Arthur Asher Miller (1915--2005) Arthur Asher Miller was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman, which are still studied and performed worldwide.
Arthur Asher Miller Miller was often in the public eye, most famously for refusing to give evidence against others to the House Un-American Activities Committee （ HUAC, 众议院非美活动委员 会）, being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama among other awards, and for marrying Marilyn Monroe. At the time of his death, Miller was considered one of the greatest American playwrights.
Early life Arthur Miller was born to moderately affluent Jewish-American parents in Manhattan, New York City, in 1915. In spite of his father’s business failure in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he managed to graduate in 1938 from the University of Michigan. He started playwriting in college. On August 5, 1940, he married his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, the Catholic daughter of an insurance salesman.
Second Marriage In June of 1956 Miller divorced Mary Slattery, and on June 29, he married Marilyn Monroe. Miller and Monroe had first met in 1951, when they had a brief affair, and had remained in contact since then.
Later life In 1961, the pair divorced. A year later, Monroe died of an apparent drug overdose. Miller married photographer Inge Morath on February 17, 1962. The couple remained together until Inge's death in 2002. In December 2004, the 89-year-old Miller announced that he has been living with a 34- year-old artist Agnes Barley at his Connecticut farm since 2002, and that they intended to marry.
Death Miller died at his home in Roxbury of congestive heart failure on the evening of February 10, 2005 (the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman) at the age of 89, surrounded by his family.
Legacy Miller's career as a writer spanned over seven decades, and at the time of his death in 2005, Miller was considered to be one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century, among the likes of Harold Pinter, Eugene O'Neill, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertolt Brecht, and Tennessee Williams.
Major Works All My Sons (1947) Death of a Salesman (1949) The Crucible (1953) A View from the Bridge (1955) The Misfits (1961) After the Fall (1964) The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977)
Death of a Salesman Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by Arthur Miller and is considered a classic of American theater. Viewed by many as a caustic attack on the American Dream of achieving wealth and success without regard for principle, Death of a Salesman made both Arthur Miller and the character Willy Loman household names.
A Play of Awards It was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949, the 1949 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Death of a Salesman was the first play to win these three major awards, helping to establish Miller as an internationally known playwright.
Charm of Immortal Art In 1983, Miller traveled to China to produce and direct Death of a Salesman at the People‘s Art Theatre in Beijing ( 北京人艺 ). The play was a success in China and in 1984, Salesman in Beijing, a book about Miller's experience in Beijing, was published. Around the same time, Death of a Salesman was made into a TV movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. Shown on CBS, it attracted 25 million viewers. Death of a Salesman was revived on Broadway in 1999 to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary.
Characters Willy Loman, an elderly salesman (over 60) Linda Loman, Willy's wife Biff Loman, son of Willy and Linda Happy Loman, son of Willy and Linda Ben, Willy's brother Howard Wagner, Willy's boss Charley, a neighbor of the Lomans Bernard, Charley's son Stanley, a waiter
Structure Miller divided Death of A Salesman into only three sections: Act I (midnight), Act II (the next day) and a short Requiem. In our textbook, we are going to read Act II Present time : from midnight to the next evening, then a few days later after the funeral of Willy Loman, the salesman Past time: before and after Biff’s graduation from high school
tragic hero Tragic hero, according to Aristotle, will most effectively evoke both our pity and terror if he is neither thoroughly good nor thoroughly bad but a mixture of both; and also that this tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is “better than we are,” in the sense that he is of higher than ordinary moral worth. Such a man is exhibited as suffering a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of his mistaken choice of an action, to which he is led by his “error of judgment” / tragic flaw.
Expressionism Departed from realistic depictions of life and the world Visionary or powerfully emotional states of mind are expressed and transmitted by means of distorted representations of the outer world What is depicted or described represents the experience of an individual standing alone and afraid in an industrial, technological, and urban society which is disintegrating into chaos.
Expressionist devices in drama Replace plot by episodic renderings of intense and rapidly oscillating emotional states Employ lopsided or sprawling stage sets Use special effects in lighting and sound
Discussion Questions 1. Identify all the descriptions of music and explain how the different styles of music correspond with the different situations. 2. What is the function of the intermingling of present and past, and of illusion and reality in the play? 3. In what sense is Willy Loman’s life a tragedy? 4. Why doesn’t the play tell us what Willy sells and whether the insurance money will be paid to his family?
Music “The [raw sensual] music is gone.” (p.281) “the sound of the flute coming over.” (p.284) “The gay music of the Boys is heard.” (p.286) “In accents of dread, Ben’s idyllic music starts up.” (p.290) “Suddenly music faint and high, stops him. It rises in intensity, almost to an unbearable scream.” (p.292) “the music crashes down in a frenzy of sound, which becomes the soft pulsation of a single cello string… The music has developed into a dead march.” (p.292) Music helps to express the different emotion of each specific situation.
Intermingling of past and present, illusion and reality “in Willy the past was as alive as what was happening at the moment, sometimes even crashing in to completely overwhelm his mind.” (Arthur Miller, Norton 7th ed. 2327) “In Salesman the action moves effortlessly from the present – the last twenty-four hours of Willy’s life – into moments in his memory, symbolized in the stage setting by the idyllic leaves around his house that, in these past moments, block out the threatening apartment houses.” (Norton 2327)
Past and Present, Illusion and Reality Past: a talk between young Biff and Loman about math exam; Biff disappointed at seeing father and his woman in the hotel room (pp.281-83) Present: at the restaurant, left behind by his two sons; planting the garden (pp.283-85) Illusion: talk with his dead brother, Ben (dream of wealth and being liked) (pp.285-86; p.286) Past: boys used to be nice, promising Present: quarrel between Biff and Loman about past and present Mixture of illusion and reality (11 times,pp.290-291)] Increasingly quick shifting from present to past, reality to illusion reveals Loman’s failure to distinguish illusion and reality, his identity crisis and his despair.
