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The Price (Penguin Plays) by Arthur Miller
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The Price (Penguin Plays) (original 1968; edition 1985)

by Arthur Miller

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193287,047 (3.31)4
Member:TheCriticalTimes
Title:The Price (Penguin Plays)
Authors:Arthur Miller
Info:Penguin Books (1985), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 128 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Plays, Signed

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The Price by Arthur Miller (1968)

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Is it still a spoiler alert when the book is 50 years old? Spoiler Alert!

I can’t comprehend why the average rating for this play is so low! This is easily a solid four star or higher if the reader is good with visualization and even higher when viewed if this play is properly produced and acted with all the antiques on stage.

Set in “Today” which is roughly 1968 as the play was published then, two brothers meet again after being estranged for 16 years, when their father died. Their family’s old building (now owned by their uncle) is being demolished, and the fifty-year-old younger brother Victor is arranging to have their parents’ old furniture and belongings sold. The stage is filled with luxurious items of the bygone Roaring 20’s. Act One addresses primarily the wheeling and dealing between Victor, a straight-shooter policeman, who just wants to know “The Price” that the antique/furniture dealer, Solomon, is willing to offer him. Solomon, at age 89, is negotiating to maximize this last score as his final hurrah. Much of Victor and his wife Esther’s present situation is revealed. Act One ends with the older brother, Walter, a successful surgeon walking in as Solomon was handing over the money after having finalized on the Price. Act Two focuses on the baggage of the family history, with Victor and Walter revealing the weighty past, traumatized by the Great Depression. The helpless Solomon tries to savage his deal; Esther attempts to dampen the deep anger that Victor carries toward Walter while securing the best financial outcome for her family. The conclusion is unknown until the last moments – regarding both the relationship of the brothers and the deal of the family relics. I suspect some of the low ratings is driven by the ending which in these types of plays is often debatable. I for one think it’s legitimate.

In this formidable play that covered a mere hour or two, Miller addressed multiple themes that remain relevant even today, 50 years later.

Life Decisions and the Sandwich Generation:
This topic is the crux of the story. The family wealth has collapsed. Walter was hell bent on finishing his medical degree, “come hell or highwater”. Victor pitied father, leaving college, to join the police force supporting father and his young family, always sacrificing in favor of father along the way. Victor feels Walter abandoned the family, but turns out Walter knew more about father that he couldn’t say then, resulting in brother against brother, with the surprising agitator being the father.

The Great Depression and its demoralizing effects:
The father was humiliated after losing it all, never leaving the house, not taking inferior job, not taking welfare either – the curse of pride. The paralyzing effects of a ‘lifetime’ failure can leave a person to live a frozen life, as the father did, and even worse alienating his sons from each and other, just to protect himself.

Aging:
As much as the 89-year-old dealer wants that last amazing transaction, what he wanted more is to be relevant, to have a reason to get out of bed, to have something to do. Securing the deal represented more than the opportunity of money, it was his identity at stake.

Career and Climbing the Ladder:
Walter, in his quest to be the best, sacrificed aspects of his life. Possibly, he is compensating his family’s financial failures without realizing his choices.
“…You start out wanting to be the best, and there’s no question that you do need a certain fanaticism; there’s so much to know and so little time. Until you’ve eliminated everything extraneous – he smiles – including people… You become an instrument, an instrument that cuts money out of people, or fame out of the world. And it finally makes you stupid. Power can do that…”

Material Goods:
The luxurious furniture is no longer wanted by the kids, not befitting the ‘current’ lifestyle. I was surprised to read what I view as the current Ikea lifestyle was already in place 50 years ago.
“There is a rich heaviness, something almost Germanic, about the furniture, a weight of time upon the bulging fronts and curving chests marshalled against the walls. The room is monstrously crowded and dens, and it is difficult to decide if the stuff is impressive or merely over-heavy and ugly.”

Retail Therapy:
The world has become more materialistic over the years. These words are spot-on.
“What is the key word today? Disposable. The more you can throw it away the more it’s beautiful. The car, the furniture, the wife, the children – everything has to be disposable. Because you see the main thing today is – shopping. Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself – he’d go to church, start a revolution – something. Today you’re unhappy? Can’t figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping.” ( )
  varwenea | Aug 21, 2018 |
This play was well written and is interesting to read to find out what was the siblings' grudges and rivalry. Each had their own and different perception of their father especially after their fathers downfall during the Great Depression. One brother strove to become a successful doctor and the other put aside his dream in science and became a policeman and took care of his father. Was this a case of morality or conscience? This question and the choices and perceptions of each brother can serve as a classroom discussion and lesson. ( )
  lvelazqu2000 | May 21, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014048194X, Paperback)

Years after an angry breakup, Victor and Walter Franz are reunited by the death of their father. As they sort through his possessions in an old brownstone attic, the memories evoked by his belongings stir up old hostilities. The Price was nominated for two Tony Awards, including best play.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a building slated for imminent demolition, two brothers, long estranged, reunite to sell off their family's possessions. In short time the transaction draws in one man's wife and an ancient but still wily furniture dealer. And a crowded attic becomes the setting for an acrid, funny, and moving inquest into the wounds of family, the allure of the disposable, and the nature of human failure.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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