Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure

Joshua E. Polster. "Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure." Diss. U of Washington, 2006.

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Many critics have made the mistake of simplifying Miller as a playwright of realism and domestic drama. The consequence of seeing Miller's work in this way is that it limits a play's scope---the ability of a theatre audience to understand a play's dramatic structure, political thought, and signification. One of the intentions of this dissertation is to look at a selection of Arthur Miller's works in order to demonstrate how Miller has been misplaced in the narrative of United States' drama. Miller, in addition to his realistic work, also stands beside innovators who have tested the dramatic form and participated in the narrative of rebellion against the dominant style of realism. Moreover, Miller's work is more than domestic drama. He uses the material of family conflict to communicate issues relevant to the larger society.
Once readers can move past seeing Miller's plays as realistic and domestic drama, a new symbolic world becomes available using the strategies of cultural semiotics and cultural anthropology. The primary purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate how a reader can give the plays, in addition to stronger political thought and dramaturgy, a broader cultural significance by discovering deeper symbolic layers. The productions of Miller's plays are cultural events, performances that are being actively read by members of the culture; the plays are stories that the members of the culture are telling themselves about themselves. Since this conceptual world is immaterial, one must take a different approach to understand how the plays are read. One must examine the culture not in search of uncontestable conclusions, but in search of interpretations of meaning. One method of searching---by using cultural semiotics and cultural anthropology---is to unhook the plays from their common referent, and give them the ability to take on new meanings or reveal meanings that may have been already present. In this way, interpreters are not just speaking for Miller's plays---giving their own readings or assuming that the meanings inherently lie within the texts---but they are listening to and recording what the culture may have already said about them.

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