When the young playwright Arthur Miller began writing All My Sons, he was embarking on a project that would be either the beginning or the end of his career. His first and only play to be produced on Broadway, The Man Who Had All the Luck, was an...
Arthur Miller was one of the leading American playwrights of the twentieth century. He was born in October 1915 in New York City to a women's clothing manufacturer, who lost everything in the economic collapse of the 1930s. Living through young adulthood during the Great Depression, Miller was shaped by the poverty that surrounded him. The Depression demonstrated to the playwright the fragility and vulnerability of human existence in the modern era. After graduating from high school, Miller worked in a warehouse so that he could earn enough money to attend the University of Michigan, where he began to write plays.
Miller's first play to make it to Broadway, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), was a dismal failure, closing after only four performances. This early setback almost discouraged Miller from writing completely, but he gave himself one more try. Three years later, All My Sons won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award as the best play of 1947, launching Miller into theatrical stardom. All My Sons, a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials, was strongly influenced by the naturalist drama of Henrik Ibsen. Along with Death of a Salesman (his most enduring success), All My Sons and The Man Who Had All the Luck form a thematic trilogy of plays about love triangles involving fathers and sons. The drama of the family is at the core of all of Miller's major plays, but nowhere is it more prominent than in the realism of All My Sons and the impressionism of Death of a Salesman.
Death of a Salesman (1949) secured Miller's reputation as one of the nation's foremost playwrights. Death of a Salesman mixes the tradition of social realism that informs most of Miller's work with a more experimental structure that includes fluid leaps in time as the protagonist, Willy Loman, drifts into memories of his sons as teenagers. Loman represents an American archetype, a victim of his own delusions of grandeur and obsession with success, which haunt him with a sense of failure.
Miller won a Tony Award for Death of a Salesman as well as a Pulitzer Prize. The play has been frequently revived in film, television, and stage versions that have included actors such as Dustin Hoffman, George C. Scott and, most recently, Brian Dennehy in the part of Willy Loman.
Miller followed Death of a Salesman with his most politically significant work, The Crucible (1953), a tale of the Salem witch trials that contains obvious analogies to the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings in 1950s America. The highly controversial nature of the politics of The Crucible, which lauds those who refuse to name names, led to the play's mixed response. In later years, however, it has become one of the most studied and performed plays of American theater.
Three years after The Crucible, in 1956, Miller found himself persecuted by the very force that he warned against, when he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller refused to name people he allegedly saw at a Communist writers' meeting a decade before, and he was convicted of contempt. He later won an appeal.
Also in 1956, Miller married actress Marilyn Monroe. The two divorced in 1961, one year before her death. That year Monroe appeared in her last film, The Misfits, which is based on an original screenplay by Miller. After divorcing Monroe, Miller wed Ingeborg Morath, to whom he remained married until his death in 2005. The pair had a son and a daughter.
Miller also wrote the plays A Memory of Two Mondays and the short A View from the Bridge, which were both staged in 1955. His other works include After the Fall (1964), a thinly veiled account of his marriage to Monroe, as well as The Price (1967), The Archbishop's Ceiling (1977), and The American Clock (1980). His most recent works include the plays The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), The Last Yankee (1993), and Broken Glass (1993), which won the Olivier Award for Best Play.
Although Miller did not write frequently for film, he did pen an adaptation for the 1996 film version of The Crucible starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, which garnered him an Academy Award nomination. Miller's daughter Rebecca married Day-Lewis in 1996.
Study Guides on Works by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is a fictional retelling of events in American history surrounding the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century. Yet, is as much a product of the time in which Arthur Miller wrote it - the early 1950s - as it is description of...
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman stems from both Arthur Miller's personal experiences and the theatrical traditions in which the playwright was schooled. The play recalls the traditions of Yiddish theater that focus on family as the...