Award Date

5-1-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Theatre Arts

First Committee Member

Nate Bynum

Second Committee Member

Michael Tylo

Third Committee Member

Douglas Hill

Number of Pages

58

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to explore the moral convictions, or the lack of same, in the personal character of Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan and to show how those convictions affected not only their work and personal friendship but society as well. They first met in 1946 when Harold Clurman of the Group Theater passed to Kazan a Miller play that he had read entitled All My Sons. With the success of the play, the two became fast friends and collaborators in profession and ideology. Each had in common the Great Depression, problem fathers, marital instability and Communism. For a short period during the 1930s, both men belonged to the Communist Party. Kazan was deeply committed to the cause, whereas Miller preferred to watch from a distance and take notes that may eventually become the basis for a future play. Miller's was a more intellectual approach to Communism while Kazan was a pro-active member of the rank and file. They disdained capitalism and considered the business world, in Kazan's word, "antihuman". They worked well together and in 1949 did Death of a Salesman. Its theme could be interpreted as the anti-American dream. For both men, Miller's plays served as a sounding board for what they considered to be a social injustice.

On stage and in the movies they confronted the mores of the time. Eventually what they wrote and produced would come under the scrutiny of the federal government. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated them. Senator Joseph McCarthy had predicated his senate investigation on the subversive anti-American, anti-Christian immorality and atheism of Communism that he thought was intent on overthrowing America. He attacked the theater and entertainment industry in an effort to rid it and America of what became known as "slanted writing"--plays and movies that contained hints of Communist doctrine. McCarthy accused some of America's finest artists of subversion and demanded they confess their Communist connections and name the names of their comrades or "fellow travelers" as they came to be known. Though their short three-year friendship was strong and binding, it would not, and could not, survive this attack. It could not survive because Kazan had violated Miller's personal values. When the HUAC asked Miller to give them the names of his fellow travelers, he refused and was convicted of contempt of Congress. However, Kazan named names; including Miller's. It would be almost 10 years before they would speak again. In the interim, they spoke to each other and the world through their work, specifically Miller's The Crucible and Kazan's On the Waterfront. Proctor, the adulterous protagonist of The Crucible, would rather be hanged than betray himself by confessing to something he didn't do. Terry Malloy, the stool pigeon of Waterfront becomes a state witness for the prosecution in the conviction of corrupt union bosses on the docks.

In their own way, and in their best style, Miller and Kazan tried to explain and justify their actions. Each thought what they did was the morally right thing to do. This paper will explore how the character convictions of Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan determined their HUAC testimony and how what they said and did affected the American culture and the world in general.

Keywords

Communism; Conduct of life; Kazan, Elia; Literature and morals; Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005; Political science; Politics and literature; United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities

Disciplines

Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Literature in English, North America | Personality and Social Contexts | Playwriting | Theatre and Performance Studies

Language

English