Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Considered one of the foremost dramatists in the United States, Miller has penetrated the American consciousness and gained worldwide recognition for his probing dramas of social awareness.
On October 17, 1915, Arthur Miller, son of Jewish immigrants, was born in Manhattan in New York. His father, Isadore, ran a prosperous garment business, and his mother, Augusta Barnett, was at onetime a school teacher. When Isadore’s firm began to fail in 1928, the Millers moved to Brooklyn, an area that would be the model for the settings of All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949). He inherited a strong sense of mysticism from his mother that would inform his later work. As a young boy, Miller came to resent his father’s withdrawal from failure. The figure of the failed father would play a significant role in Miller’s plays.
The young Miller came of age during the Great Depression, and seeing once-prosperous people on the streets begging for work deeply affected him. To Miller, the Depression signified the failure of a system and the tragedy of a generation of people who would blame this failure on themselves. The Depression’s impact on the aspects of personal success and failure would lead Miller to probe into individuals’ relations to their work and the price they had to pay for success or lack of it.
Like Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman, Miller was more of an athlete than a scholar. He read mostly adventure novels and some Charles Dickens. Unable to get into college, he worked for his father and became moved by the sad plight of salesmen. After a series of odd jobs, Miller worked in an auto parts warehouse, where he was able to save $500 for college on a $15-per-week job. He recreated this experience in A Memory of Two Mondays (1955). While working, Miller became an avid reader and was especially impressed with Fyodor Dostoevski’s Bratya Karamazovy (1879-1880; The Brothers Karamazov, 1912), a novel that focuses on a failed father, fraternal rivalry, and a trial motif, themes that would repeatedly occur in Miller’s works.
After much convincing, Miller finally got accepted into the University of Michigan, where he became interested in social causes and began to form his liberal philosophy. He studied playwriting under Kenneth Rowe and won two Hopwood Awards, in 1936, for “No Villain” and in 1937, for “Honor at Dawn.” In 1938, he won the Theater Guild National Award for “They Too Arise.” Following the style of the 1930’s, Miller’s early plays focus on young idealists fighting to eliminate social injustice. After college, he worked for the Federal Theater Project and wrote radio scripts. In 1944, he tried to recreate the feelings of the ordinary soldier in his screenplay for The Story of G. I. Joe but was thwarted by motion-picture executives who wanted him to romanticize his work. That same year, he had his first Broadway production, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944). This drama of a man dismayed by his incredible success was a flop.
After this initial failure, Miller rose up to become one of the United States’ leading playwrights and gained an international reputation. In 1947, Miller achieved his first success with All My Sons, the tragedy of Joe Keller who, in order to save his business, sells defective airplane parts to the military and leaves his partner to bear the blame. He indirectly becomes responsible for the death of his own son, who condemns his father’s action and flies a suicide mission. Faced with the guilt for many deaths, Keller kills himself.
In 1949, Death of a Salesman achieved unprecedented critical acclaim and established Miller as a significant American playwright. Willy Loman, an unsuccessful salesman, relives his past, trying to discover the reasons for his failure. Unable to accept failure, he pressures his son into far-fetched business schemes and commits suicide in order to leave his son the legacy of his insurance. In 1949, Death of a Salesman won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The play ran for 742 performances. In 1966, the television production played to seventeen million people. In 1975, it was successfully produced at the Circle in the Square with George C. Scott in the lead; in 1984, it played Broadway again with Dustin Hoffman in the lead. In 1985, Hoffman was featured in a new television production of the play. Furthermore, Death of a Salesman has been acclaimed and produced around the world. In his book Salesman in Beijing (1984), Miller documents an unprecedented Chinese production. The play still appears in most college anthologies and continues to be taught as an American classic.
Disturbed by the repressive...
(The entire section is 2005 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
IntroductionArthur Miller defined American theater in the 1950s with seminal plays such as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. But he was not simply a literary phenomenon. He became a pop-culture sensation when he married Marilyn Monroe in 1956. On the whole, his works are about an individual’s struggle with an oftentimes indifferent, harsh, or irrational society—something he learned about firsthand when he stood against Senator Eugene McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Before his death in 1996, Miller had also written screenplays, novels, short stories, nonfiction, and an autobiography. He based his works on his family, his friends, and his own life, and he filled them with the rage, the love, and the self-doubt that Miller himself felt.
