Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Two Views Of Arthur Miller 

E.J. Dionne pays respect to the author of "The Crucible," "All My Sons," and "Death of a Salesman," among other plays who died recently:

Miller pointed to the dangers of drawing too facile a line between good and evil not because he denied evil but precisely because he understood its power to affect the righteous. Few theologians had as rich an understanding as Miller of man's fallen nature. In "After the Fall," one of Miller's characters asks: "God, why is betrayal the only truth that sticks?"

Yet Miller's genius in appreciating the dark side is precisely what enabled him to celebrate the human struggle against it. And Miller's understanding of human frailty created one of the great ethical imperatives of his work: the demand that respect be offered to other human beings despite their shortcomings.

Terry Teachout, writing today in OpinionJournal, takes the opposite view:

I recently described "After the Fall," the 1964 play in which Miller first made fictional use of his unsuccessful marriage to Marilyn Monroe, as "a lead-plated example of the horrors that result when a humorless playwright unfurls his midlife crisis for all the world to see," written by a man "who hasn't a poetic bone in his body (though he thinks he does)." For me, that was his biggest flaw. He was, literally, pretentious: He pretended to have big ideas and the ability to express them with a touch of poetry, when in fact he had neither.

I'll go with E.J, Dionne in this case (hard to believe isn't it). Although I am far from being an expert, "Death of a Salesman" has been recognized as one of the greatest plays of all time. If you get the chance to see it in person it is impossible not be drawn into the lives of its characters. And when Michele and I saw "All My Sons" a few years ago we recognized that it told the story of my father.

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