by Arthur Miller
"Focus", by Arthur Miller, raises many complex issues with
its plot and its characters' interaction with one another.
The book deals with a man named Mr. Newman, who lives his
whole life as a xenophobic white Christian and feels that "
his kind are above the rest of society". When he gets a
pair of glasses, his appearance changes, and he looks like
a Jew. This results in many changes in the life of Mr.
Newman. Being treated as a "Jew" takes a toll on his daily
Of the many characters in this story, only one of them, Mr.
Finkelstein, is a true Jew. He is the subject of much
hatred in his neighborhood, which is filled with
anti-Semitic people. When Mr. Newman begins to experience a
small portion of this hatred too, he turns to the Jew for
some guidance. This act is the beginning of the bonding
process that eventually leads into Mr. Newman saying at the
end of the story that he is no better than the Jew.
The relationship that these two characters have is shaped
by the treatment that they both receive from their
neighbors. While Mr. Newman had always been sympathetic to
Mr. Finkelstein as an individual, he still thought that as
a cursed Jew, Mr. Finkelstein deserved the treatment that
he got. As the two of them began to receive the same
torment from their neighbors, Mr. Newman looked to Mr.
Finkelstein in two ways.
At first, he blamed Mr. Finkelstein for being the model of
the evil Jew and causing everyone to assume that Mr. Newman
was just as bad. Later, Mr. Newman saw that Mr. Finkelstein
was used to this treatment, so Mr. Newman looked to the Jew
for counsel. The reason that their relationship developed
more as the story progressed is because Mr. Newman began to
realize that Finkelstein is a " civilized person and not
just a worthless Jew".
During the time in which Mr. Newman is discovering the "Jew
in himself", he is also trying to hide it from his
neighbors because of the anti-semitic sentiment. At that
time, many Jewish immigrants were moving to America and
making life more complicated by creating differences that
didn't exist before. To deal with this, the Christians
formed groups that would go around stating erroneous
reasons to justify their violence towards the immigrant
Jew. The story mentions how several of these groups started
all around the county, with even a few anti-Semitic priests
leading them on.
One of these groups starts up in Mr. Newman's neighborhood
and concentrates on getting Mr. Finkelstein to move. It is
at this point in the story that Mr. Newman's neighbors
start to think that he is a Jew also. When this happens,
some of his neighbors spill the trash all over his yard,
which is exactly what they had always done to Mr.
Finkelstein. Mr. Newman attends a meeting of one of these
groups in order that people know he is not a Jew. He
listens to the words of the priest and realizes the
horrible way that the Christian world is acting. He begins
to see that he had acted the same way, before he got his
glasses. This realization leads Mr. Newman to wonder if he
really wants to try to reintegrate into Christian society.
"Focus" has a complex plot in which a man is forced to deal
with the problem of becoming what he most fears, a less
than " normal" person. One of the messages that I feel this
story is trying to send is that people who are different
are not necessarily bad. The protagonist never had a real
conversation or even spent any time with a Jew, so
therefore he did not really know anything about these
people. It is because of this that he becomes very scared
of being a Jew. I feel that the effect would have been the
same had Mr. Newman somehow become black or Hispanic, for
the author is just using the Jew as a symbol of a person
different than the "normal" white Christian.
When people have no distinct contact with a group of people
who has different beliefs, they become fearful and anxious
and even develop a hatred. Therefore, people must come
face to face with the element of society which they fear
most, in order that they realize that people are generally
the same they. This is what I feel is the message that
Arthur Miller was trying to portray with this novel. Inside
we are all the same, and people just need to realize this
in order to put a stop to prejudice and racism.
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