| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Until the age of fourteen, Arthur Miller lived on
East 112th Street in Harlem, New York, the son of a prosperous manufacturer of
women’s coats. With the Depression, his father lost his business and the family
moved to Brooklyn into a small but comfortable house. Miller attended Abraham
Lincoln High School, where he played football, sustaining a knee injury.
Following graduation, he worked at various odd jobs ranging from singer on a
local radio station to truck driver to clerk in an automobile parts warehouse.
He saved his pay for two years to attend college but was unable to enroll
because of poor grades in high school. On the long daily subway ride into
Manhattan from Brooklyn, he began reading The Brothers Karamazov (which he
thought was a detective story), the book that he later referred to as “the
great book of wonder” and which presumably aroused his interest in serious
two attempts, in 1934 Miller finally was admitted to the University of Michigan
in Ann Arbor, where he became a journalism major. During the spring of 1936,
Miller wrote a play, No Villain, that won a Hopwood Award in Drama, an annual
contest that carried an award of $250. During this same year, Miller was
working his way through college by waiting tables, feeding mice in the
university laboratories, and gaining experience as a reporter and night editor
of the student newspaper. Transferring his degree program to English, Miller
began to study plays eagerly and revised No Villain for the Theatre Guild’s
Bureau of New Plays Contest with a new title, They Too Arise. In 1937 Miller
enrolled in a playwriting class taught by Kenneth T. Rowe; that year They Too
Arise received a major award of $1,250 from the Bureau of New Plays and was
produced in Ann Arbor and Detroit. In June his second Hopwood entry received
another $250, and Miller decided that playwriting was his future. After
narrowly missing winning a third Hopwood Award for The Great Disobedience,
Miller graduated in 1938 and returned to Brooklyn.
the next six years, Miller wrote radio plays and scripts while continuing to
look for a play producer. In 1944 his first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All
the Luck, opened—but closed after four performances. Two years later, Miller
appeared on Broadway again with All My Sons, a play like most of his major
dramas that explored relationships between family members, quite often between
fathers, sons, and brothers. All My Sons won the New York Drama Critics Circle
Award. In 1945 Miller published a novel, Focus, that dealt with anti-Semitism.
In 1949 Death of a Salesman was produced at the Morosco Theater in New York and
firmly established its author as a major American playwright. The play won the
Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Award, the Antoinette Perry Award,
the Theater Club Award, and the Donaldson Award, among many others. It remains
one of the most definitive stage works of all time as a study of the American
character and culture.
1950 Miller adapted Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. By 1953 the specter of
McCarthyism and its search for Communists in and out of the government and the
entertainment business had nearly paralyzed the country. Along with other
members of the intellectual community, Miller felt that he had to write in
protest. In the introduction to volume one of his Collected Plays, Miller noted
that he had “known of the Salem witch-hunt for many years before ‘McCarthyism’
had arrived, and it had always remained an inexplicable darkness to me. When I
looked into it now, however, it was with the contemporary situation at my back,
particularly the mystery of the handing over of conscience, which seemed to me
the central and informing fact of the time.” To inform himself of the facts and
temper of the Salem events, Miller traveled to Massachusetts, the location of
the trials at Danvers (originally Salem Village) and present-day Salem, where
he read the original transcripts and documents. The parallel then fell into
place between Salem in 1692 and McCarthyism in 1952—the play was almost ready
at hand in the transcripts. “No character is in the play,” Miller said in a New
York Times article, “who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692.” The play
so precisely reflected the political atmosphere of 1952 that many reviewers
were forced to pretend there was no connection. In 1955 Miller was called to
testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; like John
Proctor, he refused to testify against others accused of being Communist
sympathizers or party members and was convicted for contempt of Congress (the
decision was reversed in 1957). The Crucible to date has been produced more
often than any of Miller’s other plays. As a historical, cultural, and
political rendition of one of the most terrifying chapters in American history,
and as a reminder of how conscience handed over to others can debase the social
contract, The Crucible remains unique. It won the Antoinette Perry and
Donaldson awards for 1953’s best play.
dramatic themes and interests have always been closely related to what’s “in
the air,” which has led him to being described as a “social dramatist.” In the
plays following The Crucible, Miller has ranged far and experimentally in
theme, form, and content. Such plays as A View from the Bridge (1956, two-act
version); his film script for The Misfits (1960), now a classic film; After the
Fall (1964), a dramatic representation of his family, political troubles, and
marriage to Marilyn Monroe; The Price (1968); The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977);
and The American Clock (1984), among others, deal directly or indirectly with
the family, the 1930s Depression, politics, and the American dream. Miller’s most
recent play, The Ride Down Mount Morgan, opened in London, England, in October
1991 to enthusiastic acclaim by British critics.
Robert A. Martin|
Michigan State University
In the Heath Anthology
Arthur Miller's Collected Plays, Volumes 1 and 2
I Don't Need You Any More
The American Clock
The Archbishop's Ceiling
The Two-Way Mirror (Elegy for a Lady and Some Kind of Love Story)
Danger: Memory (I Can't Remember Anything and Clara)
Timebends: A Life
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A brief biography and many relevant links.
Brief biography, links, and an excerpt of The Crucible.
Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction (or Picky, Picky, Picky...)
Discusses The Crucible in terms of its historical accuracy.
The Arthur Miller Society
Offers a chronology, synopses of works, and information about the field of Miller-related scholarship.