Ideas and the Theatre; A matter of hopelessness: Arthur Miller and "Death of a Salesman."
The program will be a matter of hopelessness. Arthur Miller and The Death Of A Salesman. The series I do years and the theater the actual view was in voices you will hear playwrights Tennessee Williams the Orvieto and the subject of today's program Arthur Miller. Critics Richard Watts JR John both heard Thyra Samter Winslow and Martin S. Dorgan and a summary by the consultant for the series. Professor David W. Thompson those who make this series possible. The University of Minnesota radio station KUNM under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. And now here is the producer of ideas in the theater. K. you were a women's critic at large. Philip Gale. When you come right down to it there probably is only one
contemporary American playwright who compares with Arthur Miller and stature and promise and well do a program on him next week. And that's Tennessee Williams. How does playwright Williams evaluate playwright Miller and his best known drama. Death of a Salesman. Here is Tennessee Williams. Not a Miller I think is a great office just the most info. Lindsay Martin I'm a slave. That was Tennessee Williams. To refresh your memory on Death Of A Salesman and its apparent hopelessness. Here is the distinguished columnist and drama critic for The New York Post Mr. Richard Watts Jr. reading from his 1949 review of Arthur Miller's play. Mr. Watts. The title Death Of A Salesman has a virtue not only of being striking and provocative but of telling forthrightly what the grammar is about. Mr. Miller is describing the last days of a man who was forced to face the terrible fact that he is a failure.
That is vague success ideal has crumbled and it is son son who's on who's respect and admiration he has counted have only contempt for him with the utter collapse of his world there is nothing for him to do but die. The stories as simple as that. And there is such truth of it that it is hard to see how any sense the plague or of mature years can fail to find something of himself in the mirror it holds up to life. Mr. Meller looks upon the salesman ideal of success with an angry but discerning eye and he sees its hollowness and its treachery. Poor Willy layman who thought that for a successful sales and popularity and good fellowship were all and tried to teach his sons what he believed was his wisdom is a completely credible victim of a prevailing code as the encroachment of old age destroys it shabby plausibility set down with a commotion. The new play is I suspect something that makes strong men weep and think of their
weapons as written eight years ago and I mean 40 do you think the place does stand up. Yes I think that you can see about that it played really was a tragedy for extroverts. Usually what they're in is a tragedy. The wives drag their protesting husbands along and I don't have an awful time and the wives cry. I saw again and again it would be the husband who would be moved by that he would see so much of himself in it. He would get far more out of it usually and his wife too. That was a drama critic for The New York Post Richard Watts Jr.. It's death of a Salesman is starkly pessimistic. What's so special about it. I asked this question of Martin as a critique for a progressive magazine and lecturer at the Teachers College of Columbia University. What's so special about Death Of A Salesman Mr. darkens reply. This I believe to be Miller's greatest work. His most meaningful one. He
really hit something deep in America when he made that play. The great American idea of this of this salesman is something going back to the old Yankee trader of the same slick type to the modern huckster who doesn't carry a suitcase sample case but sells. And in selling has to take a part of what is human and make it marketable and put a price on it. I consider this Miller's greatest play perhaps because his own great skill his dramatic sense his artistry. It gets beyond his argument so successfully. He has some severe criticisms to make of our society and yet it makes less outright propaganda I feel as propaganda because the characters are more real. And the strange
problem in discussing works of art in which the more are valid the particularity gets the more universal it is as an exemplification is here really revealed Willy Loman comes to represent. A certain danger a certain menace a certain integral nature in salesmanship in general because he is so much a particular Willy Loman and not simply a slogan out of the 1930s where a man necessarily has to. I don't remember Miller's phrase exactly but go out into space with nothing but a smile. And that I should find and and. That packet of samples that he's selling and get that order. And this this strange man out in space completely
divorced from the fundamental productive processes which manufacture the merchandise that he's selling. Not quite the friend and not quite the enemy and not quite the instrument of the people to whom he is selling but somehow this strange intermediary who sounds himself in order to sell things. I think most people are familiar with Arthur Miller's play Death Of A Salesman would agree with a critic Martin Watkins observations death of a Salesman is an important play. As a representative delay it strikes at something very deep in the American scheme of things. Well I said most people might agree but not everybody. Now we're going to hear three dissenters and then we'll turn to Arthur Miller himself for a kind of rebuttal. Two of our dissenters took their stand with me over the simple matter of money. First Garvie dollar writer of many novels and TV plays Arthur in the motion picture Dreyfus in the hit Broadway
