With The Death of a Salesman during the winter of1949 on Broadway, Arthur Miller began to live as aplaywright who has since been called one of thiscentury’s three great American dramatists by thepeople of America. The dramatist was born inManhattan in October 17, 1915, to Isadore andAgusta Miller, a conventional, well to do Jewishcouple. Young Arthur Miller was an intense athleteand a weak scholar. Throughout his youth he wasmolded into one of the most creative playwrightsAmerica has ever seen, without these pricelesschildhood experiences there would have never havebeen the basis and foundation for his great works.
During his bright career as playwright hedemonstrated extreme talent on two of his greatestpieces The Crucible and the Death of a Salesman.He has also written other powerful, oftenmind-altering plays: A View from the Bridge, AMemory of Two Mondays, After the Fall, Incident atVichy, and The Price. Who could forget the filmThe Misfits and the dramatic special Playing forTime. Death of a Salesman was not Arthur Miller’sfirst success on Broadway.His first plays wereHonors at Dawn (1936) and No Villain (1937) whichwon the University of Michigan Hopwood Awards. HisDeath of a Salesman won the Pulitzer prize in1949, which was another proof of his excellenttalent. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 duringthe McCarthy period when Americans were accusingeach other of Pro-Communist beliefs. Many ofMiller’s friends were being attacked as Communistsand in 1956, Miller himself was brought before theHouse of Un-American Activities Committee where hewas found guilty of beliefs in Communism.
Theverdict was reversed in 1957 in an appeals court.The Crucible is set against the backdrop of themad witch-hunts of the Salem witch trials in thelate 17th century. It is about a town, afteraccusations from a few girls, which begins a madhunt for witches that did not exist.Manytownspeople were hanged on charges of witchcraft.Miller brings out the absurdity of the incidentwith the theme of truth and righteousness. Twoyears before, when All My Sons opened at theCoronet Theater, people were starting to noticethat they were in the mist of one of the greatestplaywrights in history. The play also won the NewYork Drama Critics Circle Award and the DonaldsonAward (voted upon by Billboard subscribers).
Sincethe debut of All My Sons he noted that he felt asthough there was a opening for him to write and beappreciated. That door had always been securelybeen shut in the past. With the flow of theaudience there seemed to be warmth that allowedhim to dream and be willing to take that risk inhis writing that made him become so famous.Hedid, however, push the limits when he released hiscontroversial piece Death of a Salesman. And, hegained even more acclaim.
Soon he was awarded thePulitzer Prize and the New York Drama CriticsCircle Award. He was quickly catapulted into therealm of the great, living, American playwrights;and once was compared to Ibsen and the Greektragedians. After his graduation from AbrahamLincoln High School in Brooklyn, young Millerworked as a stock clerk in an automobile partswarehouse for two and a half years until he hadenough money to pay for his first year at theUniversity of Michigan. He finished college withthe financial aid of the National YouthAdministration supplemented by his salary as nighteditor on the Michigan Daily newspaper.Before hisgraduation with a BA degree in 1938, he hadwritten a number of plays, winning a $500 AveryHopwood Award in 1936 and a $1,200 Theater GuildNational Award in 1938 for an effort entitled TheGrass Still Grows. Then, having returned to NewYork in 1938, he joined the Federal TheaterProject. But, before his first play had beenproduced, the Project ended.
Dismayed and setback,he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here hewrote radio scripts that were later heard in theColumbia Workshop and on the Calvacade of America.He also wrote two books during this period:Situation Normal (1944) and Focus, two novelsabout anti-Semitism (1945).
He had not, however,given up playwriting.In November of 1944, hisplay, The Man Who Had All the Luck opened onBroadway. Unfortunately it became much less of asuccess than he had hoped. Its unfavorablereception disheartened Miller, and he decided hewould write one more play. If that were notsuccessful, he would give up.
