In a new essay for the July/August issue of The American Interest, Theodore Dalrymple outlines a common theme that runs through the plays of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller:
Both Williams and Miller took pains to draw attention to the existential limitations of human life, to which the American dream is not, in their view, an adequate response. The fact that there is not a better one, deep religious conviction aside (which most Americans do not have, polls of belief in God and church attendance notwithstanding), only makes matters worse. It is therefore natural that these existential limitations should have been pointed out by acute and reflective writers precisely at a time of general optimism, for when palpable dissatisfactions arise from specific circumstances—war, economic depression, epidemics and so forth—the illusion is possible that, once the circumstances improve, life will become free of dissatisfactions. It never will, of course, which is perhaps why the best of times, as some writer once said, can also be the worst of times. It is bitter indeed to come close enough to bliss to smell it but not to taste it.Read the entire essay here (purchase required).