Criticism Of The Crucible

					                             A Brief Biography of Arthur Miller

Introduction


     Miller's eminence as a dramatist is based primarily on four plays he wrote early in his career:
All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), and A View from the
Bridge (1955). Insisting that "the individual is doomed to frustration when once he gains a
consciousness of his own identity," Miller synthesizes elements from social and psychological
realism to depict the individual's search for identity within a society that inhibits such endeavors.
Although his later works are generally considered inferior to his early masterpieces, Miller
remains among the most important and influential dramatists to emerge in the United States since
World War II. Critics praise his effective use of vernacular, his moral insight, and his strong sense
of social responsibility. June Schlueter commented: "When the twentieth century is history and
American drama viewed in perspective, the plays of Arthur Miller will undoubtedly be preserved
in the annals of dramatic literature."



Biographical Information


     Miller was born and raised in New York City, the son of a prosperous businessman who lost
his wealth during the Great Depression. A mediocre high school student with little interest in
academic pursuits, Miller was rejected upon his initial application to the University of Michigan.
He was eventually accepted at the University, however, and there began writing for the stage,
showing distinct promise as a dramatist and winning several student awards. For a short time after
college, he was employed writing scripts for radio plays. While he found the demands of broadcast
writing restrictive, this period, together with his college years, served as a valuable apprenticeship
for Miller. His first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, was produced in 1944.
Although it lasted only four performances, the play nevertheless won a Theater Guild award and
established Miller as an important young playwright. Death of a Salesman was produced in 1949,
and earned Miller both a Pulitzer Prize and his second New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
After the production of A View from the Bridge in 1955, Miller took a nine-year hiatus from
writing while he was married to the well known actress Marilyn Monroe. After their separation,
Miller returned to the theatre in 1964 with After the Fall and Incident at Vichy. His last major
Broadway success was the 1968 production of The Price. Miller continued to write plays into the
1980s with varying degrees of success.



