Last modified on 28 August 2014, at 10:24

Arthur Miller

I regard the theater as a serious business, one that makes or should make man more human, which is to say, less alone.

Arthur Asher Miller (17 October 191510 February 2005) was an American playwright, essayist, and author.

See also:
Death of a Salesman (1951 film)

QuotesEdit

The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.
By whatever means it is accomplished, the prime business of a play is to arouse the passions of its audience so that by the route of passion may be opened up new relationships between a man and men, and between men and Man.
The job is to ask questions — it always was — and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.
  • I have made more friends for American culture than the State Department. Certainly I have made fewer enemies, but that isn't very difficult.
    • After being refused a passport for his supposed disloyalty. The New York Herald Tribune (31 March 1954)
  • I know that my works are a credit to this nation and I dare say they will endure longer than the McCarran Act.
    • The New York Herald Tribune (31 March 1954)
  • The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.
    • Harper's (August 1958)
  • The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
    • Collected Plays (1958) Introduction, Section 1
  • My conception of the audience is of a public each member of which is carrying about with him what he thinks is an anxiety, or a hope, or a preoccupation which is his alone and isolates him from mankind; and in this respect at least the function of a play is to reveal him to himself so that he may touch others by virtue of the revelation of his mutuality with them. If only for this reason I regard the theater as a serious business, one that makes or should make man more human, which is to say, less alone.
    • Collected Plays (1958) Introduction, Section 2
  • By whatever means it is accomplished, the prime business of a play is to arouse the passions of its audience so that by the route of passion may be opened up new relationships between a man and men, and between men and Man. Drama is akin to the other inventions of man in that it ought to help us to know more, and not merely to spend our feelings.
    • Collected Plays (1958) Introduction, Section 7
  • I cannot write anything that I understand too well. If I know what something means to me, if I have already come to the end of it as an experience, I can't write it because it seems a twice-told tale. I have to astonish myself, and that of course is a very costly way of going about things, because you can go up a dead end and discover that it's beyond your capacity to discover some organism underneath your feeling, and you're left simply with a formless feeling which is not itself art. It's inexpressible and one must leave it until it is hardened and becomes something that has form and has some possibility of being communicated. It might take a year or two or three or four to emerge.
    • "The State of the Theatre" an interview by Henry Brandon in Harpers 221 (November 1960)
  • A play is made by sensing how the forces in life simulate ignorance — you set free the concealed irony, the deadly joke.
    • "The State of the Theatre" an interview by Henry Brandon in Harpers 221 (November 1960)
  • A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.
    • As quoted in The Observer [London] (26 November 1961)
  • The best of our theater is standing on tiptoe, striving to see over the shoulders of father and mother. The worst is exploiting and wallowing in the self-pity of adolescence and obsessive keyhole sexuality. The way out, as the poet says, is always through.
    • National Observer (20 January 1964)
  • I think now that the great thing is not so much the formulation of an answer for myself, for the theater, or the play — but rather the most accurate possible statement of the problem.
    • National Observer (20 January 1964)
The apple cannot be stuck back on the Tree of Knowledge; once we begin to see, we are doomed and challenged to seek the strength to see more, not less.
  • The job is to ask questions — it always was — and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.
    • National Observer (20 January 1964)
  • It is always and forever the same struggle: to perceive somehow our own complicity with evil is a horror not to be borne. ... much more reassuring to see the world in terms of totally innocent victims and totally evil instigators of the monstrous violence we see all about us. At all costs, never disturb our innocence. But what is the most innocent place in any country? Is it not the insane asylum? These people drift through life truly innocent, unable to see into themselves at all. The perfection of innocence, indeed, is madness.
    • "With respect for Her Agony — but with Love" in LIFE magazine (7 February 1964)
  • Certainly the most diverse, if minor, pastime of literary life is the game of Find the Author.
    • Life (7 February 1964)
  • A playwright ... is ... the litmus paper of the arts. He's got to be, because if he isn't working on the same wave length as the audience, no one would know what in hell he was talking about. He is a kind of psychic journalist, even when he's great.
    • Paris Review (Summer 1966)
  • Success, instead of giving freedom of choice, becomes a way of life. There's no country I've been to where people, when you come into a room and sit down with them, so often ask you, "What do you do?" And, being American, many's the time I've almost asked that question, then realized it's good for my soul not to know. For a while! Just to let the evening wear on and see what I think of this person without knowing what he does and how successful he is, or what a failure. We're ranking everybody every minute of the day.
