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The Achievement of Arthur Miller Robert W. Corrigan I We live in an instant age. Everything from the most complex information to giant buildings, from vast networks of electric circuitry to blenderized gourmet meals, can be produced or made available in a flash. It should be of little wonder, then, that we also tend to create instant major figures in the arts; and our theatre has been no exception. O f the five most important Americans writing for the theatre in the twentieth century— Eugene O ’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Wil­ liams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee— only O ’Neill’s reputation and stature were built cumulatively over a long period of time. And of the five, only O ’Neill (and possibly Williams) approached the prodigious productivity of their continental counterparts. Each of the other four achieved the status of “major” playwright with the professional production of his first or second full length play. (Wild­ er: Our Town— first, 1938; Williams: The Glass Menagerie— sec­ ond, 1945; Miller: All M y Sons• —second, 1947; Albee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?— first, 1962). Having such a large international reputation can be a heavy burden for an artist to bear at any time, but it is particularly difficult when it is thrust upon him early in his career. This was definitely true for Arthur Miller. After Death of a Salesman was produced in 1949, he was considered by many as one of the world’s most important living dramatists and he was treated as a monument, while he was still very much alive. Fortunately, Miller knew how to cope with such adulation and was not destroyed by it. But such conditions did create an atmosphere which has made it difficult to consider his artistic achievement with any objectivity. Now that more than twenty years have elapsed since he first was catapulted to fame, it is possible for us to see the pattern of his work a little more clearly. And this volume is an attempt to study (and at times assess) the plays of this man whom many still believe to be America’s most important dramatist. Copyright 1968 by Robert W. Corrigan. To be published early in 1969 as the Introduction to Arthur Miller (Twentieth Century Views) by PrenticeHall , edited by Robert W. Corrigan. 141 142 Comparative Drama Although one should be leery of critics who play the “periods game” and break down an artist’s work into nice, tight little com­ partments, there do, nonetheless, seem to be two quite different patterns of concern in the plays that Arthur Miller has produced thus far. The first pattern emerges in the plays written up to, and including, the revised version of A View From The Bridge (1957). The second began to emerge in The Misfits (1960), Miller’s only produced film, and has become increasingly manifest in his last three plays, After The Fall, Incident At Vichy, and the recently produced (1968) The Price. I believe these patterns can be best discussed by treating them as separate yet related aspects of the playwright’s own evolution as an artist. In tracing this development, Erik Erikson’s remarkable psycho­ logical biography, Young Man Luther, can be especially helpful. In this book, Dr. Erikson postulates the idea that in the lives of most people there are normally three periods of psychological crisis: the crisis of Identity, the crisis of Generativity, and the crisis of Integrity. These crises, he maintains, generally occur in youth, middle age, and old age, respectively, although there is always some overlapping and the pattern does vary slightly from individual to individual. I believe that the first two stages in Erikson’s pattern of psycho­ logical crisis are quite applicable to Miller’s own development as a playwright, and also throw light on the major themes of everything he has thus far written. The central conflict in all of the plays in Miller’s first period (The Man Who Had All the Luck— 1944, All M y Sons— 1947, Death of A Salesman— 1949, An Enemy of The People— 1950, The Crucible— 1953, A Memory Of Two Mondays— 1955, A View From The Bridge— 1955, A View From The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 141-160
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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