Broken Glass

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A: Arthur Miller Pf: 1994, New York Pb: 1994 G: Drama in 11 scenes S: Brooklyn, New York, 1938 C: 3m, 3fPhillip Gellburg, a Jewish New Yorker, works loyally and successfully for a firm of property developers, is proud of his son Jerome who has joined the army, and lives in comfortable circumstances with his wife Sylvia. When Sylvia reads of Nazi oppression of the Jews (the streets littered with broken glass from Jewish shops after Kristallnacht), she collapses, unable to walk. Their doctor Harry Hyman diagnoses ‘hysterical paralysis’, and Harry reminds Phillip that ‘we get sick in twos and threes’. This leads to the gradual revelation of the state of Phillip and Sylvia's marriage. For 20 years, since shortly after the birth of Jerome, Phillip has been impotent. He is reluctant to discuss it, and even lies to Harry about having recently made love to Sylvia. Sylvia believes that his impotence stemmed from her desire to return to work after Jerome's birth, and Phillip's insistence that he would be the breadwinner for the family. Meanwhile, he confronts subtle anti-Semitism at work. His boss Mr Case refers to him as ‘you people’, and when a Jewish financier steals a march on a property that Case had hoped to buy, Phillip fears that Case suspects him of betraying secrets to a fellow Jew. With his job in trouble, and still unable to face the truth of his marriage, he has a heart attack. Sylvia comes to his bedside, and, just as she reassures him: ‘There's nothing to blame,’ he has another fatal attack, and she can suddenly stand.

A: Arthur Miller Pf: 1994, New York Pb: 1994 G: Drama in 11 scenes S: Brooklyn, New York, 1938 C: 3m, 3f

With his usual acute insight, against the backdrop of Nazi persecution of the Jews, Miller here analyses a marriage, and debates the nature of identity. Sylvia is forced into her own kind of oppression by having reluctantly to assume the identity of a loyal Jewish housewife. Phillip, like Willy Loman before him, finds himself burdened with the identity of the clever and industrious Jew, and both collapse under the strain. Phillip can no longer bear to ‘live so afraid’, and is relieved to learn that there are Chinese Jews, thus shattering racial stereotypes. The somewhat melodramatic ending proceeds from genuine catharsis.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Arthur Miller (1915—2005) American dramatist

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