- Miller got the idea for Death of a Salesman from his uncle Manny, who was a salesman. Manny came to the opening of Miller’s earlier play All My Sons and bragged about his two unfortunate sons. Salesman opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, and closed 742 performances later on November 18, 1950
- Due to an old football injury, Miller was ineligible for military service during World War II, so he wrote patriotic plays for the radio. He also volunteered to repair military boats in New York harbor.
- Miller’s honors include the Pulitzer Prize, seven Tony Awards, two Drama Critics Circle Awards, an Obie, an Olivier, the John F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, and honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford University and Harvard University.
- Miller was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956, the same year he married Marilyn Monroe. He refused to give up the names of any people he thought might be Communists and was cited for contempt of Congress. The Supreme Court reversed this ruling in 1958.
- Miller’s most fateful personal decision was to marry Marilyn Monroe. The tabloids called it a marriage between “the Owl and the Pussycat,” the union of intellect and beauty. Labeled as Miller’s femme fatale, Monroe helped destroy his reputation and was the only person he ever allowed to keep him from writing.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Miller examined both the psychological and sociological makeup of his troubled characters. His heroes are common men who relentlessly pursue either their firm convictions or their misguided illusions. Using family relationships as starting points, Miller’s plays confront moral dilemmas, focusing on the individual’s responsibility to be true to himself or herself as well as part of the human race. His concern with the ordinary individual’s struggle for self-definition in a troubled world not only made him a renowned American playwright but gained for him a worldwide reputation as well. He is one of the most frequently studied playwrights in the American canon.
Arthur Miller first achieved success as a dramatist with All My Sons. Death of a Salesman, widely regarded as Miller’s most important play, contains many of the themes of identity that give distinction to Miller’s plays: the tension between father and son, the dangerous material lure of the American Dream, the influence of memory on the formation of personality, and the common man in a tragic situation.
Partly in response to the anticommunist hysteria that was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities that swept the nation in the early 1950’s, Miller wrote...
(The entire section is 270 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Arthur Miller grew up in New York City with an older brother and a younger sister. His father was a prosperous businessperson until the Crash of 1929, after which the family suffered through the Depression, a period that had a major impact on Miller’s sense of himself, his family, and his society, and one that figures prominently in many of his dramas, essays, and stories. During the Depression, Miller drove trucks, unloaded cargoes, waited on tables, and worked as a clerk in a warehouse. These jobs brought him close to the kind of working-class characters who appear in his plays. His observation of his father’s fall from financial security and of the way the people immediately around him had to struggle for even a modicum of...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Along with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller is usually considered the most important American playwright of the generation that came out of World War II. Miller grew up in a Jewish family in Harlem and in Brooklyn in the years just preceding the Depression. His father, Isidore, was a prosperous businessman until the stock market crash led to the collapse of the economy and to a scarring of his son’s psyche from which he never fully recovered. Arthur Miller spent the 1930’s in a series of odd jobs, including a period in a warehouse that he movingly recollects in A Memory of Two Mondays. He read Fyodor Dostoevski on New York subways and dreamed of attending college. In 1938 he fulfilled his dream, attending the...
(The entire section is 1026 words.)
Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City. He spent his early years in comfortable circumstances, until his father, Isidore, a prosperous manufacturer, lost his wealth in the economic devastation of the Great Depression. After completing high school, Miller had to take a job in a Manhattan warehouse.
He had not been much of a student, but after reading Dostoevsky's great novel The Brothers Karamazov, he decided that he was destined to become a writer. He had trouble getting into college but was eventually accepted at the University of Michigan, where he began his apprenticeship as a writer and won several student awards for his work.
After college he returned to New York and worked briefly as a radio script writer, then tried his hand at writing for the stage commercially. His first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), closed after only four performances, but it did win a Theater Guild award and revealed the young writer's potential.
He had more success with Focus (1945), a novel dealing with anti-Semitism. In fact, at the time he wrote All My Sons (1947), his first dramatic hit, he was better known as a writer of fiction than as a playwright.
All My Sons established Miller's standing as a bright and extremely talented dramatist. The play had a good run and won Miller his first New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. Even the least favorable commentators recognized the playwright's great promise.
Miller followed All My Sons with three of his most critically and commercially successful plays: Death of Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), and A View from the Bridge (1955). In these works, Miller attempted to show that tragedy could be written about ordinary people struggling to maintain personal dignity at critical moments in their lives. With these plays, Miller joined Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams in what in the post-World War II years was generally recognized as the great triumvirate of the American theater.
