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Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller (1915-2005) was an American playwright, screenwriter, and essayist. Winner of several Tony Awards, he was one of the most prominent American playwrights of the 20th century and was known for his ability to write engaging stories that tackled complex themes such as the American Dream, identity, and morality. He was also known for his political activism and outspoken criticism of the government and society, which led him to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. Despite the challenges he faced, Miller remained a vital voice in American literature until his death in 2005. 

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Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller (1915-2005) was an American playwright, screenwriter, and essayist. Winner of several Tony Awards, he was one of the most prominent American playwrights of the 20th century and was known for his ability to write engaging stories that tackled complex themes such as the American Dream, identity, and morality. He was also known for his political activism and outspoken criticism of the government and society, which led him to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. Despite the challenges he faced, Miller remained a vital voice in American literature until his death in 2005.

Arthur Miller, Portrait, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Arthur Miller is best known for his plays The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, and for being married to Marilyn Munroe.

Arthur Miller: biography

Arthur Miller's Biography
Birth:17th October 1915
Death:10th February 2005
Father:Isidore Miller
Mother:Augusta Barnett
Spouse/Partners:Mary Slattery (1940-1956)Marilyn Monroe (1956-1961)Inge Morath (1962-2002)Agnes Barley (2002-2005)
Children:4
Cause of death:Bladder cancer and heart failure
Famous Works:
Nationality:American
Literary Period:Postmodernism, Realism

On 17 October 1915, Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York City. He was of Jewish and Polish descent. His father, Isidore Miller, owned a clothing manufacturing business which he lost because of the Wall Street stock-market crash of 1929. Subsequently, the family moved to Brooklyn.

Miller delivered bread to make ends meet and worked other odd jobs to save up money for his college tuition fees. Miller described growing up during the Great Depression in a memoir piece called A Boy Grew in Brooklyn (1955).

Miller started writing when he began his studies at the University of Michigan. In 1936, Miller wrote his first play, No Villain, which went on to receive the Avery Hopwood Award. This recognition gave young Miller the idea that he could have a career as a playwright. In 1938, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English. Because of an injury, he didn't have to serve in the army during World War II. In 1940, Miller married Mary Slattery, and they had two children.

He started writing All My Sons in 1941. His first Broadway production, The Man Who Had All the Luck, premiered in 1944. However, the play wasn't received well, and it closed after only four performances. In 1947, Miller produced All My Sons as a second attempt to succeed on Broadway. If the play failed, this might have been his last attempt.

Luckily, All My Sons turned out to be a huge success, and Miller won the Tony Award. From that point onwards, success followed. Death of a Salesman premiered in 1949, winning several awards. It was directed by Elia Kazan, who became a good friend and creative partner to Miller. In 1951, Miller met Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe, and they had an affair.

In 1952, Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller had a falling out. In American history, the period from the late 1940s to the 1950s is known for 'McCarthyism', referring to the policies introduced by Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) against people who were suspected of communist activities. Kazan was called before the HUAC investigation committee (the House of Un-American Activities Committee), where he gave the names of people in the New York City theatre community who were involved in communism.

As a response to Kazan's betrayal, Miller wrote The Crucible, which premiered in 1953. The dramatist based the play on the Salem witch trials of 1692-93 in Massachusetts, in which people were prosecuted and executed for alleged witchcraft, but it was also an allegory for McCarthyism.

In 1956, Miller divorced Mary Slattery and married Marilyn Monroe. The same year, he appeared before HUAC and refused to save himself from scandal by giving the names of other people involved in supposed communist activities. Miller was convicted for contempt, and he lost some of his privileges, including his US passport. Two years later, in 1958, the case was overruled.

In 1960, Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay for The Misfits, a film directed by John Huston and starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. At this point, Miller's marriage was falling apart. The following year, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe had a divorce.

Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were married for 5 years.

In 1962, Miller married Austrian photographer Inge Morath, and the couple had two children. Their son, Daniel, had Down syndrome. Miller sent him to institutions, and he wasn't keen on visiting him. In 1964, two of Miller's most well-known plays, After the Fall and Incident at Vichy, were produced. After the Fall was based on the playwright's marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and the play reunited him with Elia Kazan.

In the late 1960s, Miller's works were banned in the Soviet Union because he spoke out for the freedom of dissident writers (writers who openly disagreed with the Soviet ideology). For the rest of his career, Miller kept writing plays, screenplays, and essays while continuing to explore and experiment with theatre.

In 1987, he published his autobiography, Timebends. Miller received several awards for his achievements, including the National Medal of Arts (1993), the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award (1998), and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (1999), among others.

Inge Morath died in 2002. In 2004, Miller announced that he was in a relationship with a much younger woman, the minimalist painter Agnes Barley. He intended to marry her, but he died on 10 February 2005 at the age of 89 in his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Arthur Miller had a writing career that spanned over half a century. His legacy includes 25 plays, numerous screenplays, essays, novels, and short stories.

Arthur Miller: plays

Arthur Miller's most famous works are All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible.

All My Sons

All My Sons is a three-act play by Arthur Miller. It was written in 1946 and premiered on 19 January 1947 at the Coronet Theatre in New York City. The play was dedicated to its director, Elia Kazan. All My Sons won the Tony Award for Best Author and the Tony Award for Best Director.

All My Sons is based on a true story. It follows the immoral businessman, Joe Keller, whose son went missing during World War II. The play explores issues surrounding the economic interpretation of the American dream.

Chris: I don't know why it is, but every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull back because other people will suffer.

(Act 1)

The American dream is the idea that every American citizen, no matter where they come from and what social class they belong to, can aspire to be successful in life. The American dream is based on the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which states that all people should have equal opportunities.

