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Arthur Miller Ends 89 Year Run

"You make an issue. The issue isn't there, just lying around waiting to be picked up off the sidewalk. It is what the author is intense about in his life."

Last night (2/11/05) the curtain came down on the life of playwright Arthur Miller. His most renowned works dissect social and political issues from an intimate viewpoint.
New York Times Photo
"In play after play..
...he holds man responsible for his and for his neighbor's actions."

Mell Gussow, Critic
The New York TImes

In "Death of a Salesman", Miller offers a stark portrait of the American Dream unravelled. His 1949 play won the "triple crown" of critical aclaim that year: Tony Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Interviewed by NEH Chairman William R. Ferris for the March-April 2001 of Humanities magazine, Miller reflected on the demise of Willie Loman:
"...there is a larger context, which is social and even political-that a lot of people give a lot of their lives to a company or even the government, and when they are no longer needed, when they are used up, they're tossed aside."

"...the focus of the play is the humanity of these people rather than coming at them from some a priori political position."

"...Willie Loman's situation is even more common now than it was then. A lot of people are eliminated earlier from the productive life in this society than they used to be. I've gotten a number of letters from people who were in pretty good positions at one point or another and then were just peremptorily discarded.
On the heels of his success with "Death of a Salesman", the newly minted celebrity would stand toe-to-toe with Joseph McCarthy, laying his personal life on the line by refusing to cooperate with McCarthy's committee. In his 1953 play, "The Crucible" he weaves together the contemporary inquisition of McCarthy with a history of the Salem witchcraft trials.
"The Crucible" was an act of des- peration. Much of my desperation branched out, I suppose, from a typical Depression--era trauma--the blow struck on the mind by the rise of European Fascism and the brutal anti-Semitism it had brought to power. But by 1950, when I began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America, I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors' violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.

Arthur Miller explains
Why I Wrote the Crucible

For us to dwell further on the 89 charmed years of Miller's life would be redundant: the particulars abound on the web. A comprehensive listing of links and teaching resources can be found at the Web English Teacher. The site is amazing and continues to grow with new additions and insights. But I can't resist quoting a few more gems from Why I Wrote "The Crucible", and essay penned by Miller shortly after the film version was produced in 1996.
...its political implications are the central issue for many people; the Salem interrogations turn out to be eerily exact models of those yet to come in Stalin's Russia, Pinochet's Chile, Mao's China, and other regimes. (Nien Cheng, the author of "Life and Death in Shang- hai," has told me that she could hardly believe that a non-Chinese--someone who had not experienced the Cultural Revolution-had written the play.) But below its concerns with justice the play evokes a lethal brew of illicit sexuality, fear of the supernatural, and political manipulation, a combination not unfamiliar these days.
Think of Abu Ghraib, and the recent documentation of sexual aspects of torture.
The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding ages of common experiences in the fifties: the old friend of a blacklisted person crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him; the overnight conversions of former leftists into born-again patriots; and so on. Apparently, certain processes are universal. When Gentiles in Hitler's Germany, for example, saw their Jewish neighbors being trucked of, or rs in Soviet Ukraine saw the Kulaks sing before their eyes, the common reaction, even among those unsympathetic to Nazism or Communism, was quite naturally to turn away in fear of being identified with the condemned. As I learned from non-Jewish refugees, however there was often a despairing pity mixed with "Well, they must have done something." Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.
Today the public yawns in the face of arbitrary detention and perpetual war, in his passing Miller leaves us a timely reminder to avoid denials we cannot afford.

David Roknich



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