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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Arthur Miller
(b. 1915)

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 literature.

After 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.

Over 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.

In 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.

Miller’s 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
The Crucible (1953)

Other Works
Arthur Miller's Collected Plays, Volumes 1 and 2 (1957)
I Don't Need You Any More (1967)
The American Clock (1983)
The Archbishop's Ceiling (1984)
The Two-Way Mirror (Elegy for a Lady and Some Kind of Love Story) (1984)
Danger: Memory (I Can't Remember Anything and Clara) (1986)
Timebends: A Life (1987)

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Arthur Miller
A brief biography and many relevant links.

Arthur Miller
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.

Curtain Up
A biography.

The Arthur Miller Society
Offers a chronology, synopses of works, and information about the field of Miller-related scholarship.

Secondary Sources