At a Glance
Arthur 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.
Facts and Trivia
- 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.
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...
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