Arthur Miller’s Literary Reckoning with His Jewish Experience

One of the most prestigious American playwrights of the 20th century, Arthur Miller is best known for Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Although he did once comment that the actor who best understood the former play’s protagonist was Yosik Buloff, a giant of the Yiddish stage, most of Miller’s theatrical works are without explicitly Jewish content. A recent biography by John Lahr, however, calls attention to Miller’s explorations of the condition of American Jewry. John Nathan writes in his review:

It was against this background [of rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and the Nazi conquest of Europe] that Miller wrote his first success—not a play but the novel Focus (1945), about a casual anti-Semite who becomes a foot soldier in the cause of Jew-hatred. He is, however, so often mistaken as a Jew by his fellow persecutors he ends up being a victim of his own prejudice.

Before then, Lee Strasbourg’s Theatre Group eventually decided against staging Miller’s new play The Grass Still Grows, about a Jewish family (not unlike Miller’s), because, having already mounted Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing, they didn’t want “to do another Jewish play.”

Through the course of 200 pages or so—a fraction (a third, in fact) of the number of pages Lahr uses in his acclaimed Tennessee Williams biography—the author cherry-picks the crucial personal and world events from which Miller wrought his plays. . . . It is a tapestry rich with personal as well as public detail, but it also makes irrefutable the argument (sometimes opposed) that Miller’s Jewishness was foundational to his writing.

If Miller’s illiterate immigrant father Isidore—who became a wealthy businessman before everything was lost in the [1929] crash—is there in his college play No Villain (1936, about the dilemmas faced by a family business in the teeth of industrial action), so too is the crushing memory of Isidore needing his sixteen-year-old son to pay a subway fare.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, Arthur Miller, Theater

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy