Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Biographical Look into Arthur Miller's Understanding of Wives and Mothers

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Biographical Look into Arthur Miller's Understanding of Wives and Mothers

Article excerpt

Abstract

The article attempts to examine Arthur Miller's biographical background especially his mother, his wives and the other women around him and investigate his relationship with them in order to gain a better understanding of the wife and mother figures in Miller's plays. Seen from the more general background, Miller's particular outlook on wives and mothers is influenced greatly by his biographical background. His mother's struggle with his father and her desire for knowledge as well as her courage and strength in the economic crisis, together with his own three marriages, especially his tremulous life with the sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and also all the other women around him all contribute to his shaping of authentic and complex wife and mother images in his plays.

Key words: Arthur Miller; Understanding; Mothers; Wives

INTRODUCTION

Arthur Miller, just like many other great playwrights, is also eager to present his life and experience in his plays. As he admits in an interview, "the plays are my autobiography. I can't write plays that don't sum up where I am. I am in all of them. I don't know how else to go about writing" (Bigsby, Cambridge, 1997, p. 1). A number of scholars and critics have also pointed out autobiographical elements in Miller's work. Harold Clurman (1969) notes, "the artist creates his biography through his work even as the events of his life serve to shape him" (p. 143). Neil Carson (1982) further confirms Clurman's views, and says, "to a greater extent than most, perhaps, Miller's art has always been a reflection of his life" (p. 31). In fact, many of Miller's characterizations parallel his own family members and the persons he knows. The familial father-sons and brother-brother conflicts in his plays, such as The Man Who Had All the Luck, All My Sons, Death of a Salesman and The Price, reflect his own family relationship. His most autobiographical play After the Fall shows us his tangled relationship with his mother, his father, his brother, and his three wives. Dissertationist James K. Flanagan (1969), after he has studied the connection between Miller's life and works, focusing on the playwright's portray of families, society and women, theorizes that "Miller's drama is indeed influenced by events of his personal life, such as the Depression, his political activities and his relationship with women" (p. 158). Hence, it is necessary for us to look at his biological background especially his mother, his wives and the other women around him and investigate his relationship with them in order to gain a better understanding of the wife and mother figures in Miller's plays.

1. MILLER AND HIS MOTHER

It is beyond dispute that Miller has been influenced first and foremost by his mother. Miller's mother, Augusta Barnett Miller, a first-generation American born in New York, had been trade into an arranged marriage, within months of graduating cum laude from high school. She was pretty and clever, and was the brightest one in the family. She was the only one who could play, as Miller (1995) recalls in his autobiography Timebends, "she also can play and sing in soprano so proper and romantic and fashionable" (p. 4). As Miller writes, "I could recall none but my mother who ever read anything" (p. 17), his mother loved books, and was also the only member in or out of the family who ever read books. Augusta even paid for a teacher in home to talk with her about novels.

In quite contrast to her, her husband, Isidore Miller, who had built one of the two or three largest coat manufacturing businesses in the country at the time, was a man who cannot read or write any language. Even so, August still showed her loyalty to her husband, speaking of him almost always with respect and praise when he was in full power. In the mid-twenties, they kept a concordant and happy relationship with each other. However, meantime, she despised the mean-spirited, money-mad persons and those for whom business was a total world, so she subverted Isidore, a businessman committed to the values of business. …

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