Notes and Queries


Selected notes and queries that appeared in the Miller Society newsletters between 1999 and 2005. For more recent notes check out ones submitted to the current Journal at the Arthur Miller Journal–Archive.

“Politics as Theater in Arthur Miller”
Ashis Sengupta, University of North Bengal

If the stage is a world in its own right, all the world is equally a stage. And the world-stage metaphor has preoccupied Arthur Miller ever since he wrote The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977[1989]), crystallizing–as it were–in his delightfully acerbic On Politics  and the Art of Acting (2001). The former is a critique of the political stage in 1970s Czechoslovakia, while the latter is a discursive analysis of the modern American political scene.  Despite wide historical, cultural differences, what brings the two works together, making each a commentary of sorts on the other, is the presentation of political life as a world of competing performances.

“[A]cting is inevitable,” Miller observes, “as soon as we walk out our front doors and into society.” But “power changes how people act,” he adds (On Politics 1, 10).  The politician-as-performer has to perfect his show to draw together a fragmented public. And the public-as-audience is also called upon to join in the acting since the show must go on. But what happens when the rituals of “truth” produced for public consumption stand challenged, or the show fails to woo and win?  The stage has to be reset, and the theatrics revised.  A cynically contrived performance replaces persuasive gestures, disguising the crude exercise of power. No wonder people under the archbishop’s ceiling, which is presumably bugged, find it hard to locate reality and turn into contrived selves  despite their resistance or dissent.  As Sigmund, the dissident writer, laments in the play: “We must lie, it is our only freedom . . . . Our country is now a theater, where no one is permitted to walk out, and everyone is obliged to applaud” (Archbishop 69).

Both politics and theater thrive on “lies like truth.”  However, in the end, we call a play trivial when it illuminates little beyond its own artifices.  The same goes for politics which bespeaks some narrow interest rather than the greater good. “The fault is not in the use of theatrical arts,” Miller concludes in On Politics, “but in their purpose” (83).  No Miller work precludes an ultimately moral imperative.  Archbishop, too, finally asks if the writer-as-actor, despite his knowledge that survival depends on adaptive performance skills, must not have a permanent allegiance to the love of creating art that would attribute meaning to life.

From: Vol. 7 June 2003 p. 11-12

“The Importance of Naming in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
Susan C.W. Abbotson, Rhode Island College

The similarity between the names Loman and Lyman (from The Ride Down Mt. Morgan) can hardly be coincidental.  In many ways, Death of a Salesmans Loman seems to be the prototype for Lyman.  While Loman was a man striving against the difficulties of living inherent during the forties and fifties, Lyman is a man for the eighties, and unlike Loman, a very successful businessman.  While Loman’s name tends to evoke discussion of Willy as a “low-man” in terms of his abilities, character, or prospects, Lyman’s name with its possibilities of outrageous deceit (lies), passion (to lie with), and, as June Schlueter suggests, the concept of one who is “lionized” (143), clearly evokes a different sense of being.  Where Loman is shown to be powerless, Lyman is fully empowered.  Lyman is, what Willy Loman wanted to be, if only he had had that charisma and business sense he so dearly wanted.  But we can also see, even more clearly than Salesman informs us, just how misguided Willy’s desires were, as we witness the dangerous and unsatisfactory life Lyman has created with all those skills and advantages for which Willy had longed.

Miller clearly wants us to see the deep irony in Lyman’s situation–a life-insurance mogul who may have just tried to kill himself, and in a car just like his predecessor, Willy Loman.  As with Loman, Lyman is a character through whom and through whose actions we are being asked to question a number of the values we have so complacently accepted and lived with, without sufficient understanding.  Just like Loman, Lyman too seeks that elusive “main thing”; the secret to life each feels exists but is somehow being kept hidden from them.