Willy Loman’s dream For himself to be a successful salesman liked by his buyers For his son Biff to be a successful professional football player liked by his audience, earning $25,000 a year For his family to live a comfortable life, possessing a house in the suburban area
Reality facing Willy Loman Himself no more a liked salesman, fired by the company His son Biff failing to graduate from high school, enter the university and realize his star football player dream, becoming a ne’er-do-well who is ineffectual and good for nothing The insurance premium, the repair of the refrigerator and the car, and the last payment on the mortgage (25 year mortgage for the house) to be payed (altogether $200) and to be borrowed again from his friend Charley
Lost in the Dreams Lies to the family about his work, boasting he’s always been liked by his customers Lies to himself and others about his sons, saying or believing they are doing great or they will be great Encourages the son Biff to cheat on the exam (p. 281) Uses fraud / false means to gain a compensation of $20,000 (making his death look like a car accident)
Willy Loman’s Tragedy False conceptions of his and his sons’ talents and capacities Not knowing who he is and his sons are Choosing the wrong dreams Having serious identity crisis Living in self-delusion / illusion
What Loman sells and Whether the insurance money is paid to his family It does not matter what Loman sells. The abstraction of his profession as a salesman is helpful for us to look at the issue in a larger view. Every one of us is like Willy Loman, a salesman selling ourselves to others in our life. The uncertainty of whether the insurance money is paid to his family prevents us from being distracted from the major theme, that is Loman’s tragic life.
Theme Throughout the play the Lomans in general cannot distinguish between reality and illusion, particularly Willy. This is a major theme and source of conflict in the play. Willy cannot see who he and his sons are. He believes that they are great men who have what it takes to be successful and beat the business world. Unfortunately, he is mistaken. In reality, Willy and sons are not, and cannot, be successful.
Assignments for Contemporary poems 1. Read Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” and think about the questions on p.267. 2. Read Maya Angelou’s “Still I rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” and think about the speaker’s attitude towards her own sex and race? 3. Read Li-Yound Lee’s poems and think about their relationship with his life experience.
Themes Certain lines in the play point to this character flaw that is present in Willy, Hap, and (for a time) Biff. For example, Willy believes that to be well liked is the means of becoming successful. This is an illusion that Willy lives in. Also, on the literal level, Willy very often lapses into a flashback and appears to be reliving conversations and situations that occurred years ago. This itself is an inability to see reality.
Themes This reality versus illusion problem eventually brings about Willy's downfall. In the end, Willy believes that a man can be "worth more dead than alive." Charley, always the voice of reality tells Willy, "A man isn't worth anything dead."
Themes Willy is also unable to see change. He is a man lost in the modern era of technology. He says, "How can they whip cheese?" and is constantly "In a race with the junkyard." Willy has been lost at trying to live the American Dream and the play can be viewed as commentary about society. Willy was a man who had worked all his life by the machinery of Democracy and Free Enterprise and was then spit mercilessly out, spent like a "piece of fruit."
Style The play is mostly told from Willy's point of view, and the play occasionally flashes back to previous parts of Willy's life, sometimes during a present day scene. It does this by having a scene begin in the present time and adding characters onto the stage that only Willy can see and hear, representing characters and conversations from other times and places.
Style One example of this is during a conversation between Willy and his neighbor Charley. During the conversation, Willy's brother Ben comes on stage and begins talking to Willy while Charley speaks to Willy. When Willy begins talking to his brother, the other characters do not understand who he is talking to and some of them even begin to suspect that he has "lost it."
Style However, at times it breaks away from Willy's point of view and focuses on the other characters, Linda, Biff and Happy. During these parts of the play, the time and place stay constant without any abrupt flashbacks as usually happens while the play takes Willy's point of view.
Style The play's structure resembles a stream of consciousness account: Willy drifts between his living room, downstage, to the apron and flashbacks of an idyllic past, and also to fantasized conversations with Ben. The use of these different "states" allows Miller to contrast Willy's dreams and the reality of his life in extraordinary detail; and also allows him to contrast the characters themselves, showing them in both sympathetic and villainous lights, gradually unfolding the story, and refusing to allow the audience a permanent judgment about anyone.
Style When we are in the present the characters abide by the rules of the set, entering only through the stage door to the left; however, when we visit Willy's "past" these rules are removed, with characters openly moving through walls. Whereas the term "flashback" as a form of cinematography for these scenes is often heard, Miller himself rather speaks of "mobile concurrences."
Style In fact, flashbacks would show an objective image of the past. Miller's mobile concurrences, however, rather show highly subjective memories. Furthermore, as Willy's mental state deteriorates, the boundaries between past and present are destroyed, and the two start to exist in parallel.
Links Arthur Miller Society http://www.ibiblio.org/miller/ http://www.ibiblio.org/miller/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Miller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Miller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_a_Salesm an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_a_Salesm an http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/miller/biography. html http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/miller/biography. html
Assignments Read Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” on p. 188. Read William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” on p. 191. Think about the questions on the text. What does the poem want to tell us? What message do you get from the poem?
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