arthur miller – death of a salesman; the crucible


 Arthur Miller (1915 – 2005)  spent his boyhood playing football and baseball and  reading adventure stories; only after reading  Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov he decided to become a writer. He graduated in English in 1938 then  moved to  New York where he joined the Federal Theatre Project, and wrote scripts for radio programs. He married three times, the second time to actress, Marilyn Monroe. At first influenced by the classical Greek dramatists and by Ibsen, who could bring “the past into the present”, Miller mixed realism and symbolic elements in his plays. He used a common language and dealt with (trattò) the everyday problems of common men. His characters are usually men from the working classes and their story are tragic,  destroyed by false values. They are men who struggle (lottano) with life and with its difficulties. Nevertheless (ciononostante) for Miller the theatre represented a way to change the world, he believed in the power of the stage to change totally the society he lived in. His plays show how the deeds and sins of the past come back home and how private lives come into conflict with social responsibilities. For this reason some elements become allegories and echo (fanno eco) true-life (vita reale) adding a deeper meaning (aggiungendo un significato più profondo) to the poor everyday actions of his protagonists.  He tries to give his own ideas of right and wrong, of ethical values, and shows the difficult to adhere (essere coerenti) to these values in this society. Miller shows a great compassion for his characters whether (sia ) they adhere to their values (valori) till the end or sacrifice them to survive (sopravvivere) .

Death of a Salesman (1949)
Plot -Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller is the story of Willy Loman, a travelling salesman (commesso viaggiatore) in his mid- sixties (sui 65 anni). He does not receive orders and does not get a salary (salario) so he is borrowing (prendere a prestito) money to give his wife Linda. His mind is rapidly declining (la sua mente sta degenerando rapidamente): Willy mixes (mescola) present and past events in his mind. He also imagines to talk to his dead brother Ben, who made a fortune (ha fatto fortuna) in Alaska where Willy refused to accompany him. His two sons have problems and have not fulfilled his ambitions.(non hanno soddisfatto le sue ambizioni). Biff is 34 and still (ancora) without a job; Happy has got a job, his own flat (appartamento) and a lot of women, but he feels lonely (da solo). Willy takes a decision: he is worth (vale di più) more dead than alive, and so prepares his suicide. At his death, the insurance money will support his devoted and compassionate wife Linda, and will give Biff a new start in life (una nuova vita).
Regardless of whether his protagonists hold onto their values or sacrifice them, Miller’s style retains a deep-seated compassion for them. We feel deeply for his everyman hero in “Death of a Salesman,” and the hapless Puritans caught in the web of mass hysteria in “The Crucible.” The ultimate tragedy of their lives — and the way they struggle and suffer against greater forces than they — is intended to connect us to the struggles of our fellow man. The National Endowment for the Humanities quotes Miller as saying “there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it.”
Realism – Miller never dealt in fanciful subjects, and his characters never resorted to undue affectation. He favored the common language of the common man — delivered with style, but unvarnished by excessive affectation. His protagonists are often working-class Americans, and their stories don’t always end happily. That realism reflects a very modernist sensibility, focused on the struggles of everyday figures and the tragedies of life as well as its triumphs.
Allegories- According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, Miller believed very strongly in the power of the theater to transform society as a whole. Accordingly, he made heavy use of allegory in his plays: clothed in realism, but reverberating beyond the merely factual. A famous example occurs in “The Crucible,” which ostensibly talks about the Salem Witch Trials, but also served as a thinly veiled condemnation of the anti-communist fears sweeping through America at the time.

Film: director- Volker Schlöndorff; writers – Arthur Miller (teleplay), Arthur Miller (play); stars- Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. The play takes place n Salem, during the period of the witch hunt. (caccia alle streghe). The town is divided between the ones who want the good for the society and the ones who want the trials to satisfy their needs.
1692: the story is about a case of hysteria (isteria) occurred (accaduto) in Salem , Massachusetts, during the witch hunt (caccia alle straghe). The town is divided between the ones who want to know the truth (verità) for the good of their society (per il bene della società) and the ones who just want the trials (processi) for their own ends (per i propri fini). A small group of young girls are found (scoperte) while dancing naked (nude) with a black slave (schiavo nero)into the woods. They start saying that Satan has invaded them and forced them (le ha obbligate) to participate in the rites. They now want to get free (liberarsi) and tell the names of those involved (coinvolti). Many respectable names of inhabitants of the town are revealed (rivelati), also preachers (predicatori) and major landowners (ricchi proprietary terrieri). One of the protagonists, Abigail infatuated with (infatuati) a married man uses the trials (processi) to get rid (disfarsi) of his innocent wife. Arthur Miller evidenced the hypocrisy (ipocrisia) that lies (che soggiace) under the surface (superfice) of puritan morality: those who claimed (proclamavano) their innocence were executed (condannati a morte), those who did not reveal (non rivelavano) the names of people involved (coinvolti) were incarcerated and tortured, and those who admitted their guilt (colpa) were immediately freed (liberati). It is a clear allegory of the Congressional Communist witch hunts led by Senator Joe McCarthy in 1950’s America against socialists and communists sympathizers (simpatizzanti).

Act I introduces most of the main characters in the play. The action takes place in Reverend Parris’ home. Having discovered his daughter dancing naked in the woods with several other girls and his Negro slave, he has called in the Reverend Hale to investigate his suspicions of witchcraft. Various characters are introduced, and the reader learns of the pettiness of the Putnams, the superstition of Parris, the open-mindedness of Hale, the viciousness of Abigail, and, most importantly, the secret guilt of Proctor, who has committed adultery with Abigail.

Act II develops the need for Proctor to take action in defending the truth. The action takes place at the Proctors’ home. John and his wife argue over whether he should denounce Abigail, and the reader learns of the rift that has developed between Proctor and his wife over his act of adultery. When officials of the court arrive and Elizabeth is arrested, John realizes that he can no longer stand by and not act.

Act III shows the attempts by Proctor and other citizens to oppose the court and the opposition they face by those with vested interest in the proceedings. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse denounce the trials and are subsequently arrested. Proctor admits to committing adultery with Abigail but is not believed.
Abigail, by pretending that Mary is “sending her spirit out” to attack her, induces Mary, who has been supporting Proctor, to abandon her testimony and accuse him to protect herself. Proctor is arrested, and Hale quits the court in disgust.

The final act focuses on Proctor’s dilemma whether to live or accept death. He signs a confession, but, when he realizes that it will be used against his fellow accused, he tears it up. On a personal level, this act recovers his sense of goodness. In a larger sense, his act represents the tragic sacrifice of good as the only means to bring harmony back to a society gone awry.

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