Friday, February 11, 2005

ARTHUR MILLER (1915-2005)

You can do what you can do, and the rest is up to the zeitgeist. I'll probably be forgotten completely; 99.99 percent of all artwork is forgotten. There have been so many writers who dominated a period and then slipped off. History is like some gigantic beast -- it simply wriggles its back and throws off whatever is on it.

That's what Arthur Miller told Deborah Solomon when she interviewed him for the New York Times -- "Goodbye (Again) Norma Jean," September 19, 2004. (Hopefully, history will prove Miller wrong on his assessment.)

Please note, the Times has made many of their articles on Arthur Miller available online so use the resource while it's free. (I've kept the Sunday Magazine with Solomon's interview and I'll note they even feature both photos from the print edition online -- the photograph in color is full page in the print edition of the Sunday Magazine.) This free archive also includes pieces written by Miller and reviews of his plays. So again, please check it out while it's available for free.

You'll also find their obituary there.

Hopefully, you'll hear much of Miller over the next few days. As a playwright, he was instrumental to the American theater. Death of a Salesman remains a classic and The Crucible remains a personal favorite of many.

Jim of The Third Estate Sunday Review e-mailed to say that he, Ava, Jess, Ty and Dona ended up cancelling their plans to go to a party and instead gathering with the copies of The Crucible
for a reading.

Historically, it's interesting that a victim of the McCarthyism blacklist passes away when we have our New McCarthyism in full bloom with conviction of Lynne Stewart. [Note: More true than I knew. Stewart was convicted on Thursday, Miller passed away on Thursday. When I wrote this, I was under the mistaken impression that Miller passed away on Friday. 2-15-04]

We'll close with an excerpt from The Crucible's final scene. For anyone who's unfamilar with the play, the backdrop is the Salem witch hunt. As a fear strikes Salem, lies are created and people bear false witness on their neighbors. John Proctor stands accused and will be spared only if he confesses to something he did not do. (Think of the torture going on at Guantanamo Bay -- the play is never dated -- sadly.) Elizabeth Proctor is his wife. John signs a confession but refuses to name names (a rejection of the naming of names during McCarthyism). He is encouraged to name Rebecca Nurse (whom others have slandered). After signing the confession which will allow John Proctor to escape the knoose, he refuses to hand it over to be posted on the church door.

PROCTOR, with a cry of his whole soul: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name.

DANFORTH, pointing at the confession in Proctor's hand: Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it! What say you? I will not deal in lies, Mister! Proctor is motionless. You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope. Proctor does not reply. Which way do you go, Mister?

His breasts heaving, his eyes staring. Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect.

DANFORTH: Marshall!

PARRIS, hysterically, as though the tearing paper were his life: Proctor! Proctor!

HALE: Man, you will hang! You cannot!

PROCTOR, his eyes full of tears: I can. And there's your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. Elizabeth, in a burst of terror, rushes to him and weeps against his hand. Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stoney heart and sink with them with it! He has lifted her, and kisses her now with great passion.

REBECCA: Let you fear nothing! Another judgement waits us all!