Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-wfvfs Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-09T01:58:54.227Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Arthur Miller and the Rhetoric of Ethnic Self-Expression

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2008


This paper uses some key scholarship on ethnicity, including work by Glazer, Moynihan, Sollors, and Hollinger, as a backdrop for re-examining specific plays by Arthur Miller, especially The Crucible and After the Fall. While looking closely at distinctive expressions of ethnicity related to Miller's Jewish-American status, the paper argues that the playwright should not be thought of as a “pluralist” or “cosmopolitanist” but rather as a “universalist.” Miller deserves distinctive credit for his ability to invoke situations where rhetoric transcends the particularities of ethnicity and sheds light not just on American, or Jewish, or Jewish-American history, but also, for example, on the current situation in the Middle East. The playwright also demonstrates how rigid identification with one side of a conflict can blind us to the omnipresence of evil.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The quotation from Miller's acceptance speech is from Ellen Schiff, Introduction to Joel Shatzky and Michael Taub, eds., Contemporary Jewish-American Dramatists and Poets: A Bio-critical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999), 4.

2 Benjamin Nelson, “Arthur Miller,” in Shatzky and Taub, 141–58; and Murray Biggs, “The American Jewishness of Arthur Miller,” in David Krasner, ed., A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama (Malden: Blackwell, 2004), 209–28.

3 David Mamet, “The Human Stain,” Guardian, 7 May 2005: Review Sec., 13. Mamet's comments were made at the time of a new fresh and invigorating production of Death of a Salesman in London following a long run at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago. Produced by Robert Falls, the production stars Brian Dennehy and Clare Higgins.

4 On the movement away from thinking of literature in terms of mononationalism toward seeing within one nation's literature “‘other-national’ strands” see Perloff, Marjorie, “‘Living in the Same Place’: The Old Mononationalism and the New Comparative Literature,World Literature Today, 69, 2 (Spring 1995), 249–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Richard A Siegel, “American-Jewish Theater: Standing on the Hyphen,” Jewish Spaces in European Theatre, European Performing Arts Forum, Prague, 14–16 June 2003, Section IV: The Politics of Representation and Theatre. Available on line at

6 Schiff, 3.

7 Nathan G. Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot Reconsidered: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City, 2nd edn (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1970), was followed by idem, eds., Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975).

8 This is the view of Talcott Parsons. See Glazer and Moynihan, Ethnicity, 64.

9 Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 25, 15.

10 Sollors cites Michael Novak's remark in The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics that “given a grandparent or two, one chooses to shape one's consciousness by one history rather than another.” Ibid., 33.

11 David A Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 129, 116.

12 Sollors, 13.

13 Plays where characters are definitely Jewish include Incident at Vichy (1964) and Broken Glass (1994).

14 Speaking of a character in The Price (1968), Miller says that he had to be a Jew as “the theme of survival … seemed to point directly to the Jewish experience through centuries of oppression.” See Mathew C. Roudané, ed., Conversations with Arthur Miller (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987), 183.

15 The quotation is from James J. Martine, The Crucible: Politics, Property, and Pretense (New York: Twayne, 1993), 88.

16 Quoted in Harold Bloom, ed., Arthur Miller (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 31.

17 Martine, 88.

18 The quotation is from David A. Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 28.

19 See, for example, the work of Elijah Anderson.

20 Conversations, 179; my emphasis.

21 Martine, 20.

22 Sollors, 84.

23 Quoted in Israel Zangwill, The Melting-Pot (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 66.

24 Miller, Timebends: A Life (London: Methuen, 1987), 42.

25 Ibid., 338.

26 Miller, The Crucible (New York: Viking, 1953), 7.

27 Sollors quotes Herman Melville's White Jacket: “And we Americans are the peculiar chosen people – the Israel of our time.” Beyond Ethnicity, 40. The phrase about “pollution from outside ranks” is from Miller, Timebends, 338.

