The Price of the Past

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The Price of the Past

Arthur Miller's The Price - A Reading List

What do our possessions mean and what do they say about our lives? How do we deal with the memories and meanings of our accumulations at the end of our lives? What is the price we pay for our choices? The great Arthur Miller explored these questions in his very personal and lesser-known play, The Price. In preparing a production of the play, DC's Arena Stage has shared books and resources that they used to understand the play and its themes. Use these books from the library to expand your own understanding of one of Miller's works.

The Collected Plays of Arthur Miller
Start with the work itself. The Price is one of Miller's most intimate plays and depicts two long-estranged brothers reuniting as they sell off their dead father's possessions which link them to their shared past. Though written in 1968, the play is relevant today in exposing the cost of our dreams and missed opportunities. For those who want to listen to a production of The Price, the library's downloadable book collection includes a recording of the play

"Why I Wrote The Price" by Arthur Miller
 It is a rare treat when we get to peer into the writing lives of writers we love and hear them talk about their own work. Twenty years after writing the play, Miller wrote more about why he wrote the play and what it meant to him. In this article, Miller shares a bit about the historical and political context of the play, particularly the impact of the Vietnam War. According to Miller, the play "grew out of a need to reconfirm the power of the past, the seedbed of current reality, and the way to possibly reaffirm cause and effect in an insane world." Take some time to hear Miller explore his own past as a writer.

Timebends: A Life by Arthur Miller
If you have read Miller's plays, take some time to read the memoir of this iconic writer. Here, the giant of American theater describes his own trajectory as a man and an artist. Miller was present in his early life to seminal moments in history like the Great Depression and the McCarthy era when he made important moral stands for free expression. His life included figures ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Elia Kazan and John F. Kennedy. 

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel
The Price depicts members of a family sifting through the accumulated possessions of a departed patriarch and facing up to the memories and choices represented by those objects. How might any family do this? What would that process look like for families from different parts of the world? Peter Menzel's book of photographs contains portraits of families from 30 different countries standing outside of their homes with the entirety of their possessions. The photos are accompanied by information about the standard of living in each country as well as profiles of the families depicted in the photo. 

Arthur Miller in DC Theater History
The library is lucky to host the Washington Performing Arts Video Archive (WAPAVA), a collection of recordings of plays from leading theaters in the area. Those who want to fully explore the work of Miller should take look at our WAPAVA archive which contains multiple productions of Miller's plays from a variety of local theaters.