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N. B. These are copies of abstracts printed in the Arthur Miller Society Newsletter and do not include every single paper presented at the named conferences, just the ones for which abstracts were made available. No abstracts were printed from the earlier conferences, just the paper titles and presenters–and these can be accessed through the conference archive on the events page–click here for the link to ALA and here for the link to AMS.
Paper Abstracts for the Miller Panel at 2003 ALA
From: Vol. 7 June 2003 p. 2-3
Panel Title: “Radio Drama, Short Stories and Plays: Connective Relationships in the Works of Arthur Miller”
“The Nature of the Beast: An examination of The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man, by Arthur Miller”
Presented by Richard K. Tharp, University of Maryland at College Park
At 10:30 PM Eastern Standard Time on Sunday 29 September 1940, the CBS radio network aired The Columbia Workshop, an experimental radio series specializing in original radio plays. On that evening, the broadcast was entitled The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man, written by twenty-five-year-old Arthur Miller. Although the bulk of his early radio work evaded publication, as had most radio plays by other writers, The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man found its way into a 1941 collection of radio plays. For the next six decades, scholars dissected this printed script and used quotations from it to illustrate Miller’s literary themes and development as a dramatist. However, Arthur Miller did not intend to radio scripts for reading audiences. He did intend these creations to serve as the impetus for productions of broadcasts directed toward listening audiences. An examination of the radio career of Arthur Miller uncovers important questions for scholars concerning evidence and the nature of objects under investigation. The primary question is: in regards to a radio play, what should be the nature of the object under examination? Is it the published script, a recording of the audio broadcast, or a combination of both? This paper addresses this question by comparing the published script of Miller’s radio play to its original incarnation as a radio broadcast in 1940. The analysis reveals differences that point to not only what Miller could do as a dramatist, but also what he was precluded from doing.
“‘Family Romances’ and the Struggle to Form Desire as depicted in Arthur Miller’s Short Story ‘I Don’t Need You Anymore'”
Presented by Lew Livesay, St.Peter’s College, NJ.
This paper examines the oedipal struggles that make “I Don’t Need You Anymore” an intertext drawing upon Freud’s “The Uncanny,” “A Child Is Being Beaten,” and “Family Romances.” The main character’s rivalry with his brother and the libido-anguish projected on each parent in this 1959 story underlie the attempt to establish one’s own desire as the basis of identity. That five-year old Martin is not yet a self-sufficient individual is clear by his inability to maintain borders and separations. Constant references to boundaries such as skin, clothes, the blanket, or bedroom doors cast the struggle in figurative terms. In its effort to establish temporal narrative within the individual conscience of a five-year old boy, this story defines desire and individuality in a way that gives new resonance to how the uncanny haunts the psychic trap of recurring primal scenes. An inability to establish one’s own desire, free of familial expectation, plagues many of Miller’s mature protagonists in the plays. In “I Don’t Need You Anymore,” we can see the psychic dilemma dramatized in the earliest stage of human development.
“Materialism, Socialism and Paternal Conflict in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons”
Presented by Susan C.W. Abbotson, Rhode Island College
The 1940s began amidst the throes of destructive international conflict, but saw the development of an even more destructive, domestic conflict, within the family itself. Many fathers and sons had been dislocated from their homes by the draft, some never returning. Those who did return, either found that the world had changed in their absence, or felt a need to change it in the light of the experiences they had gone through. Both change, and efforts for further change, met with angered resistance.
Tension runs high between the family characters in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Their “anger” is alternatively repressed and released in a series of explosive conflicts. This article attempts to uncover the historical and sociological roots beneath such outbursts; not only in terms of the characters themselves, but also by comparing them to Miller’s own family members. The role of “father,” and how that has been affected by the times is central to a conflict which appears to lead to the complete breakdown of the traditional Western family unit. The Kellers are finally torn apart by the underlying, and inherently conflicting, ideologies of materialism and socialism.
Paper Abstracts for the Miller Panel at 2005 ALA
From: Vol. 11 June 2005 p. 16-18
Panel Title: “Teaching Miller in Multiple Contexts”
“Music, Miller and Making the Classroom Sing”
Presented by Carlos Campo, Community College of Southern Nevada
In this lecture/recital, I hoped to reveal the complex thematic unity reflected in the choices Miller makes for music in his plays. For the purpose of illustration, I focused on two examples, one well-known, and the other new to most instructors and scholars. The role of “Paper Doll” in A View From The Bridge has been commented on by several critics, who have pointed to the “robber motif” reflected in the song. I covered other aspects of the song, including the gender conflict and the inherent perversity of the lyrical content. “Shenandoah,” a river shanty from the 1820s is featured in “Clara,” yet has not yet received critical attention. Miller uses the folk song to jog the memory of Jack Kroll, the play’s protagonist. Kroll cannot remember the name of his daughter Clara’s murderer, until he hears himself sing “Shenandoah” on an old record that Clara had. Like “Paper Doll,” “Shenandoah” sets the tone for several important themes in the play, including racism and idealism.
By performing both songs, I hoped to illustrate that music is an effective tool for teaching Miller. I wrote that “because a musical piece reflects its cultural milieu, it provides educators with a gateway to a myriad of discussions, including class, gender, historical and social elements, and many others.” Performance aspects of both songs are further revealed when an instructor plays a recording or performs the music with the class collaboratively. Exposing students to the intricate connection between music and Miller’s drama may give them a new appreciation for the works, while the music itself can help transform the predictability of many classrooms.