comedy visit to a small planet Mr. Leader. Now. Certainly in our society money is really a very important theme and it's a theme that is almost never written about I don't know why American writers are so reluctant to tackle it. Nobody's really written about money in our societies and Henry James what about Arthur Miller he's spoken no one has read about money. Didn't you feel that at least half of a Salesman has some concern about money. Not really no I think it is more concerned with with a human being who tries to live by a certain set of standards to which he cannot measure up. And what happens to him as he fails. I mean money is a part of it but it's much more simply keeping up with the Joneses and bit by bit failing and what happens. And Mr. Miller and quite beautifully saying Attention must be paid to this sort of failure in our society. I think in a sense sentimentalize it because I
don't think that the problem perhaps is is all that great. I think people adjust to fare quite beautifully since that's the lot of nearly all of us and it is not as tragic as that. Even in this society even on the level of a salesman on the Boston route. But except for a certain sentiment mentality in the handling of it I think it showed a situation which nobody else had showed on the stage. Yes that was Arthur Garvey don't. Fire a stamp to Winslow is a writer in her own right and also drama critic for Gotham guide Miss Winslow also did not feel death of a salesman as economically sound or even very entertaining. I think our economic condition is such a pretty good condition all those things are going to get paid for a few families will go under because they go by too much. But the average family gets things paid for and that's just part of living. I think it's Think about it and I don't
think that putting it in the theater makes it any more poignant or important. I think as we all know it will all go through it. But in death of a Salesman Miller tried to show that. Well I think you would can see what you just said but then he tried to show the effect that this has upon the values of the people who don't admit to this reality in other words are really striving only in these terms and they have no other values at all because I didn't say that we could play for that reason. But I think it had value but not terrific value I think most people want to scape when they go through the things here I think that they want something a little better than they've got and I think just to see about a play about somebody worried about that. I think that they are one of the gang. That was Thyra Samter Winslow Arthur and the drama critic for Gotham guide. Miss Winslow would not be one to see much hopefulness in the work of Arthur Miller but our third and strongest dissenter to death of a
salesman as a great American drama and the Representative Clay of our times is the drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor John Beaufort. The focus of Mr. Berg for its attack is not only upon the general negativism of the play itself but also upon the salesman a character named Willy Loman. Here now is the drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor John Beaufort. I think that Willy Loman is not a tragic character. I think he's a sad character. I think he's a vicious character. I think that the trouble with Willy Loman as a figure in dramatic tragedy is that he never starts with any ideals to begin with. He begins right right at the beginning of the play. He's a man who says. It's a question of whether you like it or whether you're well liked. He encourages his sons to steal and cheat.
He has no moral values of Tolo. Isn't this Americana. I mean isn't this just the common man. It's one phase of Americana. But if Willie Loman truly represent the whole mess of American civilization today I think that the country would be in a terrible state. I just cannot accept Willy Loman as the average American citizen. I can accept him as a specimen of a certain aspect of society we know that such people as Willy Loman exist and will has every right to to write about him and I had perfectly willing to accept him as a dramatic character on the stage. But I will not for a minute be willing to accept Willy Loman as the American every man I just think that's nonsense. What other reasons are there for people doing things in our mid 20th century then to be
liked or well-liked or to realize more material benefits. I suppose what I'm asking is how much of an influence of any the more spiritual factors are in our time. Well I think that they're still very substantially influential. I'm not a social historian I'm not a sociologist. Well I am willing to say is that I believe that people in the United States are for the most part motivated by many other and many finer things than Willy Loman was motivated by. I think love of country I think religious principles I think ethical values. I think all those things I mean you only have to consider in any situation the response of the American people to disaster and the need for
help to see that we are not an indifferent people. We are a concerned people. I don't mean to say that we are not. We never manifest indifference we do. But all I'm trying to say is that that you you couldn't at least I could accept Willy Loman as the reflection of the the mean of American society in terms of the individual citizen I just just wouldn't be possible. That was John Beauford drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor. HOWELL valid and protean and our Mr. Beaufort's observations. For one answer I turned to Arthur Miller the author of Death Of A Salesman. As recorded especially for ideas and the theatre. Here now is playwright Arthur Miller. The trouble with Willie Loman is that he has tremendously powerful ideals.
