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About this book

Arthur Miller was one of the most important American playwrights and political and cultural figures of the twentieth century. Both Death of a Salesman and The Crucible stand out as his major works: the former is always in performance somewhere in the world and the latter is Miller's most produced play.

As major modern American dramas, they are the subject of a huge amount of criticism which can be daunting for students approaching the plays for the first time. This Reader's Guide introduces the major critical debates surrounding the plays and discusses their unique production histories, initial theatre reviews and later adaptations. The main trends of critical inquiry and scholars who have purported them are examined, as are the views of Miller himself, a prolific self-critic.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
Arthur Miller was one of the major American dramatists of the twentieth century. He clearly ranks with the other truly great United States playwrights – Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee – and takes his place in the pantheon of great world dramatists. Miller earned this reputation during a career of over 70 years in which he achieved critical success in the 1940s and 1950s with the dramas All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible and A View From the Bridge, refused to name names at his appearance before the House Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC), had a celebrated marriage to the film actress Marilyn Monroe, served as president of the literary organization International P.E.N., produced a critically acclaimed autobiography, Timebends, in 1987, and premiered new plays on Broadway and in London in the 1990s and in the new millennium. Arthur Miller was not only a literary giant, but also one of the more significant political, cultural and social figures of his time. He was a man of conviction and rock- solid integrity who frequently took stands, popular and unpopular, on the ethical issues that engage societies throughout the world. At his death, the front page headline of the New York Times called him the ‘moral voice of [the] American stage’.1
Stephen Marino

2. 1949–69: Reviews and Early Criticism

Abstract
Arthur Miller understood that close collaboration among the playwright, director, set designer, composer, actors, and producers significantly affects the critical reception of a play. The unique production histories of both Salesman and Crucible demonstrate how the complicated collaborative process of writing, producing and performing has both advantages and pitfalls. Miller wrote Salesman and Crucible in different creative conditions. The original Broadway production of Salesman was a result of an almost perfect collaboration among Arthur Miller, director Elia Kazan, set designer Jo Mielziner, and composer Alex North – a collaboration that was unique in the late 1940s. At the time that Miller wrote Salesman in 1948, Elia Kazan and Jo Mielziner were among the most influential directors and set designers in the American theatre. Kazin and Mielziner had just triumphed in 1947 with the production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, a play that Miller saw with Kazan, and he fully admitted it gave him license to speak ‘full throat’1 in his artistic expression. Kazan had also directed Miller’s first Broadway hit, All My Sons, in 1947 and they had established a close professional and personal relationship. When Kazan read the original script of Salesman, he was so moved and excited that he insisted on directing it for the next season.
Stephen Marino

3. 1949–79: Society and Tragedy

Abstract
In his 1970 full-length study, Arthur Miller, Ronald Hayman declares that, as one of the greatest American plays ever written, Salesman is a public play and probably the only successful twentieth- century tragedy with an ‘unheroic hero’. He maintains that ‘Willy Loman’s values are very much those of contemporary society – the American Dream that the rest of the world mimics.’1 Hayman’s analysis sets the stage for this chapter, which discusses how the early criticism of Salesman and Crucible viewed the plays through the lens of social realism, argued over whether the dramas were tragedies, and considered how they illustrated the American Dream. Miller as a Social Dramatist Salesman and Crucible reinforced Miller’s reputation as a social dramatist, a status he first earned with All My Sons. Even though the expressionistic form of Salesman and the historical setting of Crucible were in stark contrast to the conventional staging of All My Sons, many critics categorized these plays as being in the school of ‘social realism’ and saw both as commentaries on social themes and issues. This notion is best expressed by Robert Hogan, who noted that much of Miller’s work developed from the image of man ‘struggling to be at one with society’.2
Stephen Marino

4. The 1980s: Salesman – Salesmanship, Psychology, Ethnicity

Abstract
To the mid- 1980s, noted scholars analysing Salesman focused on the topics of salesmanship, psychology, and characterization. This period also produced works by major scholars who offered comprehensive approaches to Miller and his entire oeuvre, with extensive analysis of Salesman. In addition, ethnic criticism considered how Miller’s upbringing as a Jew influenced the play. Salesmanship In Chapter 1, we saw how, immediately after the premiere of Salesman, considerable controversy raged as to whether the play was a critique of capitalism that depicted Willy Loman as a failed businessman. We saw that Howard Fuller, the president of the Fuller Brush Company, wrote an endorsement of Willy Loman because, to Fuller, salesmen functioned as a crucial part of the US economy and thus embodied the true spirit of American society. In the ensuing years, a substantial amount of criticism has revolved around consideration of Willy’s success or failure as a salesman and how other issues of salesmanship such as business, law, and economics operate in the play. Although Fuller’s judgement is overly positive, most critics take a realistic stance in showing how salesmanship issues make a decidedly negative contribution to Willy’s personal, family and social conflicts. For example, the literary and theatre critic Harold Clurman, whose focus on the American Dream I discussed in the previous chapter, judged that the very notion of salesmanship has distorted the original ethic of the American Dream.
Stephen Marino