    • Paris Review (Summer 1966)
  • If you complain of people being shot down in the streets, of the absence of communication or social responsibility, of the rise of everyday violence which people have become accustomed to, and the dehumanization of feelings, then the ultimate development on an organized social level is the concentration camp... The concentration camp is the final expression of human separateness and its ultimate consequence. It is organized abandonment.
    • Paris Review (Summer 1966)
  • You specialize in something until one day you find it is specializing in you.
    • The Price (1967)
  • When irrational terror takes to itself the fiat of moral goodness somebody has to die. ... No man lives who has not got a panic button, and when it is pressed by the clean white hand of moral duty, a certain murderous train is set in motion.
  • The task of the real intellectual consists of analyzing illusions in order to discover their causes.
    • As quoted in Federalism and the French Canadians (1968) by Pierre Trudeau, p. 175
  • I understand his longing for immortality … Willy's writing his name in a cake of ice on a hot day, but he wishes he were writing in stone.
  • He wants to live on through something — and in his case, his masterpiece is his son… all of us want that, and it gets more poignant as we get more anonymous in this world.
    • On Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, as quoted in The New York Times (9 May 1984)
  • The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it's so accidental. It's so much like life.
    • The New York Times (9 May 1984)
  • The number of elements that have to go into a hit would break a computer down…. the right season for that play, the right historical moment, the right tonality.
    • The New York Times (9 May 1984)
  • In the theater, while you recognized that you were looking at a house, it was a house in quotation marks ... on screen, the quotation marks tend to be blotted out by the camera. The problem was to sustain at any cost the feeling you had in the theater that you were watching a real person, yes, but an intense condensation of his experience, not simply a realistic series of episodes. It isn't easy to do in the theater, but it's twice as hard in film.
  • If I see an ending, I can work backward.
    • The New York Times (9 Feb 1986)
  • A playwright lives in an occupied country… And if you can't live that way you don't stay.
    • The New York Times (9 Feb 1986)
There's too much of an attempt, it seems to me, to think in terms of controlling man, rather than freeing him. Of defining him rather than letting him go. It's part of the whole ideology of this age, which is power-mad.
  • Well, all the plays that I was trying to write … were plays that would grab an audience by the throat and not release them, rather than presenting an emotion which you could observe and walk away from.
    • The New York Times (9 Feb 1986)
  • I figure I've done what I could do, more or less, and now I'm going back to being a chemical; all we are is a lot of talking nitrogen, you know...
    • Leo in I Can't Remember Anything in Danger: Memory! : Two Plays (1987)
  • The Crucible became by far my most frequently produced play, both abroad and at home. Its meaning is somewhat different in different places and moments. I can almost tell what the political situation in a country is when the play is suddenly a hit there — it is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past.
    • Timebends : A Life (1987)
  • My argument with so much of psychoanalysis, is the preconception that suffering is a mistake, or a sign of weakness, or a sign even of illness, when in fact, possibly the greatest truths we know have come out of people's suffering; that the problem is not to undo suffering or to wipe it off the face of the earth but to make it inform our lives, instead of trying to cure ourselves of it constantly and avoid it, and avoid anything but that lobotomized sense of what they call "happiness." There's too much of an attempt, it seems to me, to think in terms of controlling man, rather than freeing him. Of defining him rather than letting him go. It's part of the whole ideology of this age, which is power-mad.
  • If I have any justification for having lived it's simply, I'm nothing but faults, failures and so on, but I have tried to make a good pair of shoes. There's some value in that.
    • Marxism Today (January 1988)
  • Without alienation, there can be no politics.
    • Marxism Today (January 1988)
  • I'm the end of the line; absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theater has died in my lifetime.
    • The Times (11 January 1989)
  • That is a very good question. I don't know the answer. But can you tell me the name of a classical Greek shoemaker?
    • His reply to a shoe manufacturer who had asked why Miller's job should be subsidized when his was not, as recounted at a London press conference. The Guardian (25 January 1990)
  • I don't know a critic who penetrates the center of anything.
    • As quoted in "Arthur Miller, Moral Voice of American Stage, Dies at 89" by Marilyn Berger in The New York Times (11 February 2005)
  • Don't be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.
    • As quoted in Finding Your Bipolar Muse : How to Master Depressive Droughts and Manic Depression (2006) by Lana R. Castle, p. 258