28 See Hans Khon, The Idea of Nationalism (New York: Macmillan, 1945) 166–68, quoted in Sollors, 56.

29 The Crucible, 94.

30 Quoted in Richard A. Shweder, “George W. Bush and the Missionary Position,” Daedalus, Summer 2004, 26.

31 The Crucible, 132.

32 Miller, “Again They Drink from the Cup of Suspicion,” New York Times, 26 Nov. 1989, Sec. 2, 36, quoted in Martine, The Crucible, 66.

33 Jacques Derrida, “For a Justice to Come: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” trans. Ortwin de Graef. Available online at

34 Kevin Phillips claims that for the Bush administration “religious belief is the basis of policy, not just a tactic for selling it to the public.” See American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (New York: Viking, 2006). See also Christopher Shays, “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a Theocracy,” available online at; Maureen Farrell, “On a Mission from God: The Religious Right and the Emerging American Theocracy,” available online at; and Rich Perlstein, “‘The Divine Calm of George Bush’: The US as the New Israel, as God's Most Favored Nation,” Village Voice, 3 May 2004, available online at,perlstein,53195,1.html. Not everyone would describe the American administration today as a theocracy. In his review of American Theocracy, Alan Brinkley, in “Clear and Present Dangers,” New York Times, 19 March 2006, available online at, describes Phillips's claim as “significant but not conclusive.” Some claim that the power of the courts to insist that “intelligent design” be taught in schools as non-science but Darwinian evolution as fact reinforces the traditional separation in America of church and state. See “Victors hail US Evolution Ruling,” BBC News, 21 Dec. 2005. Available online at Actions were also taken by the courts recently against Christian evangelicals who were found guilty of persecuting non-evangelicals at the US Air Force Academy.

35 I suspect that Miller would be much more comfortable with the take on religion of a pragmatist like William James than he would be with either a Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish one. This could be the subject of another paper.

36 The quotation is from Neil Carson, Arthur Miller (London: Macmillan, 1982), 121.

37 E. Miller Budick also quotes the playwright's description of McCarthyism as “a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the far Right [that] was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new subjective reality, a veritable mystique which was gradually assuming even a holy resonance.” See Introduction to Collected Plays quoted in E. Miller Budick, “History and Other Specters in The Crucible,” in Harold Bloom, ed., Modern Critical Views: Arthur Miller (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 127–44, 128–29.

38 The remark about the importance of the Nazi experience is in C. W. E. Bigsby, A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. Vol. 2: Williams/Miller/Albee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 229.

39 Quotations from After the Fall are from Miller, Plays: Two (London: Methuen, 1994), 142, 157, 241.

40 Albert H. Friedlander, Riders Towards the Dawn: From Ultimate Suffering to Tempered Hope (London: Constable, 1993), 162.

41 Thus, in a private interview with Bigsby, Miller emphasizes in relation to the Holocaust that “the race, the human race, cannot face its culpability, its responsibility.” See Bigsby, 216.

42 Plays: Two, 140.

43 Ibid., 140–41.

44 Arhur Miller, Introduction, Focus (London: Penguin, 1986); my emphasis.

45 Arthur Miller, “Why Israel Must Choose Justice,” speech delivered 25 June 2003 on receiving the Jerusalem Prize. Available online at

46 Edward W. Said, “American Intellectuals and Middle East Politics,” in Gauri Viswanathan, ed., Power, Politics, and Culture: Interviews with Edward Said (New York: Pantheon, 2001), 327. On the Zionist pioneering sprit see also Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage, 1992), 21.

47 Miller, Focus, 3–4.

48 Said, “An Exile's Exile,” in Power, Politics, 318.

49 Said, “My Right of Return,” in Power, Politics, 447.

50 The quotation is from Friedlander, Riders, 253.

51 In 1986, shortly after Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize, Uri Avneri wrote him a letter saying that “nothing in the present approaches the monstrousness of the Holocaust. It is therefore almost a profanity to compare the Holocaust with any other crime of this century.” Quoted in Friedlander, Riders, 242. More recently, Jacqueline Rose has compared the brutality of Nazism with modern Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. See Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

52 Arthur Miller, Playing for Time (New York: Nick Hern, 1981), 64.

53 Bigsby, A Critical Introduction, 230.