“Towards a Humanistic Democracy: The Balancing Acts of Arthur Miller and August Wilson”
Presented by Susan C. W. Abbotson, Rhode Island College
Though a number of critics have pointed to a surface similarity between August Wilson’s eighties play Fences and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the comparisons have mostly been disengenuous for they fail to show the more pervasive thematic similarities and authorial intents which exist between the works of these two major American playwrights. The 35 year time difference between the productions partly accounts for this, as any comparison between these playwrights works better by paying attention to the plays they were writing concurrently during the1980s and 1990s. Setting these two writers side by side helps draw out their surprisingly similar philosophic goals, and artistic means of achieving these, and to teach them together could only benefit a student’s understanding of each. Given time constraints, I cannot possibly do any comparison full justice here, but I can at least make a case for a subject worthy of further study, and offer suggestions as to why it would be a valuable classroom pursuit
“Arthur Miller’s New York”
Presented by Stephen Marino, St. Francis College
Literary critics have long focused on how certain novelists create geographical locations which function as central settings throughout many of the works in their canons. Of note are Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, James Joyce’s Dublin, Saul Bellow’s Chicago, and William Faulkner’s American South. For these novelists, the cultural, political, social, and religious histories of the geographical regions in which they were born and/ or lived became the subject of their work: the raw material of real places transformed into fictional landscapes.
In the same way, the playwright Arthur Miller used his native New York City and its surrounding environs as the central focus of many of his major dramas and fiction. Throughout his career, Miller transformed the defining experiences of his youth and early adulthood formed primarily on the streets and neighborhoods of the New York boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn and created a dramatic landscape where his characters encounter the cultures, ethnic, religious, and economic issues indigenous in twentieth century New York City.
The amount of work in which Miller used New York locations is staggering. Miller placed nine of his major plays in New York. Death of a Salesman, A Memory of Two Mondays, A View From the Bridge, After the Fall, The Price, The American Clock, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Broken Glass, Mr. Peters’ Connections all have settings in which the characters’ interactions with the cityscape significantly determine the events of the plays. Much of the action of Miller’s only novel, Focus, occurs in the borough of Queens, and boldly confronts for the first time in American literature the issue of anti-Semitism. In addition, most of Miller’s short fiction, especially the recent pieces in the New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s depict New York settings which are catalysts in the main characters’ conflicts. In particular, his novella, Homely Girl, A Life creates a sweeping landscape of time and emotion in Manhattan.
Paper Abstracts from the Eighth International Arthur Miller Conference, Nicloet College, Wisconsin. “Miller and Middle America”
From: Vol. 8 December 2003 p. 1-9
Keynote Address: “Listening to America”
Presented by Christopher Bigsby, University of East Anglia
Playing audio tapes from Miller’s voice recordings made in Wilmington, NC for a 1940 project to capture the accents of America, parts of a recording of Miller’s reactions listening to these tapes 62 years on, and extracts from recordings of some of Miller’s early radio plays, the importance of Miller’s early experiences, including his radio work as a training ground for his later work is usefully emphasized.
“‘Physician Heal Thyself’: Arthur Miller’s Portrayal of Doctors”
Presented by Stephen Marino, St. Francis College, Brooklyn
In his new work, The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller, Terry Otten points out how any reader of Miller knows how his work is filled with references to jail, crime, and the law. Consequently, many of his plays contain lawyers as both major and minor characters. Of course, the most notable examples are George Deever in All My Sons, Bernard in Salesman, Alfieri in A View From the Bridge, Quentin in After the Fall, and Tom Wilson in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. These attorneys have been the subject of significant critical scrutiny which focuses on their action as conduits to the moral truth that the particular play illustrates.
However, Miller also has filled his plays with a substantial number of doctors as both major and minor characters. And unlike the somewhat consistent depiction of lawyers as moral arbiters, Miller’s physicians often have personal conflicts which impinge upon their professional lives. Some are trusted by their patients; others doubted; one approaches a violation of his Hippocratic Oath. Most have difficulty, certainly much more than Miller’s lawyers, in discerning the relevance of truth to themselves. They seem most conflicted by their personal and public roles, and their debt to the self and society, struggles which Miller himself consistently has pointed out are at the center of all the great plays.
This paper examines the significant role that doctors have played in Arthur Miller’s dramatic canon. It surveys the large number of physicians who appear in Miller’s plays, first making distinctions between major and minor characters, and between medical doctors and psychiatrists. The discussion then focuses on Peter Stockmann in An Enemy of the People, Walter in The Price, Leduc in Incident at Vichy, and Harry Hyman in Broken Glass. It concludes with a brief discussion of the significance of absent doctors in the plays. Leduc’s self-analysis at the end of Incident at Vichy, “In my profession one gets the habit of looking at oneself quite impersonally” (65) is the touchstone for the discussion.
“Miller, Marriage, and Middle America: An Uneasy Embrace”
Presented by Carlos Campo, Community College of South Nevada, Las Vegas
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “Middle America” as: “1. That part of the U.S. middle class thought of as being average in income and education and moderately conservative in values and attitudes.” This paper will trace Miller’s attitude toward marriage and “Middle America” in several works, including his plays, essays and autobiography. The paper will generally assert that failure in marriage reflects an underlying failure of American values. Furthermore, I hope to reveal an inherent tension in Miller’s work between success and failure in marriage and middle American attitudes and values which parallels the underlying duality of the success myth and others in America.
