This sample Arthur Miller Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Arthur Miller was one of the major dramatists of the twentieth century. He is frequently ranked with other great figures of American drama as Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. Although Miller’s eminence as a dramatist is based primarily on four plays he wrote early in his career, he remained active during a more than sixty-year career, earning awards and premiering new plays until his death at age 89.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
From Mediocrity to Award-Winning Dramatist
Miller was born and raised in New York City, the son of a prosperous businessman who lost his wealth during the Great Depression. A mediocre high school student with little interest in academic pursuits, Miller’s initial application to the University of Michigan was rejected. He was eventually accepted at the University, however, and there began writing for the stage, showing distinct promise as a dramatist and winning several student awards. For a short time after college, he was employed as a scriptwriter for radio plays. Although he found the demands of broadcast writing restrictive, this period, together with his college years, served as a valuable apprenticeship for Miller.
Miller’s first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, was produced in 1944. Although it lasted only four performances, the play nevertheless won a Theatre Guild award and established Miller as an important young playwright. With the production of Death of a Salesman in 1949, Miller firmly established his reputation as an outstanding American dramatist. This famous play focuses on the emotional deterioration of Willy Loman, an aging and unsuccessful salesman, who can hardly distinguish between his memories of a brighter past and his setbacks in the dismal present. In the course of the play Willy grapples with the loss of his job and the failure of his two grown sons to achieve wealth, and with it, presumably, happiness. The play was understood to be a scathing indictment of the American system and received overwhelming critical and public acclaim from its initial production.
A Suspected Communist
Miller followed Death of a Salesman with an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1950) and, in 1953, The Crucible. Perhaps Miller’s most controversial drama, this work is based upon the witch trials held in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. Featuring historical characters drawn from this period, The Crucible addresses the complex moral dilemmas of John Proctor, a man wrongly accused of practicing witchcraft. Through his depiction of the mass frenzy of the witch hunt, Miller examines the social and psychological aspects of group pressure and its effect on individual ethics, dignity, and beliefs.
It was through the themes in The Crucible that Miller explored and criticized the climate of the early 1950s, in which fear of communism led many national leaders to suspect their fellow Americans of conspiring to overthrow the government. Miller and several of his theater associates became targets for persecution, and in 1957 Miller was himself called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was charged with investigating suspected threats of subversion and communist propaganda in the United States. Although Miller admitted to the committee that he had attended a meeting of communist writers, he refused to identify anyone he had met there and denied ever having been a member of the Communist Party. As a result, he was found guilty of contempt of Congress. This conviction was later overturned.
Miller’s next offering, produced in 1955, consisted of two one-act plays: A Memory of Two Mondays—a semi-autobiographical piece reflecting Miller’s own experiences as a young man working in an auto parts warehouse— and A View from the Bridge, for which the playwright won his third New York Drama Critics Circle Award. He later expanded this play to two acts. Given Miller’s attempts to establish a new, modern form of tragedy, A View from the Bridge is significant in that it exhibits many similarities to classical Greek tragedy.
A Break from Playwriting and a Decline in Popularity
A nine-year break from playwriting followed A View from the Bridge, during which period Miller embarked on his highly publicized marriage to, and subsequent divorce from, the famous movie actress Marilyn Monroe. Before they separated, however, Miller adapted one of his short stories into the screenplay The Misfits (1961) as a vehicle for his wife to demonstrate her acting abilities.
Miller returned to the theater in 1964 with two new works, After the Fall and Incident at Vichy. These plays explored a theme new to Miller’s work: man’s hopeless alienation from himself and others. Critics attribute the shift in his work to Miller’s emotional response to the horrors of World War II as well as to his personal problems, both of which may have led the dramatist to reject his earlier vision of possible social harmony among humankind. In 1968, Miller returned to realistic family drama with The Price, which was his last major Broadway success. His next work, The Creation of the World and other Business (1972), a series of comic sketches based on the Biblical Book of Genesis, met with severe critical disapproval when it was first produced on Broadway, closing after only twenty performances. All of Miller’s subsequent works premiered outside of New York. In the 1980s, Miller produced a number of short pieces, which reviewers have generally regarded as minor works, inferior to his early masterpieces.
Despite the absence of any notable theatrical success since the mid-1960s, Miller remained an important voice in contemporary American drama throughout the remainder of his life. Death of a Salesman and The Crucible are still frequently performed, thereby reaching successive generations of playgoers. And though less compelling, his later works continue to probe and explore the nature of the individual as an innately social, interactive creature. Miller died at the age of 89 of congestive heart failure on the evening of February 10, 2005—the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman.
Works in Literary Context
Much of Miller’s work displays his deep and abiding concern with conscience and morality, with one’s dual—and often conflicting—responsibilities to oneself and to one’s fellow human beings. It is only through relationships with others, Miller’s plays suggest, that our humanity truly emerges.
Tragedy and the Common Man
Throughout his career, Miller continually addressed several distinct but related issues in both his dramatic and expository writings. In his early plays and in a series of essays published in the 1940s and 50s, Miller first outlined a form of tragedy applicable to modern times and contemporary characters, one that challenged traditional notions that suggested only kings, queens, princes, and other members of the nobility can be suitable subjects for tragedy. In ”Tragedy and the Common Man,” for example, Miller asserts that the ”underlying struggle” of all such dramas ”is that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in society.” Consequently, as Miller said in a 1949 essay, ”the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity.” According to this view, even ordinary people—like Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman—can achieve truly tragic stature.