The scene between Lyman and the lion is an important piece–we see in it an act of identification and test of the self.  Getting close to death makes him feel more alive, but it is fraught with danger.  Lyman lives life dangerously and tempts the fates by wild acts which are tantamount to hubris.  It is as if he wants to be a god–not for the power that would entail, so much as the fact that a god does not have to feel guilt, and it is this which is continually threatening his peace.  The laws of tragedy insist the hero must suffer for his hubris when at the peak of his existence, which is at this point when he faces the lion.  Lyman declares that this was when he lost his guilt and therefore felt most godlike–but this is a lie–this is the lie he is indeed most guilty of.  We know his guilt exists, after all why marry Leah and give his son a legal father but for the social mores which insist on such actions as right, and also, as he tells us, to assauge the guilt he feels from an earlier illegitimate child.  It is with the lion that he decides to keep two wives, and be lionlike with his “pride.”  A comparison of Lyman to that Lion of Judah–King David seems not out of place.  David was a great uniter of warring factions who tried to build a golden ideal, but was eventually torn apart by the conflict between public appearance and private indiscretions–a similar dynamic to Lyman’s life.

A religious/Jewish sybolism behind the characters is evidenced in a complex network of predominantly Biblical naming beyond a simple comparison of Lyman to King David–Lyman is also related to another Jewish “founding father”: Jacob, famous for his two wives (perfectly legal in his day!).  Lyman’s mother was Esther, recalling the Esther Jews recall every Purim.  Esther thwarted the plots of Haman to kill the Jews by using her feminine wiles on the king–through her actions she keeps the Jews alive.  We should note that Lyman’s mother was very disappointed that Theo was not Jewish, because Jewishness is passed on matrilinearly and so Bessie is not technically Jewish.  Lyman eventually marries a Jewish woman in order to preserve his Jewish heritage (passed on to him by his mother) and he names him Benjamin after his mother’s grandfather, Ben also being Hebrew for son–and so finally preserves the Jewish line. In this way Esther is once more victorious.

Lyman’s Jewish wife is Leah.  Leah was one of Jacob’s famous two wives, her sister, Rachel, being the other.  Between them, Leah and Rachel are the matriarchs of Israel, bearing to Jacob the children who will eventually be the founders of the tribes of Israel.  Jacob also had children by another woman, a servant he never married, which could relate to Lyman’s illegitimate child–but he was married to both Rachel and Leah, though Rachel was his preferred wife and so given primary status.  Jacob fathered a Ben too, though with Rachel rather than Leah.  But Lyman calls his son Benjamin Alexander, the Alexander being his father’s name, a man for whom religion had no import.  Alexander is not a Jewish nam, and could recall Alexander Hamilton, evoked in The Last Yankee by Miller as one of America’s founders.  It seems to me that in the naming of his son, Lyman illustrates the ambivalent nature of the child’s heritage–he becomes an archetypal Jewish-American and therefore the true offspring of Lyman, caught between dueling cultural heritages and possibilities.

Lyman’s other child, Bessie, by his Christian wife, Theo, may bring to mind the New Testament figure of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin who gave birth to John the Baptist.  Bessie, too, is a prophet like figure who offers words of wisdom which are largely ignored, words which are also strongly redolent of New Testament philosophy in their insistence that you consider others before yourself.  Even Theo’s name has a religious connotation with its root connection to theology, the study of religion–perhaps emphazising her extremely rational nature.  She is the hub around which religious concepts spin in America and her father was after all a preacher.  Tom Wilson, the Quaker, and other representative of the New Testament side of the matter may bring to mind “doubting Thomas.”  At a point near the close of the play, when Theo seems to be won over to Lyman’s outlook, we find Tom seeming to distance himself entirely from the group.  Like the doubting Thomas figure he may represent–he wants to believe but has trouble committing himself to a more audacious set of beliefs.  In Aramic, the name Thomas means “twin” and in many ways Tom is a twin to Lyman, being a “would be Lyman,”  only without the necessary spirit.  Early on, Tom advises Lyman to lie and not to be honest because the truth is often too hurtful (Ride 29).  Such moments allow us to question just how complicitous in all of this is Tom.  In a way, he has been living vicariously through Lyman, allowing him to take all the risks.  We are all “Toms” in a way, with a tendency to let others live the sensational lives as we stand by and watch–becoming virtual “Uncle Tom” figures in our “yes man” complacency.
From: Vol. 8 December 2003 p. 13

