Arthur Miller

Susan C.W. Abbotson

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Arthur Miller

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Arthur Asher Miller (b. 1915–d. 2005) was born in Harlem, New York. The successful clothing business his immigrant father had built up went bankrupt during the Great Depression, and the family relocated to Brooklyn. After working at an auto parts warehouse to finance college, Miller attended the University of Michigan from 1934 to 1938. He switched his major from journalism to English after successfully winning a university prize for playwrighting. After graduation he returned to New York to work on his plays, first for the Federal Theatre Project, until it closed down in 1939, and then for various radio stations. In 1940 he married his college girlfriend, Mary Slattery, with whom he would have two children, Jane and Robert. In 1944 he published his first book, Situation Normal . . . , about his experiences touring army camps, and had his first full-length play produced on Broadway—The Man Who Had All The Luck—which closed after six performances. Miller nearly quit writing plays and turned to fiction, producing a novel about American anti-Semitism: Focus (1945). Returning to drama, he achieved success in 1947 with All My Sons, about a man who tried to cover up selling faulty aircraft parts to the air force, and swiftly followed this with the now seminal Death of a Salesman (1949), which covers the last day of Willy Loman’s frustrated life. Miller continued to write a series of successful modern tragedies, including The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1956), as well as a variety of other plays, short fiction, and essays. In 1956 he would divorce his wife to marry the actress Marilyn Monroe, for whom he wrote the screenplay The Misfits (1961). After this marriage collapsed, he wed the Austrian photographer Inge Morath, with whom he would have two children, Rebecca and Daniel, and live happily for the next forty years. Miller’s reputation in America suffered for decades following his marriage to Monroe, even while he was lionized abroad. His drama continues to be regularly produced around the world. As his biographer, Christopher Bigsby, suggests, “[Miller] wrote metaphors rather than plays, and that is why they continue to live on the pulse, constantly reinvented, earthed in new realities” (Arthur Miller 1962–2005 [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2011], p. xii). Miller has been both hailed and scorned as “America’s conscience,” and his works are rooted in a profoundly humanistic philosophy that is fiercely patriotic, just as it is determined to bring attention to America’s flaws. His driving concern was to make a difference, convinced that theater was a public art that could do that.

Article.  17405 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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