Major Works
     Throughout his career, Miller has continually addressed several distinct but related issues in
both his dramatic and expository writings. In his early plays and in a series of essays published in
the 1940s and 50s, Miller first outlined a form of tragedy applicable to modern times and
contemporary characters, challenging traditional notions suggesting that only kings, queens,
princes, and other members of the nobility can be suitable subjects for tragedy. In "Tragedy and
the Common Man," Miller asserts that the "underlying struggle" of all such dramas "is that of the
individual attempting to gain his `rightful' position in society." Consequently, "the tragic feeling is
evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need
be, to secure one thing his sense of personal dignity" within a society that inhibits such
endeavors. According to this view, even ordinary people like Willy Loman, the protagonist of
Death of a Salesman        can achieve truly tragic stature. It is this issue of the individual's
relationship to society, and its representation on stage, that forms the second of Miller's abiding
concerns. Throughout his work, Miller has sought to fuse the moral and political messages of
"social" plays with the realism and intensity of psychological dramas that focus on the individual.
In work after work, from All My Sons and The Crucible to Incident at Vichy, Miller has presented
dilemmas in which a character's sense of personal integrity or self-interest conflicts with his or her
responsibility to society or its representatives. Finally, Miller has repeatedly returned to the theme
of family relations, particularly interactions between fathers and sons. The families depicted in
Miller's plays often serve as vehicles for the author's analyses of the broader relations between
individuals and society.
     These issues are discernible in All My Sons and clearly evident in Death of a Salesman,
widely considered Miller's masterpiece and recognized as a classic of contemporary American
theater. In All My Sons, set during World War II, the truth about Joe Keller's past is gradually
revealed. Keller has sold defective parts to the United States Air Force, resulting in the death of
several American pilots. When his sons learn of this, one, a pilot himself, commits suicide by
crashing his plane; the other demands that Keller take responsibility for his actions. As the play
closes, Keller accepts his obligation to society, recognizing that all the lost pilots were, in effect,
his "sons." He then takes his own life to atone for his crime. All My Sons was considerably more
successful than The Man Who Had All the Luck, enjoying a long run and winning the New York
Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947.
     With the production of Death of a Salesman in 1949, Miller firmly established his reputation
as an outstanding American dramatist. This play, which represents his most powerful
dramatization of the clash between the individual and materialistic American society, chronicles
the downfall of Willy Loman, a salesman whose misguided notions of success result in
disillusionment and, ultimately, his death. Throughout his life, Willy has not only blindly pursued
society's version of success, he has based his own identity and self-worth on social acceptance on
how "well-liked" he is. At the drama's end, he commits suicide, convinced that the settlement on
his life insurance policy will provide his son Biff the wealth that had eluded Willy himself;
however, Biff's ideals have already been tarnished by the same forces that destroyed his father.
     Miller followed Salesman with an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People and,
in 1953, The Crucible. Although the latter work won the 1953 Tony Award for best play, it
received generally lukewarm responses from critics, and the piece had a run that, while
respectable, was only one-third the length of Salesman's premier production. Perhaps Miller's
most controversial drama, this work is based upon the witch trials held in 1692 in Salem,
Massachusetts. Featuring historical characters drawn from this period, The Crucible addresses the
complex moral dilemmas of John Proctor, a man wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft.
Through his depiction of the mass frenzy of the witch hunt, Miller examines the social and
psychological aspects of group pressure and its effect on individual ethics, dignity, and beliefs.
     When The Crucible was first staged, a number of critics maintained that Miller failed in his
characteristic attempt to merge the personal and the social. Many of the figures in the play are
poorly developed and merely serve as mouthpieces for Miller's social commentary, they claimed.
The relationship between the historical events depicted in the play and the events of the 1950s has
continued to be the subject of much debate among subsequent critics of The Crucible.
     Miller's next offering, produced in 1955, consisted of two one-act plays: A Memory of Two
Mondays a semi-autobiographical piece reflecting Miller's own experiences as a young man
working in an auto parts warehouse and A View from the Bridge, for which the playwright won
his third New York Drama Critics Circle Award. He later expanded this play to two acts. Given
Miller's attempts to establish a new, modern form of tragedy, A View from the Bridge is significant
in that it exhibits many similarities to classical Greek tragedy. Eddie Carbone, the play's central
character, unconsciously harbors an incestuous love for his niece, Catherine. Jealous of her
attraction to an illegal alien the Carbones are hiding, Eddie exposes the man to immigration
authorities and becomes involved in a fatal confrontation with the man's brother. Critics have often
noted that, like such Greek dramatic heroes as Oedipus, Eddie brings about his own downfall
through his ignorance and inability to see the consequences of his actions.
     A nine-year break from playwriting followed A View from the Bridge, during which period
Miller embarked on his highly publicized marriage to, and subsequent divorce from, Marilyn
Monroe. Before they separated, however, Miller adapted one of his short stories into the
screenplay The Misfits as a vehicle for his wife. He returned to the theater in 1964 with two works,
After the Fall, and, near the end of the year, Incident at Vichy. After the Fall is considered Miller's
most experimental and, perhaps, most pessimistic piece. This play takes place, as Miller has stated,
"in the mind, thought, and memory of Quentin," a guilt-ridden man who tries to come to terms
with his past through conversations with an imaginary listener. In the course of Quentin's
examination of the ruins of two failed marriages, the individual, the family, and society are all
subjected to harsh criticism. Nearly every character in the play betrays love for the sake of his or
her own survival. In Incident at Vichy, Miller continued his exploration of the conflicts between
individual and societal responsibility. Set in occupied France during World War II, this play
features seven men who, awaiting interrogation by their Nazi captors, discuss their fate and the
importance of social commitment to maintaining group freedom. The drama suggests that those
who fail to resist oppression are as guilty as the Nazis of crimes against humanity.
     In 1968, Miller returned to realistic family drama with The Price. In this work two brothers,
Victor and Walter Frank, are brought together after many years by the death of their father. Like
the characters in All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, these two men recall the past, trying to
come to an understanding of their lives and the choices they have made. The Price was Miller's
last major Broadway success. His next work, The Creation of the World and other Business, a
series of comic sketches based on the Biblical Book of Genesis, met with severe critical
disapproval when it was first produced on Broadway in 1972, closing after only twenty
performances. All of Miller's subsequent works premiered outside of New York. Miller staged the
musical Up from Paradise (1974), an adaptation of Creation of the World (1972), at his alma mater,
the University of Michigan. The Archbishop's Ceiling was presented in 1977 at the Kennedy
Center in Washington, D.C.
     In the 1980s, Miller produced a number of short pieces. The American Clock is based on
Studs Terkel's Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, and is structured as a series
of vignettes that chronicle the hardship and suffering that occurred during that period. Elegy for a
Lady and Some Kind of Love Story are two one-act plays that were staged together in 1982.
Similarly, Danger, Memory!(1986) is comprised of the short pieces I Can't Remember Anything
and Clara. Reviewers have generally regarded these later plays as minor works, inferior to Miller's
early masterpieces.