— In response to “The Importance of Naming in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (Vol #7), Peter Hays (University of Califormia, Davis) writes: “I read with interest the explication of the names in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.  The one that I have wrestled with is the one in the title. There is no Mt. Morgan near Elmira; in fact, there is no mountain near Elmira. Elmira Heights is 659 feet in altitude.  Two interpretations are possible: Morgan refers to J.P. Morgan, and thus, indirectly, to Lyman’s and America’s lust for wealth.  Or, it could refer to Mark Twain’s Hank Morgan of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Twain had a farm near Elmira, and as his pen name reveals, he had a penchant for duplicity, like Lyman.”

— In response to a question (vol.#7) regarding the suicide of David Beeves in The Man Who Had All the Luck, Chris Bigsby informs us that David Beeves committed suicide in the original novel, which Miller wrote prior to the play version.  While adapting the story into play form, he dropped the certainty of Beeves’ suicide for a more ambiguous ending.

— In an initial response to the discovery of the Dramatists Play Service edition of “I Can’t Remember Anything,” from 1987, which ends in a very different fashion to the earlier Grove Press edition of 1986, Steve Centola writes:

“I like the Dramatists Play Service version better because it resonates with greater suggestiveness and ambiguity at the play’s end–and such openendness, for me, is simply a more accurate reflection of life’s complexity.  To me the “tension” we feel at the end of the Dramatists Play Service version–both between Leo and Leonora and within Leo (and possibly also within Leonora, given Leo’s comments in their final telephone conversation that she again is pretending not to remember)–suggests greater complexity in characterization and, I believe, a more realistic and accurate portrayal of the complexity of the feelings and situations affecting these two characters.  The Grove Press version perhaps too conveniently offers the audience an implausible happy resolution to the tensions dividing these two characters at the play’s end and, therefore, leaves us with the unrealistic conclusion that a definite solution has been achieved during this evening.  The Dramatists Play Service version, on the other hand, suggests, to me at least, that no such resolution occurs–or perhaps can ever occur–for the individuals will continue to wrestle with their feelings and (in)ability to come to terms with their past, their values, their feelings, and their personal responsibility for the life lived and the situation that now serves as a challenge and a threat to them.  To some degree, both characters continue to live in denial at the play’s end.  Leonora, perhaps disingenuously, still contends that she cannot remember anything, and Leo similarly pretends that he does not care about Leonora and wants to be freed from the burden of responsibility for her, while also deriving some consolation from the overly simplistic, and undeniably inaccurate, characterization of her as exclusively responsible for his own distress. Yet, simultaneously, the play’s end shows that both obviously remain connected to each other.

I believe the fact that the play ends while they are talking, regardless of what they are saying, on the phone again reinforces the connections between them that are evident in their interactions this evening and revival of memories that are too important to be forgotten.  Leo may be telling Leonora that he cannot continue to see her, but the fact is that he does continue to talk to her–a clear indication that his action belies his speech, in a manner that is reminiscent to me of Charley saying he never cared about another human being while he continues to give Willy Loman $50 a week in Death of a Salesman.

In any event, for me, the Dramatists Play Service version is a better conclusion because it is riddled with the kind of ambiguity that speaks more insightfully about the complexities of life and human relations. The tension that reverberates in this ending compels our attention more so than if the play ended with a more definite resolution, and we inevitably find ourselves thinking long afterwards about Miller’s themes, his characters, and the implications of their conflict for all of us.
From: Vol. 9 June 2004 p. 13-15

Crucible script
An inquiry from a bookshop in Plainfield, Vermont which recently bought a collection of books, many on drama, from the estate of a gentleman who was once, we were told, a drama critic for the old Herald Tribune in New York City, named Bert McCord.