“‘Faith-in Life’ in Three Arthur Miller Plays and in His Non-fiction Prose”
Presented by Katherine L. Basham of University of Minnesota, Duluth
The paper considers the “faith-in-life” (a term pioneered in Depression and the Body) issues of Miller’s plays Broken Glass, Death of a Salesman, and The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. In the first, is a woman paralyzed by depression due to a bad marriage to a man fearing that her fulfillment would cause his death, a victim of his refusals of her fulfilment and nurture initiatives and of his violence, of his long term sexual impotence, and his crisis as a Holocaust-era Jew is “healed” as much by her therapist’s romantic aggression and lovingkindness as by her own desperate attempt to save her husband’s life, which brings her beyond paralysis. She is a character with more than one external life-force support at the point when she reverts to a personal competence which she formerly enjoyed and takes the miraculous risk. This play is closer to the research with blockages due to faith-in-life crises done in the 60’s by Alexander Lowen than the others. Because of the ethics of Dr. Hyman, chosen for the healing task by the dead man, it is possible that the play might be read as one of two plays–this is true also in The Last Yankee—only one of them about psychotherapy. Phillip Gellburg not only initiates his wife’s therapy, he also ruins himself at his job with various persistances connected to self esteem and the beginning of Jewish group-consciousness. His wife has had a role in this in her obsession with trans-Atlantic Holocaust reports of the degrading of old Jews made to scrub the pavements with toothbrushes. Even though paralyzed, she is still the voice of faith-in life as reflected in anaclitic love and communal care and common decency.
In Death of a Salesman, one finds the death of Ben, the focus of Willy’s “compensatory grandeur” linked to his suicidal financial woes and his “compulsion to evaluate himself justly” (Miller), the return of his sons, the failure of loyalty due (“bask and blast” scenario of Richman and Flaherty) and earlier betrayal. Both Broken Glass and this play are provider plays which end with the deaths of providers. The boys fantasize about being providers, but because they only part way evaluate themselves justly, they do not live authentic lives. The images of success in the play require active involvement, except for inheriting the business. And because of Willy’s life long predictable merging of the languages of business and affection (see Lew Hyde’s The Gift) and his infecting of his sons with it the illusion-reality crisis is an important part of the dramatic action. Their success options are love and caring and loyalty. Linda is the chorus of Willy’s demise as an old man. All the people seen are in the group of mourners of Willy. But only Willy is the mourner inheritor. If Happy lives maybe he will be, too. When grief succeeds in mourning ritual it ends with it. When it is lived as a “faith-in-life” part of the demise of the protagonist it tries to save the person. As false teacher, Willy is seen with pity by his criers: Linda, Charley, and Biff intervene. They bring “faith-in-life” to bear upon Willy because they care. As for his ending, Willy still cares pitifully if positively for the plants and the woods. His caring for respect is tainted and violent. I believe having the neighbors be successful in business and in school and law is an affirmative model to offset against the model of image management rejected by Biff and still espoused by Happy. I believe they are Linda’s community and they will take care of her. Only Luck will save the boys. Or “a smile and a shoeshine.” Charley has the worldly knowledge and success to mediate their adulthood, if they do not scatter to the winds.
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan is set in liminal space due to the wreck of Lyman Felt’s bigamy scheme. Here, the twist on the “faith- in- life” crisis is that the maxi provider ends up in a regression to a competence issue: will he be able to be alone. His dependent double wives dump him for the right reasons without too much trouble: they have the right responses, as non-sadists do. He is in a place of transition. I think we view his resolve with irony rather than with anger. Can a relationship addict go cold turkey except in enforced solitude? He’s even hit on his nurse already, to a certain extent. It wold be likelier that he’d flee with cash to an unspecified Bahamas of the mind after a period of remorse. Possibly it is Winnicott’s research on the linkage of the mother role to the later capacities of children to be alone in play which reappears in Miller’s Timebends in comments about his own authorial situation. Also, the comments about how the likes of Hollywood moguls have such sexual privilege. Maybe Lyman Felt was meant to get someone with too many wives–someone in Hollywood.
Arthur Miller has linked, in these plays, “faith-in-life” to selfishness and to sexuality and to liminality and to loyalty. Selfishness ranging from degrees of interpersonal exploitativeness (see Richman and Flaherty) or escape from relationship to whole persons and narcissistic self-objects by providers, especially due to violence and absence. This changes with changes of class or status. One sees unfaithfulness as linked to being liked; one sees bigamy as the refusal to choose between goods; one sees impotence as a refusal of performance of the life bond by a provider; these are set in liminal states created by deaths (see Letzler Cole) or by suicidal accidents or by overwhelming conditions of extremity. Who is loyal to whom and how authentic this loyalty is depends on what loyalty means.
“The Late Plays of Arthur Miller: Problematizing the Real”
Presented on behalf of Ashis Sengupta, Reader in English at the University of North Bengal (INDIA).