Critical Reception


     Critics have generally agreed that Death of a Salesman is an important dramatic work. Some
commentators, however, have taken issue with Miller's insistence that Death of a Salesman is a
modern tragedy and that Willy is a tragic hero. The noted drama critic Eric Bentley argued that the
elements of social drama in Salesman keep "the `tragedy' from having genuinely tragic stature."
Describing Willy as a "little man," Bentley insisted that such a person is "too little and too passive
to play the tragic hero." Bentley and others charged that, according to Miller's own definition,
Willy's death is merely "pathetic" rather than tragic. Other critics argued that, to the contrary, the
salesman does attain tragic dimensions by virtue of what Miller terms the tragic hero's "total
compulsion" to preserve his humanity and dignity. John Mason Brown characterized Death of a
Salesman as "a tragedy modern and personal, not classic and heroic." Willy Loman is, he observed,
"a little man sentenced to discover his smallness rather than a big man undone by his greatness."
     Whether or not Salesman can be classified as a true tragedy, it has been generally praised for
its innovative structure, which merges elements of both realism and expressionism. Reviewers
admired the drama's interweaving of the "past" with the "present" and of events inside Willy's
mind with those outside. While not "realistic," this technique nevertheless produces a penetrating
psychological examination characteristic of dramatic realism. It is appropriate, several critics
noted, that Miller's working title for the play was    Inside of His Head. Death of a Salesman
earned Miller a Pulitzer Prize as well as his second New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Miller
won a Tony Award with The Crucible, another highly controversial and critically acclaimed play.
However, reviewers were sharply divided over many of his later works. In reviewing After the
Fall, some considered its structure a brilliant experiment in stagecraft, while others faulted Miller
for pretentious theorizing and artificial characterizations. Despite the absence of any notable
theatrical success since the mid- 1960s, Arthur Miller remains an important voice in contemporary
American drama. Such early works as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible are still frequently
performed, thereby reaching succeeding generations of playgoers. And though less compelling, his
later works have continued to probe and explore the nature of the individual as an innately social,
interactive creature. Much of Miller's work displays his deep and abiding concern with conscience
and morality, with one's dual and often conflicting responsibilities to oneself and to one's
fellow human beings. It is only through relationships with others, Miller's plays suggest, that our
humanity truly emerges.