Ben Koenig, owner of the store, is researching a mimeographed script in a simple gray binder. It has no title page but is definitely the script for The Crucible.  It seems like a working script from the New York original production.  The outer cover has a label from “Anne Myerson Manuscript Typing & Mimeographing Service.”  There are several sections crossed out.  These sections do not appear in the revision of the play which was published after the play opened.  There are also some changes in which one character is delivering the dialogue and this character was later changed to a different character.  Almost all the pages have act-scene-page numbers on top.  Several pages apparently were added with new dialogue.  On one of these pages is the handwritten name,”McNeil” and all of the crossed out passages concern Tituba.  Since the actress Claudia McNeil was a replacement for Tituba’s part, then this is, perhaps, her copy of the script.

If anyone has any information that would help Ben authenticate or allow him to compare his copy with another, or information on where might something like this be archived, contact: The Country Bookshop, 35 Mill Street, Plainfield, VT 05667, Phone and fax: 802-454-8439 e-mail: <>

— Symbolism of the Pen in Death of a Salesman
A teacher from New York who was teaching a Death of a Salesman Unit in 11th grade was asked about the symbolism of the stealing of the fountain pen.  All of the teachers he knew had been suggesting it represents taking a piece of success, is a symbol of success, and that Biff steals it when faced with adversity.  He saw a possible connection between this and the common Jewish practice of Bar Mitzvah, when the boy becomes a man and passes into maturity and manhood.  In the time that the play takes place, a common gift to the barmitvah’d boy was a fountain pen.  In fact, the newly made man would address his audience and announce, “Today I am a FOUNTAIN PEN.”  He wonders if the pen might not, therefore, symbolize Biff’s realization of his maturity.  He finally can “see the sky.”  He sees the light, the mask of fantasy has been taken off, and he then goes on a mission to make everyone around him stop lying and face the truth as he now can.

“Arthur Miller–A Chronicler of Our Times”
By Aysha Viswamohan

If history can be defined as a documented fact of civilization, Arthur Miller can justify his position as the chronicler of our age. Whether it is the  Depression (The American Clock), McCarthyism (Crucible, After the Fall),  anti-Semitism (Incident at Vichy, Playing for Time),  the Watergate  (The Archbishop’s Ceiling),  or the excesses of the Reagan-Nixon era (Ride Down at Mt. Morgan), Miller’s plays invariably offer the readers a slice of the times we live in. While discussing his views on the Vietnam War and the Theater of Absurd,  Miller confesses , “behind the play–almost any play–are more or less secret responses to other works of the time,”  and admits that  The Price . . .was “a reaction to two big events that had come to overshadow all others in that decade.”(Echoes Down the Corridor, 297).

A fascinating feature of Miller’s output is his non-literary essays. He observes: “Looking through the scores of essays I have published . . . I find myself surprised at how many were involved with the political life of the times . . . By political I don’t mean the question of who should be elected to office but rather the life of the community and its apparent direction.” (Echoes, ix). With reference to this postulation, one has to consider Miller’s views on delinquent behavior (“The Bored and the Violent”), blacklisted artists in authoritarian regimes (“What’s Wrong with This Picture”, “Dinner with the Ambassador”), political machinations (“Making Crowds”), concern with the environment (“Ibsen’s Warning”), and the censors (“The Good Old American Pie”).  If his account of Mandela (“The Measure of the Man”) is an affirmation in man’s indefatigable spirit, equally heart-warming is his defense of the “fallen-from-grace” President Clinton (“Clinton in Salem”), where he likens the Clinton-situation to the witchcraft hysteria in Salem. Elsewhere, with a unique sense of perspicacity, he discusses Cuba and Castro; the attack on the twin towers, and the need for tolerance toward members of all religious communities.
How  keenly Miller observes us, is obvious in his recent play, Resurrection Blues, where he questions: what would happen if a revolutionary Christ-like figure suddenly emerged from among the people.  Miller assumes that the head of the state would not only have him crucified, but would also sell the worldwide television rights to an advertising agency for $25 million.

