October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005
English 42 – Dr. Karen Rose
Arthur Miller was born in New York City and grew up in Harlem
and Brooklyn. He was the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants.
Miller’s coming of age was during the stock market crash of 1929
and the subsequent Great Depression. These events were the most
formative influences on Miller’s developing imagination.
Miller’s father owned a women’s clothing store, but the family lost
almost everything after the stock market crash. As a teenager, Miller
sold bread every morning to help the family. After graduating from
high school, he worked at several menial jobs to save money for his
From the misfortunes of the Depression came Miller’s conviction that
behind the uncertainties of life, there were certain hidden laws that the
artist must probe and try to explain.
Miller attended the University of Michigan, and he planned to
become a journalist. His receipt of the Avery Hopwood Prize for his
first play redirected his ambitions and changed his life.
In 1938, at age 23, he graduated with a B.A. in English. He joined the
Federal Theater Project, a New Deal agency established to provide
jobs in theater.
In 1940, Miller married his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, the Catholic
daughter of an insurance salesman. They had two children, Jane and
Miller was exempted from military service during World War II because
of a high school football injury to his left kneecap.
At age 29, Miller had his first Broadway production, The Man Who
had All the Luck (1944). It opened on November 23, 1944 at the
Forrest Theater, where it ran for only 4 performances. What a
The play's failure nearly derailed Miller's career.
Miller’s next play, All My Sons (1947),
was a tremendous success and
skyrocketed Miller to national
The play opened on Broadway at the
Coronet Theater, and it ran for 328
performances. It won the prestigious
Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
Miller won his first Tony Award for
With the proceeds from All My Sons,
Miller bought a farm in Connecticut
where he moved with his wife and
two young children.
It was there that Miller wrote Death of a
Salesman, the work that established his
Death of a Salesman premiered on
Broadway on February 10, 1949 at the
Morosco Theatre. It was performed
The play was commercially successful
and critically acclaimed, winning a
Tony Award for Best Author, the New
York Drama Circle Critics' Award, and
the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
It was the first play to win all
three of these major awards.
Celebrity brought Miller financial security, but it also made him a
more visible target for critics opposed to his humanitarian and leftwing views.
His adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1950) and his own
The Crucible (1953) were resented by some as criticisms of the
activities of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Formed in 1938, this committee was an investigative agency of the
United States House of Representatives. During the 1940s and 1950s,
the committee investigated purported security risks, especially those
supposedly with ties to Communist groups and governments.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities took an interest in
Miller not long after The Crucible opened, denying him a passport to
attend the play's London opening in 1954.
In 1956, Miller was subpoenaed to appear before the House
Committee. His refusal to give the names of writers whom he had
seen at a communist writer’s meeting in 1947 resulted in a citation
for contempt of Congress and a fine of $500.
He appealed his case to the Supreme Court and was acquitted in
During these years, the turmoil in Miller’s career was paralleled by
developments in his private life. In 1956, he divorced his first wife to
marry Marilyn Monroe.
Besieged by the press, the couple found temporary haven in England,
where Miller wrote a number of short stories, turning one of them into
his first film script, The Misfits.
The Misfits was directed by John Huston and starred Marilyn Monroe
and Clark Gable.
Miller later said that the filming was one of the lowest points in his
life. Shortly before the film's premiere in 1961, after five years of
marriage, the pair divorced.
19 months later, Monroe died of a possible drug overdose
Miller’s next play, After the Fall (1964) is viewed by many to be about his
experiences during his marriage to Monroe. The play is often criticized
for being a betrayal to Monroe. In the play, the female protagonist,
Maggie, bares a striking resemblance in personality traits and
mannerisms to Monroe.
Shortly after the play debuted, Miller wrote an article for Life magazine
where he denied that Maggie was a representation of Marilyn and stated
that she was only “a character in a play about the human animal’s
unwillingness or inability to discover in himself the seeds of his own
In 1962, Miller married Austrian-born
photographer, Inge Morath. They had two children.
Their son, Daniel, was born with Down syndrome.
Their daughter, Rebecca, is a director and
screenplay writer. She is married to actor, Daniel
Day Lewis, whom she met when he and her father
were preparing the film version of The Crucible.
Arthur Miller and Inge Morath were married until
her death in 2002.
Arthur Miller died of congestive heart
failure at the age of 89.
His career as a writer spanned over
seven decades, and he leaves behind a
distinguished body of work: 35 stage
plays, 19 radio plays, 4 screenplays, 1
novel, several short stories, and many
Miller won virtually every award a writer can earn. However,
nothing he achieved is likely to eclipse the legacy of Death of a
Salesman, his most celebrated and most produced play.
Originally, to be called “The Inside of His Head,” the play combines
traditional realism with expressionistic techniques that enable Miller
to explore areas of the subjective life inaccessible to conventional
Death of a Salesman is arguably the most subversive play ever written in
and about America. It portrays middle-class domesticity as a trap in
which all the symbols of a good life – a devoted spouse, healthy children,
and house that’s almost paid off – ultimately matter less than the
insurance policy that shows you’re “worth more dead than alive.”
Willy Loman, the salesman who was
beaten down by the system he so
strongly believed in, still has a message
for us today.
As unemployment rates are close to 10%, as pension plans are phased out
of corporate America, and as the future of Social Security seems up for
grabs, 63-year-old’s Willy’s desperate situation has become newly
relevant. Certainly, Willy Loman’s chilling realizations resonate.
Willy is a man whose sense of self-worth comes from what he’s earned,
and it is likely that we all know at least one person who feels that way.