We're not accustomed to speaking of ideals in his times. But if Willie Loman for instance had not had a very profound sense that his life as lived had left him hollow. He would have died contentedly polishing his car on some Sunday afternoon at a ripe old age. The fact is he has values. The fact that they cannot be realizes what is driving him mad. Just unfortunately he is driving a lot of other people mad. The truly valueless man the man without ideals is always perfectly at home anywhere. Because it cannot be a conflict between nothing and something. I think what the Roman is seeking for a kind of ecstasy in life which the
machine civilization. Deprives people he's looking for his selfhood for his his immortal soul so to speak and people who don't know the intensity of that quest. Possibly think he's our God. But a lot of the extraordinarily large number of salesman particularly who are in the line of work where ingenuity and individual ism are acquired by the nature of the work have a very intimate understanding of this problem or so I think the literary critics who probably need strive less after a certain point. But a salesman or it is a kind of creative person who's possibly right to say so in a literary program but they are they have to get up in the morning and conceive a plan of attack. Use all kinds of
ingenuity all day long just like a writer does. What about this Mr. Miller John before I made the statement that Willy Loman represented the whole mass of American civilization the day the country would be in a terrible state. He said something like I will not for a moment accept Willie Loman as an average American man. That is nonsense. It's obvious. He can't be an average American manat least from one point of view he kills himself and that's a rare thing in society or law it's more common and one could wish. Then it's beside the point. As a matter of fact that standard of average and this is not valid. I need to tell you whether the character is a truthful character as a character or a valid one. It's ridiculous Hamlet isn't a typical beaten either. The ratio probably is what's the difference. It has no point unless we're talking about not literature but patriotism.
I didn't write this for you to announce a new American man or an old American man. I think a person who embodies in him some of the most terrible conflicts running through the streets of America and they may not be a Gallup poll might indicate that they are not the majority conflict I think they are. But what's the difference. What about this question of hope and hopelessness. I mean is there a chance to make the hopeful the positive value and drama dramatic or is drama by its very nature only negative only an attack upon things. Not only drama but literature in general and this goes back a long long distance in history. Posits the idea of value right and wrong good and bad. High and Low.
Not so much by setting them forth selling forth these values as such but of showing so to speak. The wages of sin in other words when for instance in Death Of A Salesman we are shown him in who die for the want of some positive viable human value. The play implies and it could not have been written without it. The authors consciousness that the audience did believe something different. In other words by showing what happens when there are no values. I at least assume that the audience will be compiled and pro power toward a more intense quest for values that I'm missing. I'm assuming always that we have a kind of civilized
sharing of what we would like to see a car within us and in the world. And I think that the drama at least mine is not so much an attack but an exposition of the want. Which you can only do if the audience itself is constantly trying to supply what is missing. Although critic John Bull Fordham playwright Arthur Miller seemed to be in some disagreement over the character of Willie Loman. I think it is even more significant to note that Mr Beauford in his earlier comments came up with the very conclusion that Mr. Miller wanted from his play that there is a better way than Willie's way that we can act on more meaningful values. In other words John Beauford supplied some of what Arthur Miller seems to be suggesting as the missing moral links between the death of a Salesman and the life of a man.
Today I interviewed Arthur Miller was shortly after the Russians had launched the first satellite. This led me to ask Mr. Miller as to whether or not the various sciences from nuclear physics to psychology hadn't made the contemporary artist job too difficult by giving him too many facts and too many views to consider. Under this mass of knowledge. Weren't apathy anxiety and cynicism the natural results. Could any creative writer could Mr. Miller take even most of the available information and insights into consideration and still write creatively. Arthur Miller replied Well whether it can be done remains for me or somebody else to prove. But. Let me put it this way we're living our i'm living anyway. We're the great consciousness of the incredible force of objective
thought as we speak. There is an object flying around in the sky passing over this point every. I think it's a hundred and some minutes. Which was put up there by thinking men who willed it to go up there. And the implications of this are as enormous as any. A statement by or on the part of Zeus or Moses or Shakespeare or any feeling man. Now. It may be a great bite to take. But I think the only thing worth doing. Whether one can do it or not is an entirely different
story. But aims are important. The only thing worth doing today in the theater from my point of view is to synthesize the subjective drives of the human being with what is now demonstrably the case namely that by an act of will he can and has changed the world now. It is said that nothing is new under the sun. This is its right under the sun and it's new and it's only one of the things that are new. I've seen communities transformed by the act of a committee. I've seen the interior lives of people transformed by the decision of a company or of a man. Or a school.
