Miller didn’t see the American family as a problem that had an answer. Flee the traps of family life on an Eastern stage, and you might find
yourself wandering lost and mangled in a film set
in the deserts of nevada, atomized and disconnected, drifting among strangers from divorce
court to highway to rodeo to whiskey bottle to
bed with fast friends. The myth of the family and
the myth of self-reliance—how does the same
culture hatch two such irreconcilable dreams?
Miller’s characters are always being crushed by
conflicting motives and impulses, forced into
impossible situations by self-delusions or the
repression of past betrayals. In his Eastern plays,
blood relations doom one another, acting like
planets circling closer and closer to moral black
holes. In the movie script that heralded the end
of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, absolute
freedom from family ties in the West appears
to be another kind of American disaster—one
papered over with a hollywood ending.
During the 1940s and 1950s, American family drama flowered in the works of
Miller, Tennessee Williams, the final plays of
Eugene o’neill. Williams’ The Glass Menagerie,
said to draw upon his own family’s life, opened
in 1945, while o’neill’s posthumous masterpiece of filial horrors, Long Day’s Journey Into
Night, premiered in 1956. Miller’s most important plays fall into the years between these
two dates, a golden age for American theater.
The postwar scene may have been influenced
more generally by the popular acceptance of
Freudian philosophy, but the stage has always
been a logical location to look in on houses
and families. It is finely attuned to those confined spaces in which audiences witness relationships imploding and kinship unraveling.
The meaning of home as a place where the
disasters of one generation haunt the next ap-plies to many classics of world theater, including more modern masterpieces such as henrik