Death of a Salesman (1949)Edit

  • They don't need me in New York. I'm the New England man. I'm vital in New England.
    • Willy Loman
  • I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?
    • Willy
  • Why must everybody like you?
    • Charley
  • I've always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I've done is to waste my life.
    • Biff
  • I'm very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don't seem to take to me.
    • Willy
  • Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way.
    • Ben
  • I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.
    • Linda
  • A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.
    • Linda
  • Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money.
    • Willy
  • Sit down, Willy.
    • Charley
  • The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman, and you don't know that.
    • Charley
  • You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away — a man is not a piece of fruit.
    • Willy
  • After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.
    • Willy
  • Work a lifetime to pay off a house — You finally own it and there's nobody to live in it.
    • Willy
  • Ben, that funeral will be massive! They'll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates — that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized — I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey — I am known, Ben, and he'll see it with his eyes once and for all.
    • Willy
  • Spite, spite, is the word of your undoing!
    • Willy
  • You cut your life down for spite!
    • Willy
  • Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!
    • Biff
  • Isn't that — isn't that remarkable? Biff — he likes me!
    • Willy
  • Nobody dast blame this man. Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.
    • Charley
  • And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?
    • Willy
  • Wonderful coffee. Meal in itself
    • Willy
  • Nothing's Planted, I don't have a thing in the ground.
    • Willy
  • We're free and clear, Willy. We're free, we're free, we're free...
    • Linda

Tragedy and the Common Man (1949)Edit

The New York Times (27 February 1949)
I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing — his sense of personal dignity.
  • In this age few tragedies are written. It has often been held that the lack is due to a paucity of heroes among us, or else that modern man has had the blood drawn out of his organs of belief by the skepticism of science, and the heroic attack on life cannot feed on an attitude of reserve and circumspection. For one reason or another, we are often held to be below tragedy — or tragedy above us.
  • I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing — his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society.
    Sometimes he is one who has been displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity and its dominant force is indignation. Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.
  • Only the passive, only those who accept their lot without active retaliation, are "flawless." Most of us are in that category.
    But there are among us today, as there always have been, those who act against the scheme of things that degrades them, and in the process of action everything we have accepted out of fear of insensitivity or ignorance is shaken before us and examined, and from this total onslaught by an individual against the seemingly stable cosmos surrounding us — from this total examination of the "unchangeable" environment — comes the terror and the fear that is classically associated with tragedy. More important, from this total questioning of what has previously been unquestioned, we learn.
The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.
  • The tragic right is a condition of life, a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself. The wrong is the condition which suppresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct. Tragedy enlightens — and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom. The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.
  • Above all else, tragedy requires the finest appreciation by the writer of cause and effect.
    No tragedy can therefore come about when its author fears to question absolutely everything, when he regards any institution, habit or custom as being either everlasting, immutable or inevitable. In the tragic view the need of man to wholly realize himself is the only fixed star, and whatever it is that hedges his nature and lowers it is ripe for attack and examination.
  • There is a misconception of tragedy with which I have been struck in review after review, and in many conversations with writers and readers alike. It is the idea that tragedy is of necessity allied to pessimism. Even the dictionary says nothing more about the word than that it means a story with a sad or unhappy ending. This impression is so firmly fixed that I almost hesitate to claim that in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author than does comedy, and that its final result ought to be the reinforcement of the onlooker's brightest opinions of the human animal.
    For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity.
  • The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.
    Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief — optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man.
    It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time — the heart and spirit of the average man.

