*A Bazaar Costume Shoppe
CHEWING THE EXISTENTIAL CUD:
THE TRANSFORMATION OF TRAGEDY IN
*THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.*
For after the horror of World War II, the United States, still the new kid on the block in terms of the world scene, had to believe in a brighter future. Inge, Williams and Miller became the cautionary prophets, who, aware of the hubris and self-aggrandizement inherent in that post-war euphoria, created the characters who peopled our top-secret dreams, and in Salesman, Menagerie and Dark they told stories of the American collective Dream, which isn't really more (or less) than the dream of the perfectly secure nuclear – and as this is Cold war Fifties, the pun is too good to miss – the oxymoronically "secure" nuclear family. And think of that era, a time known only to the whole generation as the set of "Happy Days." The Mr. "Are you now or have you ever been?" McCarthy era – Miller's target in The Crucible – when a nation watching fixed game shows got duped into dreaming of a kind of No Exit, "Leave it to Beaver" family, only to find itself stuck in the bomb shelter of naked capitalism, insulated and finally suffocated. Thus we see the crippling effects of misguided American optimism, cut with paranoia and ethnocentrism, blown up to the point where it becomes a full – on delusion – as big a one, it turns out, as Kansas.
So what did Miller, Williams and Inge accomplish in what we might call their metaphorical exposes? Each took his region and exploited the setting to bare the sweating nasty twitch of intolerance, the kind of emotional bigotry which turned the American Dream into a bad case of the DT's these playwrights will never be dated because their message will last as long as this country lasts, because for too staunchly committed to material fulfillment – i.e., to rich – there will remain a spiritual vacuity inherent in the fulfillment of that goal, as surely as Citizen Kane's last word was "Rosebud" – the symbol of his lost and simple boyhood besides which the halls of his wealth shrunk in comparison.