- Stone Tower: The Political Theater of Arthur Miller
Jeffrey Mason’s Stone Tower: The Political Theater of Arthur Miller disrupts the traditional perspectives on Miller as a social dramatist and, instead, portrays him as a political playwright. After establishing this approach, Mason then assesses the profundity and efficaciousness of Miller’s political theatre and activism. He explores a broad spectrum of material to propel the discussion of Miller’s political theatre, which includes his famous and lesser-known plays, nondramatic works, and his activities as a political advocate.
In the preface and introduction, Mason defines the book’s project and distinguishes it from the many studies on Miller’s dramas. According to Mason, for over five decades critics and scholars have presented Miller as a social dramatist. In a social drama, Mason explains, we simply understand that “the individual relates to society but not how he does so. If social drama is about society, then political drama is about its dynamic: its struggles, its dialectic, and its evolution” (2). Mason, primarily supported by Michel Foucault’s studies on power dynamics, argues that Miller’s work goes beyond the social drama to explore structures of power within relationships and communities. Moreover, Mason’s book aims to reveal how Miller’s political sensibilities were strongly shaped by real-world struggles in the United States and abroad, such as the clash between communism and capitalism during the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and World War II, the Jewish Diaspora and the Holocaust, the cold war and the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), the Vietnam War, the contested presidential election of 2000, and the continuous struggle for freedom of expression around the globe.
Seven chapters are devoted to the project, the strongest being the first, which positions Miller as politically engaged inside as well as outside the theatre—by choice and coercion. The chapter navigates through different periods of Miller’s life, specifically, when he was an “unfriendly witness” before HUAC, when he was pledged to McCarthy as a Connecticut delegate at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when he protested the Vietnam War, when he acted as the President of International P.E.N., and when he contested the use of his play The Crucible by the avant-garde Wooster Group. The section on HUAC explores Miller’s testimony in sufficient depth to allow a more comprehensive understanding of Miller’s stance and political thought in regard to repression and censorship. For instance, Miller is mostly remembered for one act of defiance toward HUAC: he would not “name names,” refusing to cooperate, betray others, and “submit to the power of oppressive authority” (36). Mason, however, inspects the playwright’s entire testimony and concludes that he was, in many respects, “acquiescent” toward the committee. Apparently, he had found a “judicious middle ground” (36, 38). Miller was not as fully cooperative as Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, [End Page 132] and Lee J. Cobb, but he was also not as firmly resistant as Lillian Hellman, Pete Seeger, Zero Mostel, and Paul Robeson.
In subsequent chapters, Mason’s political discussion focuses more closely on Miller’s dramaturgy, especially in All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and The Archbishop’s Ceiling. Discussing All My Sons, Mason looks at the scope and depth of Miller’s political vision, how he “doesn’t expand the range of the family as much as brings all of humanity down to the family scale” (79), how he considers the individual’s responsibility to society but not society’s responsibility to the individual, and how he provides a potential geopolitical framework, but ultimately reduces it to one family living on a block in a small Ohio town.
In the chapter on Salesman, Mason’s scholarship becomes creative as he examines the political dynamics of the play through the lens of one of its rarely studied characters—the Loman family house: “The house is the venue for confrontation and recognition, whether evaded or attempted. It is the lace...