The holocaust, the depression, and McCarthyism: Miller in the sixties

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In some ways Miller seemed out of synch with the sixties. Rather than writing about Vietnam or civil rights, he chose to look back to the Depression in The Price, the Holocaust in After the Fall and Incident at Vichy, McCarthyism and the Depression in After the Fall. Yet all three plays also explore the problem of denial, and to Miller this was the central issue of the moment. Denial, after all, lay behind the American attitude toward race, and it facilitated the waging of an immoral war in south-east Asia. There is certainly no evidence that he abstracted himself from the political realities of the decade. Quite the contrary. He became actively involved in the anti-war movement. Yale, the University of Michigan, and even West Point invited him to speak about the war. He had not, however, forgotten about McCarthyism, warning students, at a University of Michigan teach-in, that the FBI, who, he claimed, was sitting among them, would hold them accountable for their actions and even ask them to condemn their present passions in the future. He nevertheless applauded the student protest, calling it “the essential risk of living.” Moreover, he consoled students by telling them that even if their movement did not end in victory, “it should not be the occasion for disillusion, because we must go on groping from one illusion of virtue to another” (Timebends, p. 100). Yet he noted a contrast between the personal nature of the student revolt of the sixties and the more altruistic radicalism of the thirties, the decade that would always be his moral and political touchstone. This was not the symbolic ideological rhetoric of another time when Hitlerism, however threatening, was very far away and few people really believed the United States would enter a new European war … They were not saving somebody else, and that was the difference between them and their fathers in the thirties, when with all the poverty and dislocation of life it still took a leap of the imagination for a student to be radicalized. The ticket to radicalization in the sixties was the draft card in the wallet.

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The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, Second Edition

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