In 1947 he wrote AllMy Sons, his first real success, which establishedhim as a significant American playwright. Soonafter he wrote The Crucible in 1953, which becamea Broadway hit, and won a Tony Award.Thisthrilling retelling of the witch trials andhangings in Salem, Massachusetts (1962) rivetedaudiences. But it reflected a more ready issue,the McCarthy era of his time. The autobiographicaltone of After the Fall in 1964 also evokedcontroversy as well as praise. And it was throughknowledge of the Brooklyn waterfront that he wasable to form his characters in A View from theBridge in 1955. More of his native city camethrough later when he wrote The Price, about a NewYork policeman (1968).
Miller’s later worksinclude The Creation of the Word and OtherBusiness (1972) and The American Clock (1980).In1980 Miller won four Emmy Awards following thetelevision debut of Playing for Time, thetrue-life dramatic special about the experiencesof an all-woman orchestra in a Nazi concentrationcamp. The show itself received the Emmy for anOutstanding Drama Special and Miller received onefor Outstanding Writing. Vanessa Redgrave won asOutstanding Actress, and Jane Alexander, asOutstanding Supporting Actress. In addition to hisnovels, Miller has written two books of reportage:In Russia and Chinese Encounters, both wereaccompanied by photographs by his wife IngeMorath, a professional photographer. His bookSalesman in Beijing is based on his experience inChina where he directed Death of a Salesman. Then,in 1987, Miller published his autobiographyTimebends: A Life, in which he recalls hischildhood in Brooklyn, the political turmoil ofthe 1950s, and the later half of the century.
Miller continues to write, winning the 1995 Oliverfor his most recent play Broken Glass .In hisyouth he was really quite unorganized andconcentrated more on sports than on academics, hespent his boyhood playing football and baseball,skating, swimming, dating, failing algebra threetimes, reading adventure stories, and just plainfooling around. It wasnt until he was above theage of seventeen that he read Tom Swift, and RoverBoys, and started to dabble into the books ofDickens. He passed through the public schoolsystem unscathed. His family remembered him as achild handy with tools, he even built their backporch and planted roses in the back yard. In briefArthur Miller was a very physical child.
Somepeople say that some of the basis for hiswonderful plays would never have been there if itwerent for his extremely active childhood.Withall of his great experiences and special childhoodwith two caring parents this set the tone for hiswritings and then prepared him to stand up intimes of tyranny and speak the truth. He used histalent to fight back against what was wrong in hissociety. His writing was unique in that itappealed to the reader not always from a action orromance level sometimes the reader was simplycaptivated through the realms of simple logic.This is shown in the way that he paralleled hiswork of The Crucible and what was going on intheir society. This in itself can be one of themost captivating aspects of a play. With thetwists and turns in the plot, the whole scheme canbe turned back and then revealed in a totallydifferent manner in the final act.
He knew whatcrowd he was appealing to and the approached thewriting in the way that it could best beappreciated.That is why Arthur Miller isconsidered one of the greatest play rights inAmerican history. Arthur Miller always addressedhis drama to a whole people asking a basicquestion and demanding an answer.
From thebeginning though he presented his question as asubtle message that was awaiting an answer. Hisfirst thirty plays were more for entertainmentwritten for strictly college, radio, and amateurperformance, almost a dozen of his full-lengthplays were never produced. In a sense Millerscharacters represent his history as well hisconvictions.
In his plays he tries to draw hischaracters from real past happenings, In exceptionto Focus all of his plays in some manner allude toand actual person or place.Arthur Miller feltthat the reader should never know too much aboutthe author. It seemed to create a feeling ofknowing something you shouldnt and began to poisonthe readers mind. In a way Millers feelings arequite on target. Though because of Millers manyreferences to personal experiences in some of hisplays it is important to know some objective factsof his life. Sometimes the themes are mottled,they can turn from a positive effect as in TheCrucible were truth and righteousness win out overtyranny in the town and of the time.
Thoughsometimes his plays did have the effect of leavingyou helpless, like Death of a Salesman, this playseemed to leave the reader in a down on a negativenote feeling quite insignificant.With the powerto not only inform the reader and carry out a plotbut to be able to control the readers feelings, isa gift. A gift that he truly beheld in his lifetime.
Bibliography: To much stuff-usf library andUT library.