The Crucible (1953)Edit

There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!
Act I
  • Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!
    • Abigail Williams
  • Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I'll cut off my hand before I ever reach for you again.
    • John Proctor
  • A child's spirit is like a child, you cannot catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back.
    • Rebecca Nurse
  • We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone.
    • Reverend John Hale
  • There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!
    • Mrs. Ann Putnam
  • I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation. Take it to heart, Mr. Parris. There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly ever mention God any more.
    • John Proctor
  • Hale: Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and calculated. In these books the Devil stands stripped of all his brute disguises. Here are all your familiar spirits — your incubi and succubi; your witches that go by land, by air, and by sea; your wizards of the night and of the day. Have no fear now — we shall find him out if he has come among us, and I mean to crush him utterly if he has shown his face!
    Rebecca: Will it hurt the child, sir?
    Hale: I cannot tell. If she is truly in the Devil's grip we may have to rip and tear to get her free.
Act II
I have seen too many frightful proofs in court — the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!
  • Proctor: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more. I have forgot Abigail, and —
    Elizabeth: And I.
    Proctor: Spare me! You forget nothin' and forgive nothin.' Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven months since she is gone. I have not moved from there to here without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!
    Elizabeth: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John — only somewhat bewildered.
    Proctor: Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!
  • I'll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!
    • John Proctor
  • I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man. I'll not conceal it.
    • John Proctor
  • Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small.
    • John Hale
  • Though our own hearts break, we cannot flinch; these are new times, sir. There is a misty plot afoot so subtle we should be criminal to cling to old respect and ancient friendships. I have seen too many frightful proofs in court — the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!
    • John Hale
  • Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem — vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance!
    • John Proctor
  • Now hell and heaven grapple on our backs and all our old pretense is ripped away. Aye, and God's icy wind will blow.
    • John Proctor
Act III
  • We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment.
    • Deputy Governor Danforth
  • A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time — we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.
    • Deputy Governor Danforth
  • Hale: There is a prodigious fear of this court in the country —
    Danforth: Then there is a prodigious guilt in the country. Are you afraid to be questioned here?
    Hale: I may only fear the Lord, sir, but there is fear in the country nevertheless.
    Danforth: Reproach me not with the fear in the country; there is fear in the country because there is a moving plot to topple Christ in the country!
    Hale: But it does not follow that everyone accused is part of it.
    Danforth: No uncorrupted man may fear this court, Mr. Hale!
  • In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not? Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims — and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all their confessions. Therefore, what is left for a lawyer to bring out? I think I have made my point. Have I not?
    • Deputy Governor Danforth
  • A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud — God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!
    • John Proctor
  • You're pulling heaven down, and raising up a whore!
    • John Proctor
Act IV
  • It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God's most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God's judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.
    • John Hale
  • John, I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept!
    • Elizabeth Proctor
  • Danforth: Do you mean to deny this confession when you are free?
    Proctor: I mean to deny nothing!
    Danforth: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let —
    Proctor: [With the 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!
  • 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. Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!
    • John Proctor
  • Who weeps for these, weeps for corruption!
    • Deputy Governor Danforth
  • He have his goodness now, God forbid I take it from him!
    • Elizabeth Proctor

After the Fall (1964)Edit

  • Where choice begins, Paradise ends, innocence ends, for what is Paradise but the absence of any need to choose this action?
    • Foreword
  • I saw clearly only when I saw with love. Or can one ever remember love? It's like trying to summon up the smell of roses in a cellar. You might see a rose, but never the perfume. And that's the truth of roses, isn't it? — The perfume?
    • Quentin in After the Fall (1964) Act II
  • I think it's a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one's self. One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood. One day you faint because the gardener cuts his finger off, within a week you're climbing over corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so? I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not to go to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible ... but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one's life in one's arms.

The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991)Edit

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
  • I love her too, but our neuroses just don't match.
    • Lyman speaking of his wife to his lawyer, Act 1
  • Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
    • Act 1
  • Look, we're all the same; a man is a fourteen-room house — in the bedroom he's asleep with his intelligent wife, in the living-room he's rolling around with some bareass girl, in the library he's paying his taxes, in the yard he's raising tomatoes, and in the cellar he's making a bomb to blow it all up.
    • Lyman, Act 2

Quotes about MillerEdit

  • The greatest playwright of the 20th century.
    • Vaclav Havel, as quoted in "Broadway lights go out for Miller" BBC News (11 February 2005)
  • Writing meant, for him, an effort to locate in the human species a counterforce to the randomness of victimisation.
    • Salman Rushdie, as quoted in "Broadway lights go out for Miller" BBC News (11 February 2005)

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