Reality is more problematic in the plays of Arthur Miller than has been generally conceded. In the early work, the real–clouded by personal delusions and public myths–eventually shines out with one’s acceptance of responsibility for the consequence of one’s action. But in the later plays beginning with The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977), it is beyond either simple definition or full recovery. With his increasing probe into the complexities of the postmodern condition. Miller has, on his own admission, “become more and more fascinated by . . . the question of reality and . . . whether there is any.” If Ceiling shows the problem of authentic behavior under the pressure of invisible power, Two-Way Mirror (1984) presents the unreal as an agony to be accepted as life’s condition. If Danger: Memory! (1987) questions the ideal of representation and with it the human capacity to generate systems to order experience, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991) dramatizes personal history as a narrative constructed from the fragments of memory and desire. And Broken Glass (1994), the last of the plays under discussion here, deals with the mystery of a sociopolitical dilemma that threatens one’s sense of reality. In the absence of stable realities, any certainties the characters seem to have are at best positional since they are derived from what may be called complex networks of local and contingent conditions. With the focus steadily shifting on to the multiplicity of self and truth, meaning becomes provisional and indeterminate in Miller. Yet the playwright is interested “in the balance of forces”. Even when the real cannot be ascertained, he believes in the obligation of trying to do so, for, to give it up is to create “a kind of anarchy of the senses.” And the question of reality, for Miller, is “a moral issue, finally.” His late plays suggest that there are still urgencies beneath all contingency, which provide the impetus to recuperate value and meaning.
“The Dangers of Memory in Arthur Miller’s ‘I Can’t Remember Anything'”
Presented by Susan Abbotson, Rhode Island College
There exist two printed versions of “I Can’t Remember Anything,” one published by Grove in 1986, and another by the Dramatists Play Service in 1987. While both versions deal with that perennial Miller concern, the necessity for people to acknowledge their past as an active part of their current existence, this reading is based on the later of the published texts, which offers a substantially different ending.
Nothing can be more important to our placing of the past in our lives than the concept of memory, but as Miller recognizes, especially in the later version of the play, memory holds many dangers, some of which he attempts to illustrate in “I Can’t,” which (ironically, given its title), shows the dangers of overindulging in memories of the past. In the play, Leo and Leonora are encouraged to remember everything they have been in the past, to help them to define who they are in the present. Leo and Leonora find a comfort in their routine companionship, but this is suddenly destroyed when Leo chooses to change their relationship. His motivation lies buried in his refusal to accept the real past and his preference for a fake past he has created in his imagination; this selfish decision hurts both himself and his old friend Leonora.
“A Lethal Legacy of Liberal Posturing in Arthur Miller’s ‘Clara'”
Presented by Paula Langteau, Nicolet College, Rhinelander, WI
In a contemporary America overwrought with racism, classism and homophobia, and in the face of pressure to do what is right with regard to the “Other”–granting full rights to all people–Arthur Miller’s 1986 short play, “Clara,” suggests a new kind of danger–the danger of adopting a politically correct posture that on the surface seems liberal but which does not penetrate underlying values. The play is about the aftermath of the brutal murder of Clara Kroll, and the struggle of her father to come to terms with the part his own values (which he instilled in Clara) played in bringing about her death. Many scholars have suggested that Kroll’s liberalism, adopted by Clara, jeopardized her safety, but this paper asserts that an interrogation of Kroll’s values reveals that what proves dangerous in them is not that they are liberal but that they are, and seem always to have been, superficial, based upon assumptions and stereotypes of people rather than on behaviors of, and experience with, distinct individuals. They don’t penetrate beyond a surface categorizing of people, a surface political correctness disguising underlying prejudice and, in fact, an opportunity for self-aggrandizement.
This paper examines how Kroll confronts the “Other” as representation rather than as individual. He neatly categorizes people by the kind of people they are, and, by extension, by the way those kind of people act and the way those kind of people think. This categorization, or typing, of people distances him in a way that serves not only to make the “Other” less human than he is but allows him to cast himself as heroic in comparison. Emulation of that response to people is what ultimately jeopardized Clara’s life. In the end, Kroll recognizes that his liberalism has been a facade, that he has never truly embraced the idealism of his seemingly politically correct values, and that his daughter’s emulation of that liberal posturing cost her her life. This recognition indicts him, at a subconscious level, for her death. It also sends a message pertinent for all of us in modern society, challenging us to ask: What are truly “liberal” values? How do we, as a country, get beyond our categorizing and typing of people? Can we translate politically correct attitudes into action on an individual level? How do we protect ourselves from danger without succumbing to prejudice and paranoia? And, finally, what are the consequences of our failure to open a discourse about who and what is really dangerous?
“Arthur Miller and the Language of Middle America”
Presented by George P. Castellitto, Felician College, NJ
Arthur Miller’s plays invariably and consistently depict characters moving, shifting, and repositioning themselves in particularly American landscapes. As those characters involve themselves in the conflicts that comprise the various plays and as their dialogue progresses, the reader and the viewer/listener of Miller’s drama is able to perceive the dialects and the idioms of the American psyche. A number of Miller’s plays (Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge, The Price) depict the particular idioms of urban and cosmopolitan America, but underlying and underpinning those urban expressions are the psychological and sociological tenets of Middle America resonating and resounding throughout and within the various speeches of the characters.
Utilizing some of the parameters of the attributes of language as outlined in the discourses of Mikhail Bakhtin and relying on some of the assertions about semiotics delineated in the writings of Jacques Derrida, this paper will discuss the language of middle America as it appears intuitively in selected Miller plays by concentrating on both the psychological and sociological aspects of that language.
“Figuring Our Past and Present in Wood: Wood Imagery in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Death of a Salesman”
Presented by Will Smith, Drew University
Arthur Miller’s plays repeatedly examine the human struggle against a flawed, overly commercial society which denies the freedoms of its members. In these examinations, Miller uses pastoral images to signify a lost, pure world of our ancestors, rooted in the nature that surrounded them. This application of pastoral imagery features innovative wood figurations which represent the instinct to escape the machinations of a corrupt modern society and return to our instinctual desire to work with our hands, immersed in nature.
