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With The Death of a Salesman during the winter of
1949 on Broadway, Arthur Miller began to live as a
playwright who has since been called one of this
century’s three great American dramatists by the
people of America. The dramatist was born in
Manhattan in October 17, 1915, to Isadore and
Agusta Miller, a conventional, well to do Jewish
couple. Young Arthur Miller was an intense athlete
and a weak scholar. Throughout his youth he was
molded into one of the most creative playwrights
America has ever seen, without these priceless
childhood experiences there would have never have
been the basis and foundation for his great works.
During his bright career as playwright he
demonstrated extreme talent on two of his greatest
pieces The Crucible and the Death of a Salesman.
He has also written other powerful, often
mind-altering plays: A View from the Bridge, A
Memory of Two Mondays, After the Fall, Incident at
Vichy, and The Price. Who could forget the film
The Misfits and the dramatic special Playing for
Time. Death of a Salesman was not Arthur Miller’s
first success on Broadway.

His first plays were
Honors at Dawn (1936) and No Villain (1937) which
won the University of Michigan Hopwood Awards. His
Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer prize in
1949, which was another proof of his excellent
talent. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during
the McCarthy period when Americans were accusing
each other of Pro-Communist beliefs. Many of
Miller’s friends were being attacked as Communists
and in 1956, Miller himself was brought before the
House of Un-American Activities Committee where he
was found guilty of beliefs in Communism. The
verdict was reversed in 1957 in an appeals court.
The Crucible is set against the backdrop of the
mad witch-hunts of the Salem witch trials in the
late 17th century. It is about a town, after
accusations from a few girls, which begins a mad
hunt for witches that did not exist.

Many
townspeople were hanged on charges of witchcraft.
Miller brings out the absurdity of the incident
with the theme of truth and righteousness. Two
years before, when All My Sons opened at the
Coronet Theater, people were starting to notice
that they were in the mist of one of the greatest
playwrights in history. The play also won the New
York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Donaldson
Award (voted upon by Billboard subscribers). Since
the debut of All My Sons he noted that he felt as
though there was a opening for him to write and be
appreciated. That door had always been securely
been shut in the past. With the flow of the
audience there seemed to be warmth that allowed
him to dream and be willing to take that risk in
his writing that made him become so famous.

He
did, however, push the limits when he released his
controversial piece Death of a Salesman. And, he
gained