Arthur Miller was an American playwright best known for his plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. His tragic plays captured the experience of the common man in the face of desperation.
Arthur Miller was an American playwright best known for his plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Miller was born in 1915 and lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. His father’s struggle to move forward after losing his business in the 1929 stock market crash greatly influenced Miller’s writing. A recurring theme throughout his tragic plays is the common man’s reaction in the face of desperation.
Miller attended the University of Michigan where he began writing plays for campus production. His first plays after college reflected the conflict between the individual and society, the pursuit of happiness and the psychological reality. This was evident in his first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck and his first critical success, All My Sons. In 1949, Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman, a tragedy featuring Willy Loman, an aging salesman who finds himself falling short of his own dreams of success.
In the 1950s, Miller entered into a more public phase of life after marrying actress Marilyn Monroe and making his way into Hollywood circles. During this time, Miller publicly reacted against McCarthyism, efforts by Senator Joseph McCarthy to stem communism’s growth in America by aggressively investigating citizens he accused of “un-American activities”. Such accusations and senate conclusions were often detrimental to the careers of the many accused artists, actors, and writers. Miller himself was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 and was declared in contempt of Congress for refusing to name people active in communist or other “anti-American” circles. The mania and destruction Miller perceived in McCarthyism found its way into his play The Crucible, which explores the social forces behind the Salem witch trials.
Although Miller did not win much national recognition again until the 1990s, his plays continued to explore similar themes. Miller combined his exploration of the American Dream with a social consciousness and concern for the working man. His plays address timeless questions of morality, hope, and despair and are still widely read and performed today.
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”
“I think the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity.”