In Resurrection Blues, the dramatist ridicules the greed and materialism which afflict our society.  Set in a  Latin American country there is an enormous gap between rich and poor, with 2% of the population owning 96% of the wealth (which again, is a telling commentary on situations in most countries).  In addition to attacking the absurd social/economic inequalities, Miller also explores the gross  commercialization of television, where a crucifixion would be interspersed with ads for falling hair, gum disease, underarm deodorants, diapers, ear wax and rashes. What’s worse is the fact that even the people, for whom the savior is willing to die, are eager to capitalize on the event. Thus, many villages clamor to become the location for the crucifixion, as it would catapult the status of their village as a tourist attraction.  In fact, the greater the shock value, the better it would be for the economy.  And as the dictator says, “Shooting doesn’t work! People are shot on television every ten minutes  . . . nail up a couple of these bastards.”   The play concerns itself with commodification of capital punishment, along with the notion of infotainment, as witnessed by our growing fascination for the television (also see, “Privatize Executions”).  In a recent interview, Miller says, ” . . . Resurrection Blues becomes an eerie reflection of our culture as a whole–our morals, ethics, and compassion for others. The airing of a worldwide broadcast of a crucifixion would certainly peak an audience’s interest.  But whose responsibility is it to determine what is morally acceptable?” (Etemad).  It is worth noting that even as Miller nears his ninetieth year, his preoccupation with humanity has not diminished one bit.

Miller once stated, ” . . . it is remarkable how similar the fundamental preoccupations are around the world.  The dilemmas of my characters turn out to be quite familiar elsewhere” (“Global”).  This assertion is valid because as a contemporary chronicler , Miller shows a mirror not merely to his own, but to all societies, and emerges as a universal dramatist in exactly the same way as when he wrote Death of a Salesman.  His immense creative output is enough to redefine his position not just as one of the greatest playwrights, but also as an important socio-political thinker of our times.  And this is from where the relevance of studies on Miller stems.

Works Cited
Miller, Arthur.  Echoes Down the Corridor: Collected Essays 1944-2000.  Ed. Steven Centola. New York: Penguin, 2001.
—. “Global Dramatist.” New York Times. July 21, 1957. Retrieved from the internet.
—.  Interview with Nakissa Etemad. Open Stages: The Newsletter of the Wilma Theater. Sept./ Oct.2003.  Retrieved from the internet.
—. Resurrection Blues (2002).  Unpublished.

Plays  as Political Allegories: The Ride Down Mount Morgan and Tughlaq
By Ashis Sengupta

Historical/political allegory, according to Abrams, has in it characters and actions which, while signified literally, represent in turn historical/political personages and events (Glossary of Literary Terms  4). Allegory as a narrative mode has fallen into “critical disrepute,” thanks to the modernist hostility to “the intentionalist . . . assumptions” that it makes as well as to the poststructuralist rethinking of the notions of reference and representation (Fowler Ed. DMCT 5-6). Nevertheless, it continues to flourish in prose fiction and drama, with changes in its conception and practice, though. Since a text is no longer considered as having “the power of closing off its performance or reading,” “the conditions of signification” follow from its open-endedness (Chase, “de Man, Paul,” John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism). The reader’s experience of allegory, in this view, can be an experience of the provisionality/undecidability of figural meaning. However, the act of reading remains a possible way of positing rather than discovering the literal and figural dimensions of a fictional narrative, notwithstanding the text’s indeterminacy which interferes with its self-knowledge.

