Just Above Sunset
February 20, 2005 - Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller is dead.  And I am no longer an English teacher.  But I used to teach both of the plays mentioned below - “The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman.”  And it sure would be fun to teach the former these days.


"Though our hearts break, we cannot flinch. There is a misty plot afoot so subtle we should be criminal to cling to old respects and ancient friendships."  Is that from the play or just Rumsfeld on Old Europe?


"But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time - we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.  Now, by God's grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it. I hope you will be one of those."  Is that from the play, or just Bush?


Miller was such a typical New York liberal troublemaker.  The play was from 1953 and times then – McCarthy hearings and all that.


This below explains why you won’t see these plays performed in the theater at Bob Jones University.


Arthur Miller's Lessons

E. J. Dionne Jr. – The Washington Post - Tuesday, February 15, 2005; Page A17


The core?


Miller instructed us on the individual's obligation to stand up to frightened, and thus dangerous, majorities. But he also offered a withering moral critique of an empty individualism that saw no connection between personal actions and a common good that Miller devoutly believed existed. He preached against selfishness because he knew its strong tug on our souls. He was a moralist deeply suspicious of how moralism is used.


To say that "The Crucible," first produced in 1953, reads as if it were a response to today's headlines is just to repeat what has been said for half a century -- by former dissidents in post-communist Eastern Europe no less than by American liberals during the McCarthy period. "I can always tell what the political situation is in a country when the play is suddenly a hit there," Miller wrote in his autobiography. "It is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past."


And this:


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.


Miller set his face against the world's tendency to write off large parts of humanity as losers. If Miller was aware of the corruption of the strong, he was also insistent upon the dignity of the weak. This inspired the storied soliloquy in "Death of a Salesman" from Willy Loman's wife, Linda: "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention finally must be paid to such a person."




As Dionne points out, Miller once said: "We were all going slightly crazy trying to be honest and trying to see straight and trying to be safe. Sometimes there are conflicts in these three urges."


That drives us all these days.





Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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