Posted on March 25, 2016
This conversation between Arthur Miller and Christopher Bigsby, a collaboration between 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review, was recorded live at 92Y on January 4, 1999. We are able to share this recording thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review. Here is an excerpt to the full interview that ran in The Paris Review as The Art of Theater, No. 2, Part 2, in the fall of 1999.
Betrayal is a theme in many of your plays, isn’t it? Willy Loman betrays his wife, John Proctor does likewise in The Crucible, a rather major betrayal of faith and trust.
The guy in After the Fall says, “Why is betrayal the only truth that sticks?” I can’t answer that altogether, but, after all, the Bible begins with a betrayal, doesn’t it? Cain has betrayed his brother by killing him. I think the old rabbis who put that Bible together understood this, that betrayal hangs over so much that men do, and from its threat comes the need for justice. It’s the challenge to us all, to humanity, to keep faith, and I think it goes right down through our literature and certainly the religious ideas of the world. It’s involved in a lot of my work.
People often come out of Death of a Salesman crying. If you said to them that you’d watched them laughing while in their seats, they would deny it. And yet humor is part of it, isn’t it?
The whole thing is very sad, but the fact is I did a lot of laughing when I was writing the play because some of Willy Loman’s ideas are so absurd and self-contradictory that you have to laugh about them; the audience in fact does, but they don’t remember it, thank God! If they remembered it, they wouldn’t be as moved as they are. Basically, it’s the laughter of recognition, I believe.