In Others' Words

"To summarize [Arthur] Miller’s views, a social play, in contrast to a nonsocial or a psychological play, demonstrates the impact of social forces — the class structure, the economy, the system of norms and values, family patterns, etc. — on the raw psychology and lives of the characters; exposes the basic similarity of men, not their uniqueness; and, finally, addresses itself to the question, as did classical Greek drama which Miller regards as the forerunner of all social plays, “How are we to live?” in a social and humanistic sense. . . . One of the most overriding themes in Miller’s plays . . . is what might be called the quest for community. How in the modern world is it possible to recapture the “primary group” values of affection, compassion, solidarity and responsibility? It is the tragedy of the industrial world, according to Miller, that the idea of community has withered, atrophied, and the humanistic links connecting man to man have been severely damaged. A great respecter of the engaged, the committed, the connected, the 'political' man, Miller is correspondingly impatient with the complete privatization of life, both by ordinary men themselves in the course of their daily existence, and by playwrights who write psychological drama of unconnected, unrelated, atomistic men. He sees this theme as really the concern of all great plays: this struggle between what he calls 'family relations' and 'social relations' and what those in sociology would call a tragic struggle between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society) values."

 

— Paul Blumberg, “Work as Alienation in the Plays of Arthur Miller,”
American Quarterly, Summer 1969

"Arthur Miller is a problem playwright, in both senses of the word. As a man of independent thought, he is profoundly, angrily concerned with the immediate issues of our society — with the irresponsible pressures which are being brought to bear on free men, with the self-seeking which blinds whole segments of our civilization to justice, with the evasions and dishonesties into which cowardly men are daily slipping. And to his fiery editorializing he brings shrewd theatrical flights: he knows how to make a point plain, how to give it bite in the illustration, how to make its caustic and cauterizing language ring out on the stage."

— Walter Kerr, New York Herald Tribune, January 23, 1953

"Each of the plays written prior to The Misfits [1960] is a judgment of a man’s failure to maintain a viable connection with his surrounding world because he does not know himself. The verdict is always guilty, and it is a verdict based upon Miller’s belief that if each man faced up to the truth about himself, he could be fulfilled as an individual and still live within the restrictions of society. But while Miller’s judgments are absolute, they are also exceedingly complex. There is no doubt that he finally stands four-square on the side of the community, but until the moment when justice must be served, his sympathies are for the most part directed toward those ordinary little men who never discovered who they really were.

"A Miller protagonist belongs to a strange breed. In every instance he is unimaginative, inarticulate (as with Buechner’s Woyzeck, the words that would save him seem always to be just beyond his grasp) and physically nondescript, if not downright unattractive. His roles as husband and father (or father-surrogate) are of paramount importance to him, and yet he fails miserably in both. He wants to love and be loved, but he is incapable of either giving or receiving love. And he is haunted by aspiration toward a joy in life that his humdrum spirit is quite unable to realize. Yet, in spite of all these negative characteristics, Miller’s protagonists do engage our imagination and win our sympathies. I think this ambiguity stems from the fact that his own attitude towards his creations is so contradictory.

"On the one hand, he finds them guilty for their failure to maintain (or fulfill) their role within the established social structure. . . . On the other hand, while it is certainly true that the system is ultimately affirmed, it cannot be denied that the system is shown to be in some ways responsible for creating those very conditions, which provoke the protagonists’ downfall."

— Robert W. Corrigan, “Introduction,” Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1969

"One could say a playwright is not a great playwright unless he can use things — in themselves — thematically, not simply as properties to be touched and then discarded on the way to discovery, but somehow as the discovery itself. At this point, the drama extends itself into poetry, and metaphor swells with movement to a broader, historical reality. Arthur Miller operates in this vision with reserve and intelligence and surprise."

—Marianne Boruch, “Miller and Things,” Literary Review, 1981


"Arthur Miller understands that serious writing is a social act as well as an aesthetic one, that political involvement comes with the territory. . . . A writer’s work and his actions should be of the same cloth, after all. His plays and his conscience are a cold burning force. I wish there were more like him."

— Edward Albee, Arthur Miller and Company, 1990

"His dramas endure . . . because, along with a talent for stage writing that is unsurpassed in our lifetime, he has put his integrity and uncontrived ethical sensibility into his plays, with the result that they are always about something pertinent and always about something of stirring importance to people who are concerned. His conflicts are disturbing and charged powerfully, like those we experience inside us as individuals and those we helplessly observe unfolding around us constantly in the perilous world in which we live."

— Joseph Heller, Arthur Miller and Company, 1990

"Critics have adduced many subtle reasons (and will continue their analyses for generations) to explain Arthur [Miller]’s mastery as a dramatist, but few are likely to come up with the crucially simple truth that he is a consummate storyteller. Having watched him on numerous occasions, clad in his gentleman farmer’s rumpledness, sidling into my crowded living room, I have etched on my mind his expression of richly amused dejection, that of a man experiencing both pleasure and anguish, one deathly afraid of bores and of being bored yet warily hopeful for that blessed moment of communion that sometimes happens. And after a while it usually does happen. Arthur has found an audience — or, more significantly, they have found him, which is the rarest tribute of all since only a great storyteller can exert such magnetism without a trace of self-devotion. As the yarn unwinds Arthur’s eyes sparkle and his voice becomes sly, conspiratorial, reflective, studded with small abrupt astonishments, the denouement craftily dangled and delayed: he is also an actor of intuitive panache. Is it a performance? Perhaps. But whatever it is, it unfolds with eloquence and his listeners are lost in it, and it is then that I am able to perceive, simultaneously, the inspired vision of the playwright and the energizing charm of the man."

— William Styron, Arthur Miller and Company, 1990

"I was weaned on your work. My children studied you at school. You’ve formed and continue to form generations of thoughtful and inquiring minds. And every tear, every laugh, each emotion and each thought is hard-earned there. You’re rare, dear friend, you’re not only an audience’s playwright you are a playwright’s playwright, a source for us all."

—Arnold Wesker, Arthur Miller and Company, 1990

"In almost all of his plays Miller explodes the myth of private life and emphasizes the value of social responsibility. He extols individuality while simultaneously suggesting that only democratic principles can provide moral solutions to the problems of our age. He espouses a doctrine of freedom that confers upon the individual the power to make independent choices and to convert those choices into noble actions. In Miller’s world, freedom necessitates social responsibility. Regardless of the often overwhelming external and internal forces in his characters’ lives and their success or failure in meeting personal challenges, the individual in Miller’s plays generally has the ability to oppose deterministic forces; to resist destructive impulses from within oneself; to raise oneself from inertia; to oppose any form of injustice; to construct a society based on humanitarian and democratic principles, creating order out of the chaos and giving meaning and dignity to human existence."

—Robert A. Martin, The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller (Revised and Expanded), 1996

"Miller is so often praised, and occasionally decried, for what is taken to be his realism a realism expressed through the authentic prose of a salesman, a longshoreman, a businessman. But Arthur Miller is no simple realist and hasn’t been for fifty years. Moreover, he is incontestably a poet: one who sees the private and public worlds as one, who is a chronicler of the age and a creator of metaphors . . .

"A metaphor is the meeting point of disparate elements brought together to create meaning. Willy Loman’s life is just such a meeting point, containing, as it does, the contradictions of a culture whose dream of possibility has foundered on the banality of its actualization . . . [Miller’s work] grows out of an awareness of the actual, but that actuality is reshaped, charged with a significance that lifts it into a different sphere."

— Christopher Bigsby, “Poet Chronicler of the Age,” Humanities, March/April, 2001


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