Arthur Miller was one of those few playwrights whose view of the U.S. was anything but optimistic or positive. Most of his plays take place in the heart of American industrial hubs so capitalism was always the most dominant theme. It is a place that belongs to an average American and that every American can relate to. Instead of using western end or eastern end of America, the conventional Midwest was used as the place of action. What he meant to say was that had he chosen New York or California as locations for the play, it could be seen as an exception but Midwest is a place for everyone and for the general folks and hence it appeals to everyone and Arthur Miller's plays sparked an intense debate on the meaning and existence of the great American Dream. American Dream signifies social mobility and affluence that everyone is promised in this land of plenty. In other words, Americans believed in the dream of upward mobility which it seemed was available to every person who worked or lived in the U.S. regardless of his point of origin. But Miller's plays appear to mock the notion that everyone can achieve financial and personal success with hard work and ridicules the belief that America was indeed the land of opportunities. It dissects the machine age and the rise of capitalism and shows how they had together killed the idea of American dream forever. American dream not only promised affluence, it also promised to enhance human worth and value. If a man had worked hard, he will be rewarded in both monetary and non-monetary terms- that had been the basic premise of the dream. However Miller's characters found that once labor became surplus, the big corporation giants discarded him like a rotten tomato, not caring one bit about the years and efforts that a common man had put in.
Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams
Miller and Williams were iconic figures in American literature and if there are two people who could define what American literature is all about then they have to be Miller and Williams. The theme of deception and betrayal lie at the root of most of their plays however there is one major difference. For Miller, it was all because of external reasons like American culture at large but for Williams, it was all internal i.e. A person's personal's struggle for identity.
For Miller, the personal struggle was always connected with society at large but no such link was noticed in Williams plays where the central character is deceiving himself because of his own failures. Miller's character fail too but are commenting too often on how society has caused them to be like this while Williams characters do not blame anyone because they are fairly oblivious of their own shortcomings until the very end.
All my sons and Raisin in the sun:
All My Sons is one of the most memorable plays written by Arthur Miller and deals with the subject of war, business, and effects of greed on people's lives and finally guilt or lack of it thereof. According to Miller, the story is based on a true event that he read about and hence decided to use it as the foundation for his play. The play takes place in Mid-West because Midwest in America represents the middle ground between two extremes. He wanted believable characters that people could relate to especially the audiences in the postwar era and hence he visited the troops to learn from their experiences. He thus created characters based on his own observation and they have their needs and wants. Chris wants to be a better man, a man who can die for his country and a man who believes in idealistic solution to problems. Joe wants to be a good family man. He wants to provide for his family, stay out of jail and he would stop at nothing to be just that.
What Miller observed during the visits helped him in the creation of Chris' character including how guilty he felt returning to a normal lavish existence while so many soldiers were dying on the field. When Chris returns home however, this guilt evaporates to some degree as he noticed that friends and family "seem to have put idealism aside in the name of a post-war pragmatism" (79). The feeling of brotherhood that he had once felt with other soldiers on the field disappeared to a large extent because the people back home were no longer as idealistic as they had been at the beginning of the war. This lack of feeling and bonding is what forms the core of this play as Miller examines the concept responsibility and connectedness. It is the fact that Keller doesn't feel truly connected with the people that he allows such an injustice and doesn't mind his own irresponsible behavior.
Joe Keller is concerned with his own survival. He doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility of killing so many young boys because of his own greed. Joe believes that a man must survive and he wants to survive in the big bad world. He is not only driven by greed, he is driven by pragmatic approach to life. If we can survive by lying, we must do that is what he seems to believe. He simply wants to be able to live a happy and free life. He wants to raise his family and provide for them and there is nothing else that makes sense to him. He believes family is the biggest thing and so he wants to survive for them:
"I'm his father and he's my son, and if there's something bigger than that I'll put a bullet in my head." (Joe, Act III)
Joe is a pragmatic man while Chris is idealistic. Chris represents the young and the restless in postwar America while Joe represents the more selfish side of capitalism. Joe wants to be able to win over the odds. He wants to keep disadvantages of life to the minimum by making use of opportunity. He has two simple things in mind: family and survival. He doesn't want to be someone big and grand, he just aspires to be a good father, a good husband and a man who could beat the odds. It all becomes wrong because he doesn't consider the consequences of his actions. All his life he feels he has been a good father and a good husband and those were his only aspirations and hence he feels he has been successful. He cannot see the wrongness of his actions for he claims that he thought of all soldiers as his sons.
Miller's play falls in the tradition of naturalism where reality is presented as it is. However instead of taking the approach of some other naturalist playwrights who present reality in all its nakedness, the same is not true of this play because realism is presented in a more Ibsen like tradition where reality is not altered but is presented more dramatically and more tastefully.
The play takes place in Joe's house where the action begins with Joe pretending to be sick and ends with his suicide. The house is believed to be quite big because in his stage directions, Miller described it as a big two stories high house which looked comfortable and tight. It was located in a nice neighborhood because Kellers were living a comfortable life and wanted to project an image of prosperity and abundance. This projection of happiness and prosperity is connected with ostentatious nature of Kellers who like to keep up appearances in both physical and emotional terms. The house is a private one rather secluded from its neighbors. This distance highlights the distance the Kellers want to maintain with other because of their dark secret which they are trying hard to hide.
The play has this message for the audience:
It's good to be pragmatic, but that must not be at anyone else's expense.
The play communicates with the audiences on many levels. It creates a sense of relatedness with the postwar audience by having its characters experience the same affluence and abundance that America was experiencing just after the war. Great depression was effectively gone and was now replaced by a newfound prosperity that had improved the financial situation of many Americans. The comments made by Chris on immorality of Joe's actions was a timely issue that Miller wanted to address as many Americans were experiencing loss of values first hand. Americans had become so affected by the prosperity and abundance that they had largely started ignoring the old family and neighborly values that had been an integral part of the society during tougher times. This was an issue of immediate importance and hence had been raised by Miller in a timely manner. Loss of religious values may also be important because people were moving away from Christian values in the postwar…