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Arthur Miller

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Theatre Appreciation


Of the list of American playwrights the one I thought I would find most interesting is Arthur Miller. Being relatively familiar with some of his work I wanted to learn more about him. Through the research I have done I have been able to find some very interesting information about Miller's work as well as his personal life.

Arthur Miller was born in New York on October 17, 1915. His father, Isidore Miller, was a ladies-wear manufacturer and shopkeeper whose business was ruined in the Great Depression. This obviously had a huge impact on the family's financial situation which in turn had a strong influence on Miller. The family was forced to move to a small frame house in Brooklyn, which is said to have been a model for the Brooklyn home in Death of a Salesman. Throughout his childhood Arthur's time was spent playing football, baseball, and reading adventure stories. After graduating from high school in 1932, Miller began working in an automobile parts warehouse in hopes of earning enough money to attend college. It was after reading Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov that Arthur Miller decided he wanted to become a writer. In the fall of 1934 Miller entered the University of Michigan where he began his study of journalism. During his years there he won several awards for his playwriting.

In 1938, after earning a degree in English, Miller returned to New York. There, he joined the Federal Theatre Project, and wrote scripts for such radio programs as Columbia Workshop (CBS) and Cavalcade of America (NBC). Arthur's personal life also progressed in 1940 when he married Mary Slattery with whom he later had two children. Because of a football injury, Arthur was exempt from the draft and was able to continue his work here. Though Miller would eventually become a highly acclaimed and very well known playwright, things didn't take off immediately. Miller's work eventually made it to Broadway starting with The Man Who Had all the Luck in 1944. It closed after four performances. Three years later he returned to Broadway producing All My Sons, the story of a factory owner who sells faulty aircraft parts during World War II. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. This being his first major award, his work would continue to receive critical acclaim for years, however there would still be ups and downs.

Arthur Miller's work varied over the next several years. In 1944 Arthur toured Army camps to collect background material for his screenplay The Story of GI Joe. Miller also wrote his first novel, Focus (1945), which was a story about anti-Semitism. In 1949 Miller's Death of a Salesman brought him international fame. This became probably one of his most well known pieces of work as well as a major achievement of modern American theatre. Death of a Salesman is a story about the quest for the American Dream. The salesman, Willy Loman, is a man of pride who is not the great success that he claims to be to his family and friends. Due to the postwar economic boom he looses his job and goes into a downward spiral. He begins to hallucinate about significant events from his past and eventually he comes to the conclusion that he is worth more dead than alive. Willy kills himself in his car, hoping that the insurance money will support his family and allow them to be better off. Critics have, for years, debated the meaning of the suicide as a selfless act in hopes of achieving the American Dream or merely an act of cowardice.

Along with Tennessee Williams, Miller became one of the best-known American playwrights after WWII. Miller was politically active throughout his life and the interest he had in politics was always expressed through his work. After the recognition Arthur Miller earned for his incredible work he did not continue on without controversy. Due to the communist scare that was tearing through the country and especially through the entertainment industry in the 1950's Miller was investigated for his involvement with the communist party. A committee of the United States Congress scrutinized many high profile people in the business including Arthur Miller. Senator Joseph McCarthy led the way in blacklisting many entertainers, preventing them from working. Miller himself was blacklisted after refusing to give information about others who had been suspected of involvement with the Communist Party, however it was later revoked. In 1953 he was even denied a passport to attend the Brussels premiere of his own play The Crucible, a play in which he expressed his faith in the ability of an individual to resist conformist pressures.

Whether it was the specific experience of being blacklisted by the government or another, Arthur Miller always wrote of social concerns relative to his audiences. Many who have seen or read his work agree that, as a member of the audience, you often feel as though you are looking in a mirror when observing his work. The talent Miller possesses is the ability to make you see yourself in a character whether you like what you see or not.

The Crucible, which was based on court records and historical personages of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, was another of Arthur Miller's biggest successes. Many see a connection between the witch hunts of 1692 and the communist scare during the 1950's. Miller told a story set in Salem where one could be hanged on the mere suggestion or suspicion of witchcraft. Miller created a story within history about the people of Salem and the rumors of witchcraft which spread quickly through their town. After the daughter of Salem's minister falls mysteriously ill, the widower, Reverend Samuel Parris, he became suspicious. The minister accused local Abigail Williams of wrongdoing, however, she managed to not only avoid the accusations but she turned them in another direction. With the help from others in town Abigail made accusations of witchcraft against townspeople whom they do not like. Abigail accused Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of an upstanding farmer, whom she had once seduced. Elizabeth's husband John Proctor revealed his past lechery; however, not aware of this, Elizabeth failed to confirm his testimony. To protect him she testified falsely that her husband had not been intimate with Abigail and Proctor was accused of witchcraft and



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