E.J. Dionne pays tribute to Arthur Miller. Focusing on “The Crucible,” Dionne praises Miller for warning that the threats we confront at any given moment should not cause us to draw “too facile a line between good and evil,” lest we become ourselves be affected by evil.
The obvious objection to drawing such lessons from “The Crucible” is that it concerned the imaginary threat of witches, whereas terrorism (as well as Communism in the 1950s) were not imaginary threats. Dionne seems poised to address this objection when he writes,
“The Crucible” was seen as an allegory to the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s. Miller’s critics argued that the Soviet threat was real in the way that witchcraft wasn’t.
But instead of responding to this obvious and seemingly telling criticism, Dionne merely says, “Much the same might be said of terrorism.” Indeed. And from this I conclude that “The Crucible” is a timeless work, as useless in helping us understand our situation today as it was 50 years ago.
Those interested in a serious look at Miller should read this piece by Terry Teachout. Says Teachout:
The smartest critics of Miller’s own generation, virtually all of whom shared his left-wing views, held his plays in. . .contempt. Back then he took his roughest beatings from the likes of Eric Bentley, Mary McCarthy, Kenneth Tynan and Robert Warshow, who found him heavy-handed and insufferably preachy. Tynan, for instance, wrote that “The Crucible” “suggests a sensibility blunted by the insistence of an outraged conscience: it has the over-simplifications of poster art.” Bull’s-eye.
UPDATE: Our friend Roger Simon, a novelist and screenplay-writer, holds Miller in much higher regard.