Essay on Arthur Miller Plays: The Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and All My Sons
Arthur Miller, through his plays, reveal the harsh reality of societal values and the challenges faced upon that. In his most famous works such as The Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and All My Sons, the characters live in an immoral society where their state of mind is controlled by society’s ideals. The characters in his plays encounter various societal obstacles that evade their route to a peaceful resolution. He emphasizes the character’s desire for a stand in the society resulting in an uproar of conflicts between the characters and the society. Arthur Miller uses similar character and plot elements in his plays to express moral convictions.
Miller’s plays revolve around the historical era in which the plays were scripted. The setting of The Crucible took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1962 (Wetzel). The Crucible deals with similar cases from the McCarthy era which took place a few years before. Miller, in fact, utilizes The Crucible as a allegory on McCarthy’s persecution of Communists . According to Wetzel, “Arthur Miller characterizes this political climate of fear in the United States by setting The Crucible during the frenzied witch trials of Salem Massachusetts.”This atmosphere of rising fear begins the accusation process among individuals.
The other historical related play of Arthur Miller is Death of a Salesman. This play is centered around the aftermath of World War II, where the characters are struggling with the current economic system. Though the aftermath led to a large economic boom, the conditions did not improve for the low class citizens of America simliar to situation the characters are facing in Death of a Salesman (Gale). Each worker struggles to maintain their dignity in the face of his low position in a large affluent society (Gale). The idea of the American Dream is projected into the character’s mind as pressurizes the characters into a stronger desire for materialistic wealth. This desire for materialistic wealth is influenced by society’s bandwagon of achieving the American Dream.
Home is represented as a torturing and overbearing place for the characters in the Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. In the Death of a Salesman, the protagonist, Willy’s home is surrounded by a developing city. His home of what used to contain green fields and pleasant aromas are surrounded by large apartment complexes and a developing city. These changes bring a huge financial burden on Willy Loman. As society continues to move on, Willy and his family continue to struggle.
In All My Sons, their home is overbearing and embraces the idea of the American dream. It is located in the outskirts of town where it is secluded from outside disturbances. The characters’ large home represented Joe Keller in way. “ He was obsessed with how he appeared to others. As such, he was a failure according to his own standards. It is apparent that Willy’s career recollections are exaggerated and that he never was a good salesman” (Youkins). Loman’s desire to portray a good image in society was in one way the downfall to his image.
As Miller’s plays progressed in their course of action, many of the main and supporting characters went through character transformations. Willy Loman, Joe Keller, and John Proctor all undergo certain changes that make them reflect on more of society’s criticisms of their lifestyle choices and social status. When the witchhunt began in the Salem village, John Proctor tried to testify that many of the female accusers were liars and even beat his own servant, Mary Warren, to get her to behave (Brooks). This shows the John Proctor was a hot-tempered character at the beginning of the play. Throughout the course of the play however, John Proctor begins to care for others and makes a decision on the best motive for his family. During the event of his final trial, he doesn’t reveal the truth about his affairs and maintains his family’s dignity. His transition of character shows that he transformed from an ill-mannered man to a loving husband and father to his family.
Before the feeling of guilt comes into play, betrayal occurs. “The problem facing modern man today is that he is becoming individualistic day by day. He cannot think beyond himself and his family. For his family he betrays the society” (Mehta). Joe Keller puts personal gain before society’s standards in effort to save him and his family from ruin. He commits betrayal by selling faulty airplane parts to be used by soldiers fighting in war. The feeling of guilt is often shown between the characters in Miller’s plays. In All My Sons, Miller emphasizes Joe Keller’s feeling a guilt to the society and to his sons. “But Miller says that a man’s conscience can never be completely extinguished when a man has committed a wrong, his conscience would certainly make him feel uneasy about it” (Mehta). This plays is centered around the dilemma of the faulty manufactured airplane parts by Joe Keller. These poor manufactured parts are the cause of the deaths of many soldiers including his own son. This was also the cause of the complicated relationship between Joe Keller and his son, Chris.