The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991) by Arthur Miller and Tughlaq (1964[1975) by Indian playwright Girish Karnad share several significant features as political allegories. While the former probes into the paradoxes of American politics under Reagan’s leadership, the latter focuses on those of Indian leadership during the Jawaharlal-Indira regime. Miller draws the character of a bigamist to make his political statement; Karnad turns to the career of a fourteenth-century sultan of Delhi to make his. Both Lyman and Tughlaq are immensely capable of action, and both are sincerely convinced of the righteousness of what they do. Each strongly believes, and is partly able to make others believe, in his visions of self-integrity and stakes everything to translate them into reality. However, both of them want the world to conform to their visions and therefore ignore every kind of difference and dissent. To come back to the real-life models, Reagan, the most successful American politician of the late twentieth century, sought to rebuild America as the world’s strongest nation when it was in fact undergoing a crisis of confidence. He sold the American dream of heroic individualism to strengthen the country’s economy and adopted foreign policies with a view to establishing America as a “benevolent” force in the world. But despite his zeal and intellect, he ended up as a failure for not examining his values in any greater depth than Lyman. When he left office, America had record budget deficits and a bruised self-image to the international community due to the Iran-Contra scandal. On the Indian side, Nehru saw himself as the architect of an independent nation and wanted to release the “vast stores of suppressed energy and ability of his people” in order to give “her the garb of modernity” (Discovery of India 50). But with the nation’s increasing “disenchantment with visionary leadership and the consequent emergence” of a politics of power relations between religious and ethnic groups, Tughlaq appeared to be a more accurate portrayal of “the brilliant but authoritarian . . . political style” of Indira Gandhi (Dharwadker, PMLA110.1: 50). She too sought to modernize and discipline India, but with such zeal that she came to abuse power by imposing herself on her people.
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan is “a completely political play,” says Miller. Lyman is “the apotheosis of the individualist who has arrived at a point where the rest of the world has faded into insignificance” (qtd. in Bigsby, Modern American Drama 122). This type of character, Miller adds, is not new: “it’s just that Ronald Reagan gave it the imprimatur of society” (qtd. in Griffin, Understanding Arthur Miller 175). Lyman is “a man of high integrity,” Miller observes, “but no values.” And it is a great “paradox.” He does create “a socially responsible corporation” which has liberal policies toward minorities. But he is also “intent on not suppressing his instinctual life, on living fully in every way possible.” He will “confront the worst about himself and then proceed from there” (qtd. in Bigsby, Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller 171-72). Metaphorically, the accident Lyman meets with blows off his cover and necessitates a scrutiny of his past. However, it is far from an objective reconstruction as the past is presented to us through the wild fantasies of Lyman. His present, too, is largely shaped by his conscious rationalizations. Since he inhabits a world where others are but projections of his desires and fears, he legitimizes “an imperial self” detached from all responsibility (Bigsby, Modern American Drama 121). Lyman acknowledges his wildness but then justifies it as the proof of life in him. He is “the quintessential Eighties man,” Miller observes, “who . . . keeps saying he’s telling the truth about himself, but [who] in fact [has] had to conceal everything” (qtd. in Modern American Drama 122).  Reagan also understood the need for a laudatory rhetoric that would restore the nation’s faith in its old myths of innocence and success. However, the moral rhetoric both Reagan and Lyman appropriate only disguises the moral decay of the “Me” generation.