5. The 1980s: Crucible – History, Law, Politics

Abstract
To the mid- 1980s, noted scholars analysing Crucible concentrated on its historical accuracy, the role of theocratic law, its political relevance to McCarthyism, and the character of John Proctor. Historical Accuracy Much criticism of The Crucible focuses on the historical accuracy of the play. Some critics castigate Miller for manipulating the actual events; others see historical relevance to political events of the 1950s. From the very start of the original production, Miller was quite candid about his intentions to vary the facts1 of the historical trials. In many essays, especially in his ‘Introduction’ to the Collected Plays and the accompanying notes to the published text, Miller explained how after reading the original transcripts of the examinations of the Salem villagers, he altered the historical events to meet his dramatic purposes. The most obvious alteration is John Proctor’s adultery with the servant girl Abigail Williams to explain the crying out against the historical Elizabeth Proctor (see Chapter 1). As Miller told Henry Hewes, ‘A playwright has no debt of literalness to history.’2 As Chapter 1 explains, Miller intended parallels between the historical events in Salem and the political events in the United States around which he wrapped the personal story of John Proctor’s adultery, for which Miller may have had personal empathy. Miller wrote an historically based play, not a history play.
Stephen Marino

6. The 1990s: New Readings

Abstract
During the late 1980s and 1990s, literary criticism had undergone the revolution known as ‘high theory’ and Miller’s work was not exempt from scrutiny that had never previously been applied to it. Feminist theory, men’s issues, gender issues, Marxist approaches, language studies and biographical approaches altered the readings of the plays. Despite the dominance of new critical approaches during the 1990s, critics discussed themes and topics about Salesman and Crucible that had been explored in previous decades. However, many of these discussions were influenced by the ‘high theory’ and culture wars that dominated literary criticism in the 1980s and 1990s. Death of a Salesman: Tragedy Much debate still raged about the classification of Salesman as a modern tragedy. Stephen Barker, in his 1995 essay ‘The Crisis of Authenticity: Death of a Salesman and the Tragic Muse’, offers a complicated and exhaustive analysis grounded in his judgement that the arguments over the play’s status as a modern tragedy which can be connected to the Aristotelian definition of tragedy invite an ‘altered tragic vision’ that produces obscure and puzzling interpretations of the play. Barker suggests that Salesman is a ‘mimesis of cultural crisis’ and consequently must be seen as ‘an exemplum of the tragic vision in the twentieth century, quintessentially defining the crisis of authenticity that is the tragic’1 in the modern world.
Stephen Marino

7. The 1990s: Feminism and Gender

Abstract
Feminist and gender perspectives have created more new readings of Miller’s plays than any other critical approach. June Schlueter’s Feminist Rereadings of Modern American Drama (1989) was particularly influential in opening up the exploration of feminist issues in Salesman and Crucible. Many essays explore the significance of the secondary role the women seem to have in the plays; however, other essays have examined the powerful and influential role of the female characters, and the intersection of masculine and feminine roles and identities. Death of a Salesman Kay Stanton’s 1989 essay ‘Women and the American Dream of Death of a Salesman’ is a comprehensive consideration of how the play illustrates a male- oriented pursuit of the American Dream, but argues that the men’s quest ‘requires unacknowledged dependence upon women as well as women’s subjugation and exploitation’.1 Stanton’s discussion defines three competing dimensions in the play: the Green World, the Business World, and the Home, all of which define the masculinity of the American Dream upon which the play is based and in which Willy struggles to define himself and his sons.2 Stanton maintains that all three of these worlds have ‘ascendant’ male figures and ‘submerged’ female presences. The Green World, for example, is seen in Willy’s longing for the pastoral, trees, flute music, planting, and Biff’s pleasure in the ranches and farms out west.
Stephen Marino

8. Beyond 2000: Critical Trends

Abstract
During the first decade of the twenty- first century, critical evaluation of Arthur Miller’s plays continued at a rapid pace. Many factors contributed to the ongoing interest in Miller’s entire oeuvre, particularly Salesman and Crucible. There were major Broadway and London revivals of both plays. The Arthur Miller Society continued sponsorship of international conferences, and the papers produced at those colloquies led to the publication of significant criticism. For example, the 2003 conference in Wisconsin spawned a collection of critical essays, Miller and Middle America. Miller himself continued to write new plays and essays until his death on 10 February 2005, coincidentally the same date as the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman in 1949. Miller’s passing has generated a re- evaluation of his place in the pantheon of world playwrights and writers. Various forms of literary criticism emerged during the decade: fulllength critical studies, collections of essays focusing solely on Miller, individual essays in periodicals, biographies, and student handbooks to the plays. Miller’s work continues to be approached from a range of perspectives. Critics explored such topics as the American Dream, business ethics and father/son conflicts in Salesman; Crucible engendered discussion of the heroic nature of John Proctor and the play’s religious and political themes.
Stephen Marino

9. 1950–2000: Film and TV Versions

Abstract
Salesman and Crucible have both been adapted for film and television several times for markets abroad and in the United States. Susan Haedicke has accurately observed that scholars have not scrutinized Miller’s screenplays and adaptations to any great degree.1 Most analyses derive from film reviews and Miller’s own slanted commentary. However, a few comprehensive scholarly works provide worthwhile analysis of the film and TV adaptations of the two plays. Death of a Salesman The first movie of Salesman premiered in 1951. It was a major film release by Columbia Pictures marred by political controversy. The first TV version was a British production for Granada Television, directed by Silvio Narizzano and starring Albert Dekker as Willy Loman. Dekker had extensive experience with the English touring production of the stage play as a replacement for Thomas Mitchell. Critics praised the production for adapting the realistic scenes and imaginings ‘with utter smoothness’.2 The critical success of this TV version prompted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to invite Narizzano to direct and Dekker to reprise his role as Willy. Because this Canadian production ran without commercial breaks, Narizzano tinkered with the format, resolving to record it as a filmed play rather than a television adaptation.
Stephen Marino
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