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Arthur Miller Essay, Research Paper

Arthur Miller, in his plays, deals with the injustice of society’s moral values and the characters who are vulnerable to its cruelty. A good majority of these plays were very successful and earned numerous awards. According to Brooks Atkinson, a critic for the New York Times, Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was successful because the play “is so simple in style and so inevitable in theme that it scarcely seems like a thing that has been written and acted. For Mr. Miller has looked with compassion into the hearts of some ordinary Americans and quietly transferred their hopes and anguish to the theater” (Babusci 1261). This play, in 1949, received the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Antoinette Perry Award, the Donaldson Award, and the Theater Club Award (A Brief Chronology of Arthur Miller’s Life and Works, http://www.ibiblio.org/…). Miller has said that he could not have written The Crucible at any other time for it is said that a play cannot be successful unless it speaks to its own time; hence McCarthyism was widespread when this play was written. Everyone was afraid of Communists, just like everyone was afraid of witches during The Crucible. This play won the Antoinette Perry Award and the Donaldson Award (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible 55). His play All My Sons was concerned with a man, Joe Keller, selling defective cylinder heads to the Air Force during World War II, causing the death of twenty-one pilots, one of whom was his elder son. The play focuses around this act and the consequences that arise from it. The play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. All of Miller’s plays focus on one central idea, this idea being that members of our society are often victimized by people with a false sense of morals.

In the play Death of a Salesman Willy Loman is unjustly fired from work when he asks his boss, the young Howard for a job in the city; he is tired of selling on the road because for one, he’s been doing it for thirty-four years and he is no longer producing, and two, he wants to be close to his family. He “is one of society’s victims, one of those “who landed in the ash can.” As Miller explains it, society chews up Willy because he has broken “the law which says a failure in society and in business has no right to live”" (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman 96). In Howard’s office Willy recalls the memory of whom he considered a great salesman, Dave Singleman. He was well liked and popular with his buyers, even to his death. Hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral. Willy wanted to be just like this man, but…all the buyers he once knew are dead, and all the new age buyers care about is getting a deal over and done with. There’s no personality in it anymore. He can’t pay his insurance… “In brief glimses, Willy recognizes that he is a victim. After he is fired, he complains to Charley, “After all the highways and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive”" (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman 96). And his boss doesn’t even care. During the scene in his office he is preoccupied with his “new toy” a wire recorder. As Willy’s life falls apart, the voice of Howards five-year-old son, recorded on the wire, intones the capitals of the states: “The capital of Alabama is Phoenix; the capital of Arkansas is Little Rock.” “It’s a business, kid,… and everybody’s gotta pull his own weight.”

“In the shock of discovery a child has fallen sick, and the town leaps to cry witchcraft. Abigail to escape whipping embraces the excuse, and in the general hysteria vengeance breaks out” (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible 3). Reverend Parris has caught Abigail and her friends, with Tituba, dancing in the woods. Shortly afterwards, his daughter Betty falls ill, she saw Abigail drink blood in the woods as part of a curse to kill Goody Proctor, suspicion is aroused and talks of witchcraft begin… Abby decides it would be fun to play along; she denounces many women as having ties with the Devil. “The “evil” in the play focuses on Abigail as the fountain head, even though she is not its most chilling expression. It’s not her actions that condemn her…rather; it’s the means she uses to pursue her ends. She is willing to sacrifice the community and everyone in it, to subvert the function of the Law, in order to gain her objectives. Her wickedness, then, amounts to a shrewd use of the hypocrisy, greed and spite that thrive in her neighbors under the pretext of seeing justice done. Her power arises from her ability to convert her psychic energies and the willful pursuit of her own objectives into a genuine visionary hysteria. At bottom Abby knows that her prophetic fit is self-induced, that the witchcraft she denounces is non-existent; but once the fit is on her, she can produce a convincing performance and induce the same kind of hysteria in the children. Her real diabolism is her misuse of the sacrosanct office of witness to gain her own ends…” (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible 43).

The central character of ALL MY SONS, Joe, is a small businessman who during the war sends out defective airplane parts which he hopes will not be used in actual combat. However, he will not recall knowledge of these parts for fear his army contracts would be canceled and his business and his family ruined as a result. The play presents the gradual disclosure of these facts to the businessman’s younger son, Chris, a former army officer. The revelation brings with it a realization that twenty-one boys were killed as a consequence of the use of the defective material. Joe Keller is now forced to accept the personal guilt that comes with this act even though he was genuinely unable to visualize the public consequences of what for him was a private act. From an ethical standpoint he feels like he did nothing wrong, for “it is not that he cannot tell right from wrong but that his cast of mind cannot admit that he, personally, has any viable connection with his world, his universe, or his society” (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons 104). He believes that “family is the most important thing and that what is done in the name of family has its own justification” (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons 28). “I did it for you, it was a chance and I took it for you. I’m sixty-one years old, when would I have another chance to make something for you?…For you, a business for you!” (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons 65).

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