In The Crucible, Miller identifies those characters who challenge the corrupt Puritan fundamentalism of Salem and ties them most closely to the wood that resides at the heart of colonial life. Those who stand in support of the oppressive fundamentalism are depicted battling against the wild, untamed forests which hold the devil’s temptations. Skillfully capitalizing upon the subtleties between the wild and the shaped, the natural and the unnatural, the creative and the uniform, Miller captures the essence of maintaining oneís freedoms against overwhelming pressures to conform.
In Death of a Salesman, Miller ties wood to Willy Loman’s pastoral longings and his desire to work with his hands. The wood of the natural world meets the bricks and glass of modern society, impersonal and without the natural elements necessary for the survival of the common man. Willy and his son long for the freedom of a rural lifestyle, each idealizing an environment where they can build, create and shape the natural world around them. The variety of wood figurations in the play combines to provide the framework for Miller’s larger investigation of the theme of the difficult search for community.
“Damn Yankee! Leroy Hamilton Crafts Wood With Passion and Honesty, But Who in Modern America Cares?”
Presented by Will Smith, Drew University
Vigilant about exposing the flaws of our modern society which corrupts the natural instincts of the individual and forces upon him a mechanical and profit-driven culture to which he must adapt, Miller, in The Last Yankee, encapsulates the economic development of the late 20th century as it moved away from the manual labor market and into the high technology and corporate arenas. The middle class worker, here Leroy Hamilton, represents the last of an American breed, struggling to maintain his strong moralistic view while simultaneously competing against and within the increasingly immoral business culture which surrounds him. Leroy’s incompatibility with the dominant culture is clear. He is far too honest and passionate about his work. As a carpenter, he has a direct link to the frontiersman past which valued manual labor and creation from wood.
Leroy, trapped with one foot in the capitalistic win- at- any- cost culture and his other foot firmly planted in the world of his ancestors–finding joy and self-satisfaction in manual work–captures the essence of the modern condition. Not wholly successful in either sphere, Leroy is bifurcated and reveals that the closer one can get to a complete dissolution into the world of our ancestors–the world which can sustain us and enrich our lives–the less likely he will fall victim to the pitfalls of modern social and economic structures. Sadly, the organic connection which Miller suggests is essential to our well-being (as apparently it is to his own) is increasingly denied to us.
“‘Somewhere down deep where the sources are’: Traces of the Snyder/Gray Murder Trial of 1927 in Death of a Salesman?”
Presented by Frank Bergmann, Utica College, NY
Having just had the occasion to read about the notorious Snyder/Gray case and not having come across any comment about it in Miller’s writings or the critical literature about them, I offer some thoughts on the case as one possible source for the play.
On March 20, 1927 Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray killed Ruth’s husband Albert in the Snyders’ house in Queens. On January 12, 1928 the murderers died in Sing-Sing’s electric chair (all pertinent information is from Karl W. Schweizer, Seeds of Evil: The Gray/Snyder Murder Case, 2001). In Only Yesterday (1931), Frederick Lewis Allen mentions the case among other unsavory ones in his chapter “The Ballyhoo Years”: “[T]he only excuses for putting the Snyder-Gray trial on the front page were that it involved a sex triangle and that the Snyders were ordinary people living in an ordinary New York suburb–the sort of people with whom the ordinary reader could easily identify himself.”
One might think that a boy turning twelve during the time of the trial might have heard or read about the case, but Miller makes no mention of it in Timebends. Yet he shares the story there of how, when he had made “preliminary sketches of scenes and ideas for a salesman play,” he went to see–again–Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, “was drawn into the astounding tale, gradually recalling it from the past” and finally remembered that Willy’s name had come to him by way of the Parisian police chief’s name in the film, “Lohmann” (177-9).
Here is some Snyder/Gray material which might have similarly buried itself in Miller’s mind. Gray was a corset salesman whose beat was New York State and Pennsylvania. Salesman never tells what is in Willy’s sample cases, but it might as well be stockings as not. Gray charged the corset he gave Ruth in an intimate scene to stock; Happy tells Miss Forsythe: “I sell champagne, and I’d like you to try my brand. . . It’s all company money” (Collected Plays I, 194). Gray was Oedipally tied to his mother, as is Biff to Linda. Ruth once tried to kill Albert by making him drunk as carbon monoxide collected in the garage where he was working on his car, and another time by knocking the cap off the gas heating tube in the room where Albert was taking a nap; Willy, of course, has rigged the gas heater for his suicide. Finally, Ruth had fraudulently taken out a huge double indemnity insurance policy on Albert; Willy’s suicidal and therefore fraudulent gift to Biff is his sizeable insurance policy.
Surely each one of these parallels is so ordinary as to raise nobody’s eyebrow, but I submit that the cluster helps the ordinary viewer or reader of Salesman identify with the Lomans as ordinary people living in an ordinary neighborhood, just as ordinary–so Miller might have remembered–as were the Snyders and the Grays.
“Discussing A View from the Bridge and Arthur Miller in a Post-9/11 World”
Presented by Kimberley Jenkins, Thomas A. Edison High School
As a firm believer in creating classrooms that combine the study of literature and history, I have often pursued research interests that take me into the life of the writer and his world. This has been the case in my pursuit of knowledge concerning Arthur Miller and a grant I received from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As I conducted research and wrote materials, I focused on an academic study of A View from the Bridge and a character study of Eddie Carbone, hoping to simply broaden my students’ understanding of an American playwright. The events of September 11, 2001 changed that focus to a discussion of ethics and diversity in addition to a re-examination of A View from the Bridge and a study of Eddie as a “regular” American man. As I taught the play in both New Jersey and Virginia, with students who were geographically close to the sites of the terror attacks, my curriculum project took on different implications and evolved from a simple study of an additional work to a study of broader issues and current events.