Karnad writes in his program note to the 1975 production of Tughlaq: “Our interpretation of the play is one in which the politics of the entire [national] situation are all-important and the violence of the…play is evident” (Enact [Sept-Oct]). Karnad’s protagonist appears to be an idealist; yet in the pursuit of his ideals, he perpetrates their opposites. Tughlaq dreams of a kingdom that would be a land of justice and peace, communal harmony and progress.  He is even ready to announce his mistakes to the whole world and be judged in public. Tughlaq is always conscious of his role as shaper of history, as Prime Minister Nehru was ever preoccupied with India’s “tryst with destiny.”  However, the sultan’s lofty view of himself and his empire is not only expressive of the juridical and cultural ideals of Indian monarchy but also complicitous with the idea of unquestionable royal authority. Power can be violent and coercive when the idea of government (a structure of actions upon other actions for desired outcomes) is frustrated. Contrary to his earlier self-projection as a humble king, Tughlaq starts killing his kin and critics for the sake of what he calls “an ideal.” While Tughlaq earlier subjected his credulous people to his authority by his emotional theatrics, he now exercises his power rather crudely to make them follow his whims. The basic motive behind some of the sultan’s radical measures might have been effective administrative control, but he neither probed the ground reality nor recognized the public will as of any importance at all. Instead he wanted to reduce history to a kind of autobiography. Ms. Gandhi comes closer to Karnad’s protagonist as a mixture of paradoxes, choosing coercive strategies “out of a compulsion to act for the nation.”  After a State High Court set aside her election to Parliament in 1975, she declared a national emergency on the grounds that she was “the only person” “to lead [the country]” (qtd. in Moraes, Indira Gandhi 220).  Like Tughlaq, she chose evil in the self-destructiveness of her authoritarianism (Dharwadker 52).

Neither the fictional Lyman in Miller nor the “historical” Tughlaq in Karnad evokes any contemporary figure consistently, and sometimes they each evoke only themselves. Moreover, as a fictional narrative/historical fiction possesses meaning “independent of specific topical contexts” (Dharwadker 56), one character cannot either substitute completely for another. Yet few will perhaps miss the allegorical structures of both plays even as the allegorical signs in them point to things that differ from their literal meanings.

N.B. The third paragraph of this short essay has been adapted from a section Sengupta wrote on The Ride Down Mt. Morgan in “The Late Plays of Arthur Miller: Problematizing the Real,” which will be included in the forthcoming Miller and Middle America, edited by Paula Langteau (UPA).
From: Vol. 10 December 2004 p. 3

In response to the earlier issue’s suggestion of the Fountain Pen relating to Biff passage into maturity:

From JHK:  But nothing about the Loman family (including their name) is Jewish, and Biff is 33, not 13, and what is more important, he is horrified that he has taken the pen.  I don’t see it as grasping for success, or a realization of maturity–indeed, it’s quite the opposite.  Biff has been stealing for years, as his father never taught him proper moral values.  Biff is struggling to escape his youth and the tyranny of his father’s ridiculous worldview–taking the pen is more a symbol of his inability to do that–he has been tricked once more into behaving like his father–going to Bill Oliver with the ridiculous idea the man will lend him money and he can start a successful business–but he is to Bill Oliver only what he proves himself to be by taking the pen–a little sneak thief (just like he took the crate of balls all those years back).  It is not until he faces his father and tells him the truth that we see him beginning to grow.

To which the original NY teacher responded:
I think that most English teachers who do not know about the significance of the fountain pen to that era’s Jews all say similar things in a struggle to grasp the meaning of what is obviously a symbol of some type.  As for the Lomans not being Jewish, does it really matter?  It is the author who is Jewish and would embed his own experience into his work.  Biff is a late bloomer, sure, but again, he takes the pen at the point he has his epiphany.  He runs down 11 flights of stairs and sees the sky aka “seeing the light.”  His eyes are now open.  His mission henceforth is to make everyone else see reality and lift the veil of fantasy.  JHK, I appreciate your insight – it matches the opinions of many English teachers.  I encourage you to re-read the section with the pen and the rest of the Act and you’ll maybe come to a middle ground with me.

Questions still looking for answers…write in if you know the answer to any of these and we can include your response!

–Who said that Arthur Miller “is the only playwright to influence the American theatrical landscape for the entire twentieth century”?

–Which Miller play is dedicated to Robert Ferris?

–Where did Miller write/say something along the lines of: “Let history stay in the history books . . . the theater is for . . . something”

–Where/when did Miller say something to the effect that most human endeavors are bound to failure, but a great deal of good things happen along the way?