The Individual’s Relationship with Himself and Others
Another of Miller’s abiding concerns is the issue of the individual’s relationship with himself and society. Several of his works suggest that people are doomed to frustration when they become cognizant of their own identity, particularly when they search for their identity in a society that frowns upon such an endeavor. In work after work, from All My Sons and The Crucible to Incident at Vichy, Miller has presented dilemmas in which a character’s sense of personal integrity or self-interest conflicts with his or her responsibility to society or its representatives. Finally, Miller has repeatedly explored the theme of family relations, particularly interactions between fathers and sons. The families depicted in Miller’s plays often serve as vehicles for the author’s analyses of the broader relations between individuals and society.
Works in Critical Context
Although Miller’s later works are generally considered inferior to his early masterpieces, he remained among the most important and influential dramatists to emerge in the United States following World War II. Critics praise his effective use of vernacular, his moral insight, and his strong sense of social responsibility. As author June Schlueter once commented: ”When the twentieth century is history and American drama viewed in perspective, the plays of Arthur Miller will undoubtedly be preserved in the annals of dramatic literature.”
Death of a Salesman
Critics have generally agreed that Death of a Salesman is an important dramatic work. Some commentators, however, have taken issue with Miller’s insistence that Death of a Salesman is a modern tragedy and that Willy is a tragic hero. For example, the noted dramatic critic Eric Bentley argued that the elements of social drama in this play keep ”the ‘tragedy’ from having genuinely tragic stature.” Describing Willyas a ”little man,” Bentley insisted that such a person is ”too little and too passive to play the tragic hero.” Bentley and others charged that, according to Miller’s own definition, Willy’s death is merely ”pathetic” rather than tragic. On the other hand, several different critics have argued that the salesman does attain tragic dimensions by virtue of what Miller terms the tragic hero’s ”total compulsion” to preserve his humanity and dignity. Literary critic John Mason Brown, for example, once characterized Death of a Salesman as ”a tragedy modern and personal, not classic and heroic.” Willy Loman is, he observed, ”a little man sentenced to discover his smallness rather than a big man undone by his greatness.”
Whether or not Death of a Salesman can be classified as a true tragedy, it has been generally praised for its innovative structure, which merges elements of both realism and expressionism. Reviewers admired the drama’s interweaving of the past with the present and of events inside Willy’s mind with those outside. This technique produces a penetrating psychological examination characteristic of dramatic realism. It is appropriate, several critics have noted, that Miller’s working title for the play was Inside of His Head.
The Crucible won the 1953 Tony Award for best play, but it received generally lukewarm responses from critics. The piece had a production run that, while respectable, was only one-third the length of Death of a Salesman’s premier production. When The Crucible was first staged, a number of critics maintained that Miller failed in his characteristic attempt to merge the personal and the social. They complained that many of the figures in the play are poorly developed and merely serve as mouthpieces for Miller’s social commentary. As a result, the play was commonly interpreted as a thinly disguised critique of Joseph McCarthy’s Senate investigations of communism in the United States, and it was judged as preachy and overly political. Some commentators also questioned the validity of the parallels Miller established between the Salem witch trials and the congressional investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The relationship between the historical events depicted in the play and the events of the 1950s has continued to be the subject of much debate among subsequent critics who study The Crucible.
However, later generations of critics have been more generous than their historical counterparts with their appreciation of the work. After much of the furor over communist activity in the United States had died down, The Crucible was revived off-Broadway. This time, freed from much of its association with ”current events,” the play was warmly received by critics and enjoyed a run of over six hundred performances. It was now seen to have a more lasting and universal significance than had earlier been apparent. As Robert Martin later maintained, The Crucible ”has endured beyond the immediate events of its own time. If it was originally seen as a political allegory, it is presently seen by contemporary audiences almost entirely as a distinguished American play by an equally distinguished American playwright.”
- Abbotson, Susan C. W. Student Companion to Arthur Miller. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
- Bhatia, Santosh K. Arthur Miller: Social Drama as Tragedy. New York: Humanities Press, 1985.
- Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, volume 2: Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
- Bigsby, C.W.E. ed. The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
- Bloom, Harold, ed. Arthur Miller. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
- Carson, Neil. Arthur Miller. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.
- Centola, Steven R., ed. The Achievement of Arthur Miller: New Essays. Dallas, Tex.: Contemporary Research, 1995.
- Corrigan, Robert, ed. Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
- Griffin, Alice. Understanding Arthur Miller. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
- Koon, Helen Wickam, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1983.
- Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller, second edition. New York: Twayne, 1980.
- Otten, Terry. The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2002.
- Panikkar, N. Bhaskara. Individual Morality and Social Happiness in Arthur Miller. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982.
- Savran, David. Communists, Cowboys, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
- Schlueter, June and James K. Flanagan, eds. Arthur Miller. New York: Ungar, 1987.
- Welland, Dennis. Miller: The Playwright, second edition. New York: Methuen, 1983.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.