the court. It was better to hang innocent people than to admit to a wrong doing. Old Goodby Osborne was found guilty of witchcraft because she could not remember the commandm

ts (Cliffnotes 43). Hale later in the play realizes that this is wrong and tries to convince Proctor to flee for his life which leads to the most dramatic scene of confrontation. John Proctor is caught in the tangled web he has woven between his wife,

riends, and himself and the entire Salem community. Proctor did not want to be a part of the trials and was forced to make important decisions. He was also accused of being a witch. His destiny relies on his choices. He becomes a rebel against the c

rch and now he must sign a confession. John Hale tries to convince Proctor’s wife to get him to sign. Elizabeth replies with “I think that be the Devils argument.” Which means John Proctor knows inside himself what he will do and no one else will cha

e his mind. John Proctor mulled this over and over and he finally came to a decision. A once weak man now had the authority to make a commitment to mankind. He has chosen to die an honest man. “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from hi

” Charity and justice are major features of human relationships, both public and private. “These issues, therefore, not only frame the play, but specifically define the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor, and they largely determine the co

se of their tragedy” (Bu*censored* 135).

We recognize our own victory over evil from our Puritan past because of the struggles for justice in characters like John Proctor. The Crucible practically has all of the qualifications of a successful tragedy as Miller imagines them to be. “Yet it c

not be said to reach ‘those heights where the breath fails’ because it lacks something far more important to drama: that sense of vividly and fully imagined character that made of Willy Loman a kind of modern Everyman” states Clinton W. Trowbridge (44).

It is apparent that Danforth and Hathorne are a threat to freedom. Proctor is not a threat to freedom because he does not have the power or authority. The Puritans became dangerous and powerful in the new world. Also powerful is the richest man in Sa

m, Thomas Putnam. He gets land by having his daughter accuse others of witchcraft.

Indeed, the apparent difference between Proctor and the

Puritans serves only to stress how corrupting power can

become in the hands of a certain kind of person, the Puritan

American who is obsessed by his own guilt and driven by

the desire to determine sanctity in himself and in others, and

to make it conform to the visible human being (Bu*censored* 131).

It is ironic that Proctor is a victim of what he opposes. As well as John Proctor adding to his own disaster, the Reverend John Hale finds that in trying to solve a horror he creates a horror. “He could be a tragic hero, but his role is minor: throug

him, then, the play has a ‘tragic accent’ ” (Heilman 324 – 325).

Arthur Miller was not satisfied with the original version of The Crucible so he added additional data. Overland reports that Miller added a scene to explain Abigail’s behavior even though it was not needed (57). Miller does not accomplish artistic d

th in The Crucible “because of his inability to project seventeenth century sensibilities and thus to sympathize with them.” The play, according to many critics, “is not seriously historical and, therefore, not seriously literary or political. This pl

seems to fail to reach the social, historical, and moral depth of a great work of art, because it cannot imaginatively conjure the world that it pretends to describe” (Levin 127). The Crucible, some critics say, is a controversial and a modern virtuous

lay. Miller has created a community disturbance too far-reaching to result from an evil plot of a simple villain according to Heilman (144 – 145).

“The Crucible is an argument in favor of moral flexibility. The fundamental flaws in the nature of the Puritan elders and by extension of the McCarthyites, as Miller sees it, is precisely their extreme tendency toward moral absolutism” (Bu*censored* 129).

wants to abolish these factors. Critics say that there is a balanced cast of sinners and non-sinners who deserve our sympathy. Despite the continuing serious crimes by judges Danforth and Hathorne, there is a moral education in the characters Hale an

Parris. Goody Nurse and Giles Corey symbolize “unabated moral sanity and good will” (Bu*censored* 130). John Proctor is a basic hero who opposes evil. He was, however, indiscreet with Abigail Williams, this of course is only a fabrication by Miller. Mill

’s plays constantly

stress the value of the nuclear family, the ties of loyalty between

husband and wife, and their protectiveness towards their

children. Marriage can be destroyed… soured by nagging

sexual guilt (as the The Crucible),… it nevertheless remains

an emotional stronghold, the instinctive centre of people’s

lives, without which society itself falls in anarchy and

self-destruction (Elsom 140 – 141).

Proctor does in some ways represent an enemy to the community because he does not like the representative of the church. He doesn’t go to church regularly and did not take his sons to be baptized. Moral judgments are made by the good people and Salem’

leaders. “The courts condemn the “witches,” to be sure, and this act is the most flagrant example of over-zealous righteousness in the play” (Bu*censored* 130). The town is unmerciful in its destruction of witchcraft.

Miller originally thought of naming his play The Inside of His Head instead of Death of a Salesman. He wanted a huge head to appear and then open up so that we could see inside.

This, in dramatic terms, is expressionism, and correspondingly

the guilt of William Loman is not… a single act, subject to public

process, needing complicated grouping and plotting to make it

emerge; it is rather, the consciousness of a whole life. Thus the

expressionist method, in the final form of the play, is not a casual

experiment, but rooted in the experience. It is the drama of a

single mind, and moreover, it would be false to a more integrated

- or less disintegrating – personality (Williams 11 – 12).

Through the years expressionism has become sensitive to the experience of weakening. It can be categorized in two ways, personal and social. “The continuity from social expressionism remains clear, however, for I think in the end it is not Willy Loma

as a man, but the image of the Salesman, that predominates,” maintains Williams. The social theme in the alienation of Willy is his transition from selling goods to selling himself. He becomes the merchandise which will at some time become economicall

useless. The convincing sense of Death of a Salesman is one of false awareness, “…the conditioned attitudes in which Loman trains his sons – being broken into by real consciousness, in actual life and relationships. The expressionist method embodies

his false consciousness much more powerfully than naturalism could do” (Williams 12). Slang is used perfectly in the play because it is a result of their lifestyle.

In 1950 Death of a Salesman was attacked in America as part of a communist movement threatening the American way of life and capitalism. Stage productions and movie shows were closed because Senator Joseph McCarthy accused individuals in this field o

being communists. Actors, writers, and directors confessed to socialist principals to save their careers. Those who denied the charges found themselves unemployed (Griffin 5).

Death of a Salesman is one of the lasting plays of our time. It’s strength lies in the ability to evoke sympathy and pity rather than fear and incite anger and controversy (Trowbridge 43). Probably the most significant comment about Death of a Salesm

is not its literary achievement but the impact it has had on readers and viewers in America and overseas. Its influence continues to grow in world theatre (Jackson 36). Death of a Salesman has been described by Professor Francis Fergusson as “poetry

n the theatre” (Jackson 35).

It is a myth which projects before the spectator an image

of the protagonist’s consciousness. The playwright attempts

to reveal a tragic progression within the consciousness of the

protagonist. He employs, as the instrumentation of vision, a

complex theatre symbol: a union of gesture, word, and music;

light, color, and pattern; rhythm and movement (Jackson 35).

The most important asset that playwright Arthur Miller holds is his knowledge of the theater. He knows that plays must deal with matters of interest to the public. It is almost impossible to not be impressed with a play by Miller because they are writ

n realistically. “A play,” according to Miller, “ought to make sense to common-sense people… the only challenge worth the effort is the widest one and the tallest one, which is the people themselves” (17). In Tom F. Driver’s writings he states that,

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