Miller, a political leftist, gained some notoriety in the 1950s when he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and was held in contempt of Congress. From this experience he found thematic material for one of his most famous and controversial plays, The Crucible, which focuses on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
After the 1955 production of A View from the Bridge, Miller took a nine-year hiatus from playwriting. In the interim, Miller married and divorced the famous actress, Marilyn Monroe. He did adapt one of his stories, The Misfits, as a screen vehicle for his celebrated wife but did not complete another Broadway play until 1964, when both After the Fall and Incident at Vichy were produced. The former play, considered Miller's most experimental play, is also his darkest work, with many autobiographical parallels.
His last Broadway success was The Price, produced in 1968. After his next play, The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), failed on Broadway, Miller stopped premiering works in New York. He continued to write plays, and enjoyed some success, but nothing that matched that of his earliest works. Many of his later plays were short one-act plays and works comprised of sketches or vignettes.
His greatest triumphs remain Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Both have been revived with great success. In 1999, for example, the New York production of Death of a Salesman garnered four Tony awards, including one for best revival and one for best direction. At the age of eighty-four, Miller was also presented with a special, lifetime achievement award for his great contributions to the American theater. Miller died from congestive heart failure on February 10, 2005, in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Arthur Miller, son of Jewish immigrants, was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City. His father, Isadore, born in Austria, ran a prosperous garment business, and his mother, Augusta Barnett Miller, was a schoolteacher. When his father’s firm began to fail in 1928, the Millers moved to a suburban area of Brooklyn, an area that would be the model for the settings of All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949). From his mother, Miller inherited a strong sense of mysticism that would inform much of his later work. As a young boy, Miller resented his father’s withdrawal, which was caused by his business failure. The figure of the failed father would later play a significant role in Miller’s writing....
(The entire section is 1053 words.)
Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City, the son of Isidore and Augusta Miller. His father lost his wealth during the Great Depression of the 1920s and the family, like many others, suffered economic hardship and could not afford to send him to college. Miller worked for two years in an automobile parts warehouse, earning enough money to attend the University of Michigan in 1934, where he studied history and economics. He graduated in 1938.
Benefitting from the U.S. Government's Federal Theatre Project, Miller began learning about the craft of the theatre, working with such skilled writers and directors as Clifford Odets (Waiting for Lefty) and Elia Kazan (the famous film and theatre director who later produced Miller's best-known work, Death of a Salesman). His first Broadway production, The Man Who Had All the Luck, opened in 1944 and ran for only four performances. After working as a journalist (work that included coverage of World War II) and writing a novel about anti-Semitism, Miller had his first real success on Broadway with All My Sons (1947); he followed this in 1949 with Death of a Salesman. Along with another early play, A View from the Bridge, and The Crucible, these are the plays for which Miller is best known—though he has continued to write successfully, including a 1996 screenplay adaptation of The Crucible for a major motion picture.
In the 1940s and 1950s, because of his Jewish faith and his liberal political views, Miller was very much involved in contemporary debates that criticized the shortcomings of modern American society-particularly those dealing with inequalities in labor and race. It was also these political areas that were considered suspicious by Joseph McCarthy and his cronies, who sought to expose and erase Communism in America. Miller's association with people and organizations targeted by McCarthy's House Committee on Un-American Activities solidified his belief in the evils of blind persecution (while there may have been Communists who were bad people and a threat to America, this did not mean that all Communists were like-minded and posed a threat to the American way of life).
Earlier, Miller had written an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 1884 play, An Enemy of the People, which, according to his introduction, questioned "whether the democratic guarantees protecting political minorities ought to be set aside in time of crisis." As his later writing in The Crucible suggests, Miller did not believe that Communism was a threat that warranted the response provided by McCarthyism. U.S. authorities disagreed, however, and in 1954 when Miller was invited to Brussels to see a production of that play, the State Department denied him a visa. He then wrote a satirical piece called A Modest Proposal for the Pacification of the Public Temper, which denied that he supported the Communist cause. Nevertheless, he was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee where, although his passport was conditionally restored, he nonetheless refused to give the names of people he had seen at Communist meetings. Because he refused to expose these people, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress in 1957.
In his personal life, Miller married Mary Grace Slattery in 1940; in 1956 they were divorced. In June 1956 he married Marilyn Monroe, the famous actress, and their marriage ended in 1961. Monroe subsequently committed suicide. Since 1962, Miller has been married to Ingeborg Morath, a photojournalist. He has four children, two each from his first and third marriages.