You know other words it use it's own fashion to simply go on asserting the helplessness of the individual. Well I gather then that you're not in the large artistic camp of those who will write by and for despair. For myself I can write anything if I'm sufficiently unhappy. A lot of writers write best when they're most miserable. I suppose I do. My sense of them comes from a positive need to organize life and not from a desire to demonstrate the inevitability of defeat and you think just becomes a kind of a final analysis of many issues in life. Social political economic psychological as to what whether or not this sort of statement you made is kind of a casual statement isn't it is or is not a basic
commitment. It is a commitment on my part that I don't see the point. And proving again that we must be defeated. I didn't intend that. Since you mention salesman's so often in this interview I didn't intend it in salesman. I was trying in salesman in this respect to set for us what happens when a man does not have a grip on the forces of life and has no sense of values which will lead him to that kind of a grip. But the implication of it was that there must be such a grasp of those forces or else we're doomed. I was not in other words Willy Loman. I was the writer and William is there because I could see beyond him.
That was Arthur Miller author of a view from the bridge the crucible are my sons and a Pulitzer Prize winning play. Death Of A Salesman Arthur Miller's collected plays have been published recently by the Viking Press with an excellent introductory essay. Incidentally I did have the opportunity to record additional comments by Arthur Miller and he will be a participant on future programmes in this series. But now for a summary of today's program. Here is the consultant for ideas in the theatre. Dr David Thompson professor in the theatre arts at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Thompson. The curious thing about Arthur Miller's The Death Of A Salesman is as Mr. Watts said that it really is a tragedy for extroverts. In order Don for example in Moliere a bumbling simple minded Hustler is always a figure of fun. He is the object of satirical criticism. Mr. Miller does criticize his salesman but earnestly without a trace of the older comic view. And what is really curious is that the
play besides criticizing Willy Loman's dishonesty involved Garrity asks that a great deal of sympathy and attention be paid to the failure himself as Mr. Beaufort put it. I think that Willy Loman is not a tragic character. I think that he is a sad character. He has no moral values at all. This word values set off the big controversy in today's program. In his reply to Mr. Beaufort's charge Mr Miller had first insisted that Willy Loman has tremendously powerful ideals. The fact is that he has values he is seeking for a kind of ecstasy in life. Later Mr Miller seemed to contradict himself by saying that his place here was what happens where there are no values and that Willy Loman has no sense of values which will lead him to a grip on the forces of light. This contradiction of course proves very little except perhaps that Mr Miller. Fortunately for us is a playwright and not a dramatic terrorist. There was after all a general agreement among the participants as to Mr. Miller's
important even leading position as a contemporary American dramatist. There was no denying that his death of a Salesman is a powerful playing giving a true to life portrayal of a certain type of American who as Mr. Grogan said is as old as the same slick Yankee traitor and as current as the modern huckster. If some of us like Mr beat on Mr. Winslow and Mr. Beaufort feel the play is marred by a certain sentimentality in its demanding so much sympathy for willing this may only mean that we are neither salesmen nor extroverts. That was Dr. David W. Thompson consultant for this series and a professor in the theater arts at the University of Minnesota ideas and the theater is produced by Philip Gelb. Critic at large and the commentator for this series. Next week you will hear a discussion of Tennessee Williams as a social writer and cultural
- Ideas and the Theatre
- Producing Organization
- University of Minnesota
- KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on the importance of Arthur Miller and his play "Death of a Salesman."
- Other Description
- The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
- Broadcast Date
- Drama--20th century--History and criticism.
- Media type
Guest: Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005
Guest: Dworkin, Martin S., 1921-1996
Guest: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
Guest: Winslow, Thyra Samter, 1893-1961
Guest: Beaufort, John
Guest: Watts, Richard, 1898-
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Ideas and the Theatre; A matter of hopelessness: Arthur Miller and "Death of a Salesman.",” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 16, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gm81px9w.
- MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; A matter of hopelessness: Arthur Miller and "Death of a Salesman.".” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 16, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gm81px9w>.
- APA: Ideas and the Theatre; A matter of hopelessness: Arthur Miller and "Death of a Salesman.". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gm81px9w