Closing Address: “Arthur Miller: Guardian of the American Dream”
Presented by Steve Centola, Millersville University
This paper considers important connections between Arthur Miller’s political activism and his interest in social drama. While musing unhappily about the lack of seriousness of the Broadway theater in an essay published in the New York Times in February 2003, tellingly entitled “Looking for a Conscience,” Miller adeptly links his critique of the Broadway theater to an indictment of officials in the United States Government who label critics of the current administration as unpatriotic. At root in such commentary by Miller, as well as in his plays exploring social issues and themes that center on the cultural myths associated with the American experience, is Millerís implicit definition of the central role–the crucial, inevitable, and pivotal role–for the literary artist in a free society. That role, according to Miller, is to serve as the voice of the people who are silenced by fear and intolerance; to ask the challenging and difficult questions of a government, a society, a people that prefers self-congratulatory praise to unflinching moral self-scrutiny; to be the conscience of a nation that finds it uncomfortable to undergo the rigorous examination of the dark recesses of the national psyche and individual soul that earnest and honest self-evaluation necessitate. With his protest against the War with Iraq, and through his continued effort to use literary art to prick the conscience of a nation too easily cowed by the politics of intimidation and blind obedience to corrupt authority, Miller provides firm testimony to his persistent commitment to social justice and human decency and the rights of all people to live with dignity and in peace. Art is deeply connected to life, for Arthur Miller. Art not only derives from life experience, but it must also respond to life and improve the conditions of life and living for humanity. For this reason, Miller frequently describes all great drama as inherently social in nature. The intertwined moral and aesthetic imperatives that inspire and animate Miller’s art result in his creation of a body of work that speaks below the surface of the overt drama with a resonance, a highly charged subtext and equally rich cultural context, about the possibility and failure of America–America as a concept, an ideal, a cluster of myths and cultural stereotypes, a nation, a government and governance system, a people, a character, and an impossible, forever elusive, but always inspiring, dream. Miller’s critique and celebration of America underlies and informs every facet of his plays and places this great playwright in a long procession of significant American writers who have responded similarly to the challenge and the glory of this dream called America. Standing tall in the procession of great American writers who have wrestled with the shifting and oftentimes contradictory meaning and reality of the American experience, Miller has repeatedly given audiences of his drama a vision of hope and possibility that is the true legacy of the dream, the promise, the idea that is America. That extraordinary achievement, more than anything else, is the lasting legacy of Arthur Miller: guardian of the dream of America.
Paper Abstracts from the Ninth International Arthur Miller Conference at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY. April 23-24, 2004. “Arthur Miller: The Man Who Had All The Luck.”
From: Vol. 9 June 2004 p. 3-7
Presented by Christopher Bigsby, University of East Anglia
This address focused on the significance of Death of a Salesman in Arthur Miller’s oeuvre. Bigsby first tackled the criticism of Miller as being a Jewish writer who avoids writing about Jews. He then centered the discussion on the many implications of death in the play. Bigsby suggested that the death in the play is of a salesman, not so much Willy Loman’s. Since the play is intimately connected to the idea of the American dream, Bigsby asked, “Are all Americans salesmen?” Do we all, like Willy, have the false promise of a golden future? Bigsby explained that for Willy and his sons, and by implication all Americans, happiness is a destination, not a condition. The paper concluded with a consideration of different productions of Salesman and the type of actors who portrayed Willy.
“Arthur Miller from Crisis to Negotiation”
Presented by Jeffrey Mason, University of Oregon
Much of Miller’s work focuses on a seldom-resolved conflict between the individual and authority. For example, in The Crucible, John Proctor denounces the oppressive regime that asks him to endorse hypocrisy and compromise, and he rejects submission in favor of self-sacrifice as the only available choice to preserve his integrity and sense of who he is. Thirty years later, in The Archbishop’s Ceiling, a small group of writers explores the alternative of negotiation and struggles to coexist with repression and threat. Miller draws a key distinction using the figure of the writer: Proctor refuses to publish his false confession, while Sigmund struggles to find a way to keep his voice alive. Ultimately, Miller indicts the very concept of government and returns to the integrity of the resisting individual.
“The Phenomenology of Neurotic Embodiment in Death of a Salesman and The Archbishop’s Ceiling”
Presented by Lew Livesay, St. Peter’s College
Heidegger’s phenomenology depends on the concept “being-in-the-world,” revealing how identity is always already entrenched in familial environment. We are so deeply immersed in our world–like Nemo in The Matrix—that we never fathom how milieu determines us. Familiar objects, habits, and relationships, especially the family, incorporate lived experience. In effect, embodiment precedes identity. But identity can be questioned; for Heidegger, reflexive interrogation determines authentic responsibility.
“Being-in-the-world” starts with identities submerged in families like fish in water. Antigone is so deeply in her family that she has, as Sartre would say, “No Exit.” The same proves true for Michael Corleone who discovers, in The Godfather, that try as he might, he has no way out of “la cosa nostra.” The family thing rules. The family for Antigone, Corleone, Hamlet, or Willy becomes the world. That ineffable “something [that] is happening” throughout Salesman involves family. Each Loman inhabits ancient, repetitive, unconscious routines and lies, which none has ever challenged authentically. The Lomans never realize how not “at-home” they are in the family.
