Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Memory and Dramatic Form
in Death of a Salesman

Peter Szondi

Arthur Miller's evolution from imitator to innovator, which occurred between the publication of his first two works, is the clearest example of that general change in style that both unites and separates the turn-of‐ the-century dramatists and those of the present: the emergence out of dramatic form of a new formal structure for those epic elements that had previously only been given thematic expression. If this process, which is central to the developmental history of the modern theater, has, up to this point, been presented mainly in terms of comparison between the two periods—by contrasting Ibsen and Pirandello, Chekhov and Wilder, Hauptmann and Brecht—in Miller's case, as with Strindberg's earlier, it can be illuminated by the works of a single author.

In All My Sons ( 1947), Miller tried to preserve Ibsen's analytical approach to social dramaturgy by transferring it into the American present. An inexorable analysis slowly reveals the long-hidden crime committed by the head of the Keller family: his delivery of defective airplane parts to the Army, a deed that involves him in another—the suicide of his son Larry—which has also been kept secret. All the secondary aspects of the action needed to narrate the past as a dramatic event are at hand— the return of Larry's former fiancée and her brother, for example. Their father, an employee of Keller's, was wrongfully imprisoned for Keller's offense. Even Ibsen's often heavy-handed use of the set is preserved in this work: an element of the decor gives visible presence to the ongoing internal effects of the past, while also laboring to symbolize the deeper

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From Theory of Modern Drama. © 1987 by the University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

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