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132Comparative Drama TerryOtten. The Temptation ofInnocencein theDramasofArthur Miller.Columbia: UniversityofMissouriPress,2002.Pp.xvi + 280. $37.50 casebound. In The Temptation of Innocence, Terry Otten delves into a most ambitious project—an attempt to clarifythe essential nature oftragedy as it has developed across the span ofArthur Miller's career. He takes as his starting point an observation frequendy made about Miller's first successes, All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A Viewfrom the Bridge, diat Miller's sense oftragedy is focused primarily by an age-old question: To what degree can free will and tragic choice coexist in a universe denied a moral agency or divine intervention ? Otten investigates how this at times contradictory cross between Aristotelian formalism and the modern/postmodern sense ofnihilism— beginning with Miller's early University of Michigan works and ending with Mr. Peter's Connections—recurs throughout Miller's plays in workmanlike fashion. Relying primarily on close readings of the text with occasional forays into performance history, Otten ultimately concludes tiiat it is Miller's belief that "innocence constitutesthe ultimate source ofevil,that it distorts right and wrong and freezes the moral will"(247). As insightful and challenging as this conclusion may be, Otten's book relies too much on paraphrase and synopsis to drive the point home. The first chapter ofdie book, devoted to those little-known and infrequendy played works that precede All My Sons, contains useful summaries ofthe characters and plots, but does not seem to get going critically until Otten begins his discussion of All My Sons. Even though Otten makes a number of insightful observations, such as his viewthat Kate, one oftheplay's more problematic characters , can be seen as a "victim of her blinding innocence," die link between Kate's character flaw and the larger critical purpose ofthe argument seems obscure . FollowingAristode's formula, Ottenjudges Miller's success or failure witii tragic form by testing whether or not the tragic protagonist experiences a full anagnorisis and dismisses those characters who do not "gain tragic awareness" as "falling short of being ... truly tragic figure[s]" (21). Thus die tension in Otten's book recurs time and again to a tension widiin a critical paradigm, a conflict that emerges clearly in his extended comparison of Miller's The Crucible to Robert Bolt's A Manfor all Seasons. Otten relies on Robert B. Heilman's well-known distinction between tragedy and melodrama: "In melodrama, man is simplyguiltyor simplyinnocent; in tragedyhis guiltand his innocence coexist" (Tragedy and Melodrama: Speculations on Generic Form, 237), and convincingly demonstrates that John Proctor is far more aware ofhis propensitytowardevil and duplicitydian is Bolt's Sir Thomas More. Otten rightly Reviews133 concludes that "An innocent victim but an absolute hero, More is totally victorious over a degenerate system; a divided character, Proctor gains self-recognition only through self-confrontation and self-judgment" (75). But this conclusion does not seem to pierce through to the heart of what appears to be Otten's overall argument—howMiller's restless sifting through the moral fibers oftragedy operate. He argues that in Miller's plays die overarching moral context for tragedy once supplied by cosmologica! forces keeps collapsing into die petty sphere of individual psyches, which may or may not be innocent. Miller's protagonists cannot assert or impose a transcendent and unambiguous system of right and wrong tiiat would allow the protagonist to experience the full shock of recognition that is the hallmark ofAristotelian anagnorisis. Otten flirts with this concept in his discussion ofDeath ofa Salesman, one ofthe strongest chapters in the book. Focusing primarily on Millers characterizations ofWilly, Linda, and Biff, Otten demonstrates how each character's perception of his/her moral choices propels the play. Otten's analysis of Linda is particularly perceptive and evenhanded as he demonstrates Linda's agency in die destruction ofdie family, but Otten's depiction ofWilly's pervading sense of guilt at the heart ofthe play's tragedyis well wordi the read.Asserting thatWilly is "not morally moribund" and that"few characters in modern drama expose so vividly the presence ofa guilty conscience" (40). Otten moves surely to his conclusion that "Willy is a victim, but chooses nevertheless; he lacks self...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 132-135
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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