Did you know that the band Twenty One Pilots is named after All My Sons? In the play, Joe Keller sends faulty aeroplane parts during World War II and doesn't admit his error because he is afraid he might lose money. This results in the death of exactly 21 pilots.

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is a two-act play by Arthur Miller. It was written in 1948 and premiered on 10 February 1949 at the Morosco Theatre in New York City. Death of a Salesman won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play is a tragedy set in New York City in the 1940s. Told through a montage of memories, it follows a travelling salesman, Willy Loman, as he struggles to survive in a success-driven society. Death of a Salesman explores the place of an everyday man in society and the pressures of the American dream.

Willy: [...] You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit.

(Act 2)

Arthur Miller: The Crucible

Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a four-act play. It was first performed on 22 January 1953 at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City.

The play is about the Salem witch trials of 1692-93. Miller used this historical event to allude to his own time, the 1950s. The witch hunt is an allegory for McCarthyism and the persecution of Americans involved in communist activities. The Crucible discusses what suspicion and fear can do to a community.

Proctor: I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it.

(Act 4)

Arthur Miller: writing style

Arthur Miller's writing style is often characterized as a mixture of realism and expressionism. He is known for writing plays that explore social and political issues, often through the lens of the individual experience. His dialogue is often naturalistic, with characters speaking in a vernacular that reflects their backgrounds and social status. Miller's writing also features elements of symbolism, as he uses objects and actions to represent larger ideas and themes.

Miller's plays often employ a non-linear narrative structure, with flashbacks and jumps in time to explore the psychological and emotional complexities of his characters. He is known for creating strong, complex female characters, who are often at the centre of his plays. Miller's writing also frequently explores the idea of the American Dream and the ways in which social and economic forces can prevent individuals from achieving it.

Miller's writing style is marked by a deep interest in the human experience and a commitment to exploring the ways in which social and political structures impact individual lives. His work is often characterized by a sense of urgency, and a belief in the transformative power of storytelling.

Arthur Miller: main themes

Let's discuss three of the main themes in Arthur Miller's works: society vs the individual, guilt and blame, and the American dream.

Society vs the individual

Arthur Miller explores the complex relationship between individuals and the rest of society. The characters in Miller's plays try to follow the ways of society, but at the same time, they have their own inner guidance.

In Death of a Salesman, the main character Willy Loman maintains false beliefs about himself and his sons that don't match the way that society perceives them.

In The Crucible, the character John Proctor refuses to confess to something he hasn't done, even when his life depends on it. His personal integrity is more important to him than conforming to what his community expects of him.

Guilt and blame

In his works, Miller explores the guilt that is a part of a person's inner world and the blame that triggers it from the outside.

The Crucible is a play that describes the moral degradation of a community operating on blame. The people of Salem are forced to admit they're guilty of crimes they didn't commit. The cycle of accusation leads to hysteria, and it exposes the cruellest side of human nature.

In All My Sons, Joe Keller is plagued by the guilt that he doesn't admit to. When he is blamed for his actions, he keeps coming up with excuses.

The American Dream

Miller was critical of the American dream ideal and the decisions American people resort to taking in order to achieve it.

Death of a Salesman explores the romanticised view that Willy Loman has of the American dream. In theory, equal opportunity to achieve high goals is a good idea. However, in the play, Miller shows us that the competition and pressures that this idea creates can destroy a person's life.

Arthur Miller's importance to English Literature

Arthur Miller is one of the most influential American playwrights whose name is recognised all over the world. His plays are considered classics in the canon of American drama.

The realism in Miller's works depicts the society in which the characters coexist. At the same time, through the use of expressionist techniques, the dramatist shows the audience the inner reality of the characters.

Realism in theatre aims to mirror real life on stage. There are several dramatic techniques that help to achieve that, including a realistic set and costumes, linear narrative structure, and authentic rather than poetic dialogues.

Expressionism in theatre is known for its exaggerated (rather than realistic) dramatic techniques and staging that are used to express the inner emotions of the characters to the audience. Expressionist techniques include abstract settings, episodic structures, and fragmented dialogues.

Arthur Miller's plays are still popular in many countries, but they are especially popular in the place they were first staged – on Broadway in New York City.

Arthur Miller - Key takeaways

  • Arthur Miller was an American dramatist, screenwriter, and essayist. He was one of the most influential American playwrights of the 20th century. Miller has won several Tony Awards.
  • On 17 October 1915, Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York City. He died on 10 February 2005 in his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
  • Between 1956 and 1961, Arthur Miller was married to Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe.
  • Arthur Miller's most well-known plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), and The Crucible (1953).
  • The main themes in Miller's works are society vs the individual, guilt and blame, and the American dream.

Frequently Asked Questions about Arthur Miller

The 3 interesting facts about Arthur Miller are:

1. Arthur Miller was of Jewish and Polish descent.

2. In the late 1960s, Miller's works were banned in the Soviet Union because he spoke out for the freedom of dissident writers (writers who openly disagreed with the Soviet ideology).

3. Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay for The Misfits (1961), a film starring Marilyn Monroe, while his marriage to her was falling apart.

Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York City.

Arthur Miller died in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Arthur Miller is famous for exploring both the inner world of his characters and the external societal issues they face. His most well-known play is Death of a Salesman (1949). Arthur Miller is also known for his marriage to Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe.

In his plays, Arthur Miller was critical of the American dream ideal and the decisions American people resort to taking in order to achieve it.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

How does Willy justify his sucide?

The seeds are NOT a symbol of....?

Which member of the Loman family breaks free from the illusions they live on?

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