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Arthur Miller

(1915-2005)

from "Fields of Vision by D.Delaney”

Life

Early years Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York City into a middle-class Jewish family whose economic standing suffered during the economic crisis of the Great Depression years. He studied journalism and then English at the University of Michigan, while producing a number of plays which were awarded important university prizes. In 1938 he started working as a freelance writer in New York.

The years of success His early plays were poorly received in New York. However, in 1947 he wrote All My Sons, which met with critical and public success. In 1949 Miller wrote his most famous work, Death of a Salesman. The play met with enthusiastic reviews and was a huge success. It received, among many other prestigious awards, the Pulitzer Prize.

The period of the Cold War in the USA was marked by the McCarthy investigations of citizens alleged to be involved with the Communist Party. The tense political situation inspired Miller’s work, The Crucible (1953), in which he used the seventeenth-century Salem witch hunts as an allegory for the McCarthy trials. The play and Miller’s left-wing views made him a target of McCarthy’s committee. He was called to testify on his political ideas and allegiances, and because he refused to co-operate he was condemned for contempt of Congress. The ruling was, however, later reversed.

Personal life The mid-50s  were also turbulent times in Miller’s personal life. He divorced his first wife and married Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. The marriage ended in divorce in 1961. The self-destructive central character of his highly autobiographical play After the Fall (1964) was openly modeled on the actress, who had just committed suicide.

Later works In the 1960s Miller produced two more plays: Incident at Vichy (1964), which explored the anti-Semitic ideas which led to the Holocaust, and The Price (1968), dealing with the themes of individual responsibility and guilt on which success is often based.

In the years 1970-1990 Miller did not concentrate on producing for the theatre. His plays are still staged on and off in theatres all over the world. A Hollywood version of The Crucible starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder appeared in 1996.

Works

Arthur Miller is regarded as one of the great American playwrights. In his works he skillfully presents strongly emotional conflicts and keen social criticism. His characters are often victims of their social or family background who are confronted with the consequences of their actions.

All My Sons One of Miller’s favorite themes is showing that many people attain the American Dream through making moral compromises that end up destroying their lives. All My Sons (1947), for example, is about a man who, during the Second World War, produced defective parts for aeroplanes to save his business from failing. The aircrafts crashed and the pilots died. Following this deceit the man loses both his sons. When he comes to the realization that the dead pilots were also "all his sons”, he accepts his responsibility for his crime and kills himself.

Death of a Salesman In Death of a Salesman, his most admired work, Miller exposes the bleak condition of a life blindly lived in pursuit of material success. Willy Loman is a travelling salesman who is fired after a lifetime of loyal service to a company. Unable to accept reality and to cope with his failure in life, he withdraws from the present and its unbearable truth and retreats to the past in his mind. The story is told through flashbacks that shift time backwards and forwards.

The theme of integrity in the face of adversity is central to The Crucible (1953). At the end of the play the protagonist is given the chance to save his own life by confessing to witchcraft and naming names, but he chooses not to betray his friends and is condemned to death.

Last works The theme of guilt leading to a man’s downfall, which is dealt in All My Sons, reappears in another successful work, A View from the Bridge, produced in 1955. In the play the social criticism which inspired Miller’s earlier plays is replaced by a strong emphasis on individual conflicts and responsibilities. When critics attacked this evolution, Miller returned, to his favorite theme of families and lives destroyed by the attempt to achieve success at any rate in The Price (1968).

Reputation Although Miller’s later plays have confirmed his reputation, it is the work that he produced in the 1950s that has earned him his place among America’s greatest playwrights.

 

External Links:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Miller          

 
 
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