(1915-2005) was one of the most famous American playwrights of the 20th century. His two dozen plays include classics like The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, works that virtually never invoke Miller’s Jewish roots. (He was also married to Marilyn Monroe, which didn’t hurt his fame.) But Miller’s one novel, Focus, stands in stark contrast. Focus is about xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Jewish self-hate.
The novel’s protagonist, Newman, is a non-Jew who doesn’t care much for the Jews and other minorities who are moving into his neighborhood. When the book starts, he buys a new set of glasses, and people begin to mistake him for a Jew. Although the premise sounds comical, the novel quickly changes gears–Newman joins a white-supremacist group called Christian Front and terrorizes Finkelstein, a Jewish candy-store owner.
Finkelstein has his own internal struggles. He is torn between his traditional, immigrant parents and the desire to succeed in America. Eventually, he abandons his Jewish identity, erasing his accent, burning his clothes, and assimilating completely. The ending is weirdly tragic and hopeful at the same time: Finkelstein has a bright future ahead of him, but at the cost of his past. Meanwhile, Newman is consumed by the consequences of his bigotry, and eventually loses everything–his wife, his neighborhood, and his self-respect