Neurotic Illusion

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

Arthur Miller was passionately interested in the truth. A brief look at several of his most successful plays reveal the failure of Americans to transcend the common illusions that function like a mental illness in our everyday lives.

Author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck commented in one of his books that neuroses are caused by an attempt to avoid what he called “legitimate suffering.” In Arthur Miller’s plays various characters are desperately keeping illusions alive to avoid, escape or postpone the pain of reality. Like most of humanity, the people depicted in All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949) are in full flight from their shadows. The “legitimate suffering” involved with integrating their neurotic illusions is the last thing these characters want to experience.

The Perpetual Nightmare

In All My Sons the mother cannot admit that her son is not returning from the war. He apparently died in World War II as a fighter pilot. In Death of a Salesman, the family can’t come to grips with the reality that the father and two sons are not successful businessmen but carry on a feverish pretense among themselves to perpetuate a fantasy of success.

In both plays the masculine drive for perfection leads to neurotic, self-destructive competition with no awareness of the need for “feminine” wholeness or what Jung called individuation. And in both plays the sons struggle with the fathers over their respective worldviews. The sons, albeit vaguely, recognize the soul-destroying influence of a materialistic worldview. What no one sees is the need for a radically different narrative that could save humanity from itself.  In the context of P-B the characters in the following plays are doomed and completely at the mercy of the false self.

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Find a much more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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