Joe Keller is now forced to accept the personal guilt that comes with this method even though he was not able to recall or think about the public consequences of what for him was a quick money earning tatic.As Gerald Weales stated “Joe Keller is a product of his society. He not only accepts the American myth of the privacy of the family, but he has adopted as a working instrument the familiar attitude that there is a difference between morality and business ethnics.”By looking at this situation from an ethical view Keller did not do wrong but did accidentally kill the lives of many. Knowing this, made his heart explode with no way of controlling the guilt that he felt. He could not live with knowing how his actions went too far and that he was the cause of death for his beloved son.
In the Death of a Salesman, guilt is expressed by failure upon meeting the ideals of a well-put together family. Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman hasn’t done anything as unprincipled as Joe Keller in All My Sons, but he did have an affair. This made him feel like a failure (Kornhaber). Willy Loman desired to be a fatherly example in the Death of a Salesman, but destroyed that dream by commiting adultery. After his son, discovered this, their relationship went downhill. Willy Loman frequently looks back at his past and his family’s past. Loman jumps again and again into the past to search where everything went wrong (Bloom). His yearning to have a prosperous life once again has been a key influencer within Willy’s use of self-delusion. Loman’s son, Biff, was a star football player at his high school. Due to this, Willy was set on the fact that Biff can be successful again if he just lives up to his potential. Ismail states that “the play is a good illustration of a skewed American dream.”Instead of living the dream life, the characters are faced with issues from the past that prevent them from transitioning into a more peaceful state. From this action course, the play’s end results in a nightmare.
The most prevalent scene in Arthur Miller’s plays was the occurrence of the protagonists’ suicide. The main reason for the frequent occurrence of suicide was social pressure and the overtake of stress from the conflicts the characters were faced with. Suicide in a way, was a sense a sense of relief for the protagonists. Like John Proctor in the Crucible, he avoided confrontation and was surrounded by are overwhelming crowd of judges. His only option was to confess the truth and put his family to shame. He came to a resolution and decided to kill himself as sacrifice for his family’s name. He refuses the label that his society forces upon him (Weales).
Refusal towards the societal values plays in key role in all of the protagonists’ resolutions. In the Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman had many attempted suicides because of his refusal to accept his delusions and society’s standards. When in overall, he was just deteriorating because of societal pressures. For example, he wanted to be a good father like one would be in the American dream but failed miserably as he served as the bad influence. Brian Parker states that “Willy is trapped in a society which prevents him establishing anything to outlast himself, ruining the lives of his sons as well as his own.” Willy is faced with denial in his life choices and overall his life. He is blinded by the influence of the American dream that he nor his family achieves.
The suicide of Joe Keller, was caused from his own evil acts that trace back to him. He was overwhelmed by the fact that his evil actions were the death of his son Larry. Gerald Weales states that he is a good husband and father but he fails to be a good citizen. His character became aware of how harmful his actions were. “His death however is more than a single man’s punishment” (Weales). Keller saw himself, the person as he is, a fraud in his society. He puts himself to endless blame for the deaths of countless soldiers. He saw himself as the Grim Reaper in front of the eyes of all the soldiers that flew planes built by his faulty parts.
Throughout Arthur Miller’s plays, he utilized similar character and plot elements in expression of his moral values. He wrote some of famous works with the ending of the protagonist’s suicide. This was influenced by the protagonists surrounding atmosphere and environment. These influences added more pressure and stress into the minds of the protagonists The significance of home contributed to the protagonists’ mental state. As each play progressed, the characters went through a transformation or change in their state of mind. They became more focused on their society’s values and beliefs. As the plot continued to progress they eventually came to their point of resolution. These resolutions resulted in the the most frequent scenes of suicide. The protagonists’ suicide was an act in order to achieve peace in their state of dilemma.