Salesman focuses on Willy’s self-image as a man who fathers sons so like Hercules or Adonis, as opposed to the notion that these boys are lazy bums. The same fluctuations appear in Willy’s attitudes to objects in his world. With his car or refrigerator, Willy cannot decide if it is great or garbage. All Willy’s objects and relationships are neurotic snares riven with division. Biff alone interrogates this web of untruths. Happy turns out to be Willy incarnate–totally unreflective. Through Biff, the only freedom, Salesman implicitly urges, comes from taking responsibility for how neurotically embodied we are in each other. We must confront alienation, our not at-homeness, and from within choice make authentic connections to each other.
The Archbishop’s Ceiling depicts neurotic entrappments akin to Salesman. There is a family of writers, an embodied group immersed in incestuous intrigue, reinforcing their identity as family, with these people stealing reputation, identity, and sexuality from each other in an internecine world where no one knows for sure who is listening to whom. Adrian no longer trusts his characters who have turned on him, committing the ultimate neurotic sin, becoming melodramatic. Adrian returns to this foreign country, but says, “It escapes me the minute I cross the border.” He entirely misses the embodied existence of our liminal worlds, immersed in quicksilver intersubjectivity. And yet, within this shared realm, there are degrees of ethical awareness. Marcus, like Hap, engenders what Heidegger calls the inauthentic “they world” of compromises. By contrast, Sigmund, like Biff, struggles to assert a measure of authenticity. Sigmund alone accepts responsibility for his familial crucible. As Marcus says of Sigmund, “This whole country is inside his skin.” Like Socrates, Sigmund sees no exit from embodiment. The only responsibility comes from honestly choosing to live how not at-home we are inside our inherently neurotic existence.
“From Luck to Connections: The Evolution of the Subject in 2 Arthur Miller Plays”
Presented by Paula Langteau, Nicolet College
The question of personal responsibility and the exercise of individual choice in the making of a character’s identity and destiny–and thereby, meaning in existence–have become almost a trademark of Miller’s drama. This paper, however, suggests that Miller uses a more subtle and nuanced approach than the depiction of a direct appeal to identifying an ultimate meaning or purpose for existence in his plays. In The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944) and Mr. Peters’ Connections, Miller focuses not on the meaning of existence itself but on the locus of activity, the arena of pursuit in which the characters immerse themselves in their quests for meaning. That focus serves as a powerful link between the two plays and demonstrates the depth and complexity of Miller’s psychological inquiry into manís pursuit of meaning.
In Mr. Peters’ Connections, the “subject” that Harry Peters so doggedly pursues represents a search for the arena in which true meaning can be found. In fact, in Mr. Peters’ Connections, Miller identifies many of the most common (and misguided) arenas of pursuit of meaning for individuals. And in The Man Who Had All the Luck, David, believing that too much of his life has been made for him by luck (i.e. fate), tries desperately to exert his will in his life, taking hold of an arena of pursuit–namely the mink farming–in an attempt to balance the scales of luck before they are balanced for him. Of course, that arena–the world of work–does not provide fulfillment for him. Both plays, ultimately, point to Miller’s suggestion of the importance of connection, as the one thing, ironically, that both main characters seem to have forfeited in their arenas of pursuit–and the thing that, perhaps, could be the key both to meaning and happiness in their lives.
“Chaikin and Miller”
Presented by Matthew Roudané, Georgia State University
This paper offered a uniquely comic, intellectual, and poignant perspective of an Atlanta production of Broken Glass, a production in which Roudane served as a first-time dramaturge and which turned out to be the last show directed by Joe Chaikin who died shortly after the play’s run. In his talk, Matthew shared the demands of reconciling his academic perception of the play with Chaikin’s vision as a director. Matthew entertained the conferees with the humorous story of how he skillfully negotiated with Arthur Miller changes in the text suggested by Chaikin
“Music in Miller’s Drama”
Presented by Jane Dominik, San Joaquin Delta College
All but one of Miller’s twenty-four published and produced plays to date include music, his prolific and varied use of it one of his distinctions as a playwright. The resulting aural and visual motifs appear as textual references to musical instruments symbolic of absent characters; serve as leitmotifs; and are used to open and close scenes, acts, and the plays themselves; establish time period, mood, tone, tempo, and rhythm; cover scene changes; establish time changes; underscore scenes; and replace sound effects. Songs used in plays operate as secondary texts. As with their eclectic approach to scenic design, Miller and his collaborators have drawn upon numerous stylistic movements. Just as Miller has returned to specific themes and characters in his plays, so, too, has he developed numerous musical motifs, including the use of specific instruments, singing, records, laughter, and a propensity to incorporate jazz. Finally, the paper suggests ways in which music for Miller’s and others’ dramas can be developed.
“The Crucible in Australia”
Presented by Anne Heintz, Victorian College of the Arts
This paper discussed a production of The Crucible done in 2003 in Melbourne, Australia that incorporated three time periods into the production: Salem witchtrial-era, McCarthy-era, and Homeland Security-era. Because the show commented on the various reincarnations of state and media-controlled xenophobic trials for the ultimate gain of private capitalist interests, the production experimented with linear time, but preserved a coherent kairotic time. Each act showed that evil lives in best intentions, in nice clothes, in thwarted dreams, in all the impulses that make heroes. Although the story is always the same, the costumes change. This production proved to me, as an assistant director, that love of one’s country must be large enough to contain critique. Art should be at odds with hegemony, and only those who force truth out into the open can truly feel as part of the ever-shrinking world.
