Attention Must Be Paid

To me the theater is not a disconnected entertainment, which it usually is to most people here. It’s the sound and the ring of the spirit of the people at any one time. It is where a collective mass of people, through the genius of some author, is able to project its terrors and its hopes and to symbolize them. … I personally feel that the theater has to confront the basic themes always. And the faces change from generation to generation to generation, but their roots are generally the same, and that is a question of man’s increasing awareness of himself and his environment, his quest for justice and for the right to be human. That’s a big order, but I don’t know where else excepting at a playhouse where there’s reasonable freedom, one should hope to see that. — Arthur Miller, from a speech delivered at the University of Michigan, Feb. 28, 1967

Arthur Miller, 1915-2005 Arthur Miller, who stood among the greatest and bravest playwrights the US has ever produced, has died at the age of 89.

From the UK’s Independent:

[Miller] will be remembered above all for his plays, several of which have entered the canon of world literature. There was The Crucible, written in 1953 and part of the curriculum of every American school student. He based it on the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, but it is an allegory for the hysteria and unjust persecutions of the McCarthyite hunt for communists of the period.

In his 1967 play The Price, Miller told the desperately painful story of a fortune lost and roads not taken, as two estranged brothers have to dispose of the sorry remnants of their father’s estate.

Earlier, there was A View from the Bridge, a tale of intrigue and betrayal in an immigrant Brooklyn family, which drew heavily on Greek tragedy.

Above all of course, there is Death of a Salesman, Miller’s most famous work, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1949 at the age of 33. It captures the central strand of his drama — how ordinary families can be swept up and destroyed by social changes they are powerless to combat. “Dislocation, maybe, is part of our uneasiness. It implants the feeling that nothing is really permanent,” Miller once said of his work.

No, nothing is permanent. Arthur Miller is gone. With any luck, he has joined Eugene O’Neill and Lorraine Hansberry and Tennessee Williams and all in the literary great beyond. How fortunate we are that, for a time, one of the most humane and humanistic writers actually lived and breathed in our midst. Thank the goddess: Despite Miller’s impermanence, his work lives on.

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