Miller’s Works: Themes and Outlines
Arthur Miller’s plays have attempted to diagnose and locate the illnesses plaguing modern man. The playwright’s primary and central theme is unconnectedness and alienation. As Benjamin Nelson correctly points out, it is the most pervasive motif throughout Arthur Miller’s plays. “Like Monte Sant Angelo, all of Miller’s writing is invisibly prefaced by the words ‘only connect’ that E. M. Forster inscribed in his novel Howard’s End.” It is precisely this lack of connection, followed by recognition of its significance and final devotion to its accomplishment, that provides the underlying thematic structure for Miller’s plays.
Miller’s plays frequently address the issue of unconnectedness. He assaults and besieges “the fortress of unconnectedness.” The idea that man is not only tied to his own family but also has a larger obligation to the outer world is a recurring topic throughout his plays. According to him, all great and serious plays are ultimately concerned with the fundamental question, “How may a man make of the outside world a home?”
Miller’s plays are replete with references to the dilemma of unconnectedness. Joe Keller’s myopic eyesight prevents him from seeing outside the four walls of his house and immediate family in his first major play, All My Sons. He is oblivious to the concept that there is a world beyond his local vicinity for which he is likewise responsible. He falls short of becoming the decent man and citizen that his son, Chris, expects. According to Miller and Chris, his flaw is that he lacks any sense of devotion to society at large. Man is incapable of comprehending that he is not only related to his family but also to the world beyond. Within the
“Keller’s crime is a symptom of the pervasive illness of unrelatedness,” Benjamin Nelson writes. Miller is terrified by this innocuous but dangerous sickness since it submerges all civilization’s attempts at order and meaning in jungle anarchy. And it is against this unrelatedness barrier that Chris Keller launches himself”.
Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, like Joe Keller in All My Sons, is entirely unaware of society’s concerns and is only concerned with the wellbeing of his immediate family — his sons, Happy and Biff. In The Crucible, John Proctor represents individuals who happily went to the scaffold because they were more concerned with earning the approval and acknowledgment of their conduct from other members of the community and did not want their honour sullied. Eddie Carbone demonstrates the same anxiety in the play A View from the Bridge, desiring to reclaim his rightful identity and respect in the eyes of his community. The play A Memory of Two Mondays depicts the mundane routine, the twisting of the psyche, and the crushing conformity that it causes, with great poignancy. Miller demonstrates in this drama that depersonalization and alienation are at the heart of modern man’s illness. After the Fall is a play about self-separation, faith breakdown, and betrayal. “Everything is one thing you see,” Quentin, the play’s protagonist, says. I am not sure how we relate to one another”. Quentin is taken aback by the thought that people can be so easily discarded in this world. Quentin is befuddled by the concept of separateness as each character in the play attempts to become a separate individual – Looise, Mickey, and Mother. As soon as we discover that our interests do not coincide with those of another person, we begin acting independently of him, entirely forgetting our lengthy affiliation and friendship with him. Quentin becomes outraged and disillusioned at witnessing the betrayals and eventually informs Maggie, a play character. “We are all distinct individuals. I attempted not to be but nevertheless became – a distinct individual”. The reality that we have lost our human touch and have grown entirely oblivious to the needs of others is demonstrated in the play Incident at
Vichy, in the role of the Major, a character in the play, declares: “There are no more persons, do not you see that? Will never be another human being”. In Arthur Miller’s play The Price, Walter establishes himself as a distinct individual and abandons his elderly father in order to pursue his own medical career. The father also functions as a separate character in the play by failing to provide Victor, his son, with his money at a time when he most needed it. Thus, we discover that the idea of unconnectedness, separateness, and alienation recurs throughout Arthur Miller’s plays.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of modern man’s experience has been an overwhelming sense of estrangement. Modern man is estranged from his roots, alienated and lost in a moral and cultural decaying environment on all sides. Modern man is primarily conceived as a solitary figure, separated apart from his immediate social and cultural context. People in the modern world live in a closed, alien world with enclosing rooms, walls, and windows, all of which symbolise self-isolation and alienation from other human beings. And it is precisely this profound sense of alienation that contributes to their growing awareness of loneliness and self-alienation. We are daily witnesses to the social and spiritual estrangement of persons who, despite physical proximity, are unable to converse with one another due to the modern world’s apathy and callousness. Modern existence is not unified by any social or moral purpose. On the other side, we discover that man is governed and dominated by his physical demands and selfish motivations. Arthur Miller attempted to demonstrate through his plays that no one can live in full isolation from the rest of society.
The fact that modern man is completely alone and isolated from society has resulted in a desperate search for community. Arthur Miller’s plays attempted to address the topic, “How is it possible to recapture the primary group values of affection,’ compassion, solidarity, and responsibility in the modern world?” All of these virtues – which bring men together – are vanishingly rare in today’s world. In the absence of personal relationships, social distance, a lack of social cohesiveness, and an inability to take responsibility for one another result. In the majority of situations, it is their love and affection’s ineffectiveness that contributes to their sense of alienation, loneliness, and apartness from others. For the loss of man’s capacity to love is by far the most tragic event of modern times. Our romantic relationship has gained an ice coldness devoid of all warmth. In contemporary life, we discover that love, the most beautiful of all feelings, frequently results in treachery. The failure and futility of love in the modern world has increased man’s sense of isolation and loss. Love has lost both its human and spiritual connotations. Men and women who are already aware of their estrangement from one another continue to be estranged rather than achieving any sense of oneness or emotional purity. Quentin’s failed marriages in After the Fall exemplify this segregation. Thus, we can conclude that throughout his lengthy career as a playwright, Arthur Miller, the great American playwright, was preoccupied with the issue of human connection and solidarity–that is, with the issue of making the outside world his home.