INTRODUCTION TO The Crucible


     Winner of an Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best play, The Crucible is widely considered
Miller's most controversial and best-known work since his highly acclaimed Death of a Salesman.
Based upon the witch trials held in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, The Crucible uses characters
based on historical personages to address the complex moral dilemmas of John Proctor, a man
wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft. Through his depiction of the mass hysteria that
propelled the witch-hunts, Miller examines the social and psychological aspects of group pressure
and its effect on individual ethics, dignity, and beliefs.
     The Crucible begins after the Reverend Parris discovers several teenage girls dancing nude in
a forest after dark. To escape punishment, the girls accuse several townspeople of having
possessed them and of initiating them into witchcraft. Abigail Williams, one of the girls, claims
that she was under the spell of Elizabeth Proctor, who had employed her as a servant until she
discovered that her husband and Abigail were having an affair. Several members of the community
are subsequently accused, convicted of witchcraft, and threatened with a sentence of death unless
they confess their involvement in demonism and name their co-conspirators.
     Because she is pregnant, Elizabeth Proctor is not sentenced to hang; however, her husband's
refusal to cooperate with the court and falsely confess his participation in witchcraft ultimately
leads to his destruction. In an attempt to discredit Abigail as a witness, Proctor reveals his adultery
to the court. Elizabeth denies the affair to save her husband's reputation, but Proctor refuses to
retract his statement and denounces the self-serving corruption of all involved in the trials,
declaring: "For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail
now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud God damns our kind especially,
and we will burn together!" Proctor then reconsiders his decision and signs a confession, but,
though he still denies any knowledge of others consorting with the devil, his love for his wife
convinces him to surrender his integrity for her. When he learns that his written testimony will be
used to convict others, however, Proctor tears up the confession, refusing to condone what he
perceives as a perversion of justice. Proctor is ultimately hanged along with eighteen other victims
by the hysterical mob.
     When The Crucible was first staged, a number of critics maintained that Miller had failed in
his characteristic attempt to merge the personal and the social. Several critics initially claimed that
the play's characters are poorly developed, merely serving as mouthpieces for Miller's social
commentary. Elizabeth Proctor, for example, is seen as a simplistic portrayal of a good and faithful
wife, while John Proctor emerges as an admirable character, yet he lacks the depth and humanistic
appeal of such tragic heroes as Shakespeare's Hamlet or Miller's Willy Loman from Death of a
Salesman. A few commentators have observed that Miller may have taken excessive artistic
license when creating the character of Abigail Williams. According to historical records Williams
was a victim herself, a young child who became infected by a hysteria already rampant in her
community. In The Crucible Abigail is depicted as a shrewd and sinister teenager and thus a
difficult character for an audience to view as a victim of a corrupt society.
     Soon after the play's first production, critics noted similarities between the events in The
Crucible and the investigations headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Committee on
Un-American Activities into an unsubstantiated communist conspiracy. The Crucible, commonly
interpreted as a thinly disguised critique of these investigations, was initially judged stridently
polemical in intent and execution, with some commentators questioning the validity of the
parallels Miller established between the Salem witch-hunt and the congressional investigations.
The relationship between the historical events depicted in the play and the events of the 1950s has
continued to elicit debate among critics. In 1957, four years after the play's premiere, Miller
testified before the House Committee; although he admitted that he had attended a meeting of
communist writers, he denied ever having been a member of the Communist Party and refused to
implicate anyone he had known. As a result, he was found guilty of contempt of Congress, a
conviction that was later overturned. In an interview, Miller commented: "There was no response
to McCarthyism, except for The Crucible. And when I was attacked, I was never defended. I think
that's unforgivable. At the same time, I now recognize that this was one of the blackest periods in
Russia. When you had Stalin around, the magnitude of the cruelty was unmatched. You've got to
be either God or the Devil to figure this out."
     One year after Miller's testimony, when the furor over communist activity in the United
States had died down, The Crucible was revived off-Broadway. Freed from its immediate
association with current events, the play was warmly received by critics and enjoyed a run of over
six hundred performances. The Crucible is now considered to possess a more lasting and universal
significance than had earlier been apparent. As Robert Martin asserted in 1977, The Crucible "has
endured beyond the immediate events of its own time. If it was originally seen as a political
allegory, it is presently seen by contemporary audiences almost entirely as a distinguished
American play by an equally distinguished American playwright.


                                                        (Source: Contemporary Literary Criticism )

				
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