“A. R. Ammons and Arthur Miller: Unexpected Metaphysical Connections”
Presented by George P. Castellitto, Felician College
Many Arthur Miller scholars concentrate on the recurrent concern with post-Depression and post-World War II cultural, sociological, and economic issues that beset the protagonists of his dramas; the Willy Lomans and Eddie Carbones of Miller’s plays are archetypal American characters whose psyches and souls encounter harsh patterns and components of the faltering American Dream. Even some of Miller’s later characters (Lyman Felt and John Frick) wrestle with matters that initially appear to be personally, socially, and culturally motivated, but, ultimately, those concerns force the characters to confront metaphysical and sometimes even cosmological questions: the nature of the universe in which the social and familial individual is placed, the disposition that occurs as the isolated social individual confronts the particulars of physical reality and nature, and the connections between the sensible world and individual sensibility.
A. R. Ammons, in his book of poetry entitled Brink Road: Poems, published in 1996 just five years before his death in 2001, considers in several of the included poems in the volume the same metaphysical issues that appear so noticeably in Miller’s works. As Goldwin Smith Professor of Poetry at Cornell University for many years, Ammons assuredly read and savored the works of Miller. Interestingly, the personae and protagonists (sometimes antagonists) in Ammons’ poems in Brink Road are in the process of challenging the same metaphysical forces that plague individuals in Miller’s plays. This paper will draw some noteworthy parallels between Ammons and Miller personae and discuss the various similar ways in which these two contemporary authors depict the enigma of the isolated modern individual confronting the elusive but nevertheless tangible particulars of the natural world.
“Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller as Poetic Realists: A Comparison of The Master Builder and Rosmersholm with Death of a Salesman and All My Sons”
Presented by Nicole DeSapio, George Mason University
This paper examines the playwrights Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller as part of a single dramatic tradition. Ibsen is commonly known to be the “father” of modern dramatic realism. Arthur Miller is the contemporary playwright whose work is frequently labeled “Ibsenesque.” This paper, however, questions the claim that Miller’s dramaturgy is based upon Ibsenesque conventions. One critic who disagrees with the claim is Robert Brustein, who states that the action in Miller’s plays is more realistic and logical, less expressionistic, than the action in Ibsen’s plays. This paper compares Ibsen’s The Master Builder and Rosmersholm with Miller’s Death of a Salesman, then compares Rosmersholm to Miller’s All My Sons, and finds Brustein’s claim to be true. But this paper also compares The Master Builder and All My Sons and finds Miller inheriting something of the “illogical quality” and of the “metaphysical impulse” that Brustein notes in Ibsen’s plays.
“From Poplar to Plywood: Reading the Origins of Miller’s Wood Trope in All My Sons”
Presented by Will Smith, Drew University
This paper examines Arthur Miller’s earliest application of a wood trope that he develops significantly in later works like Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Miller’s wood application represents his romanticized sense of America’s abandoned frontier past and his criticism of its modern impersonal replacement. He perceives a disharmony between the present material-driven world and man’s natural instincts. All My Sons exhibits Miller’s earliest attempts to use figuration, language, and setting to capture the disconnect between business ethics in the contemporary world and the honorable manual labor and ethical living that characterize his romanticized picture of America’s first settlers.
Actions and images in this play reveal the distance between Miller’s idealized view of America and its present incarnation, between communities that depended on wood for much of their day-to-day life and those that have left that immediate connection to nature and manual labor behind them. Miller’s trope in All My Sons emerges throughout the Keller’s home, from its landscaping to its occupants. The tree the family plants in memory of its lost son, the row of poplars that temporarily shields Joe and Kate Keller from acknowledging the tragic truth of Larry’s death, the struggles of Chris Keller (the progenitor of Willy and Biff Loman and John Proctor), and even Joe Keller’s leaf burner reveal the seeds of Miller’s conviction to examine man’s perpetual conflict with evolving, artificial, and dominant social structures.
“Using Language to Take a Stand: Arthur Miller and the Literary Features of His Journalism Prose”
Presented by Kimberley Jenkins, Thomas A. Edison High School
For more than 50 years, Arthur Miller has entertained audiences and instructed countless students though his plays, short stories, and poetry. In addition to Miller’s literary endeavors, he is remembered because of his political and personal choices. As a member of the human race, Miller has used his gift with language to take a stand and make his points.
Scholar, Christopher Bigsby, told the 8th International Arthur Miller Conference in October 2003, that Miller would like to be remembered for his language rather than his politics. In spite of this desire, Miller has also used his tremendous facility with language to show and even highlight his politics.
Lesser known than the plays, Miller has occasionally written pieces for other publications including The New York Times and Harper’s Magazine. These pieces, op-ed in nature, address issues including the nature of drama, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr scandal. Miller uses rhetorical questioning, contrasting diction, sarcasm, and various literary features to make his points and further his arguments. This paper discusses some these articles with attention to Miller’s use of language. In addition, the paper presents another avenue for teaching argumentative writing and literary features.
Presented by Steve Centola, Millersville University
Pointing out that Miller finds order in chaos, this paper explained how in Miller’s life he was divided between wanting to fill roles in his family and the conflicts which come along with fulfilling these roles. From this Miller creates characters which we are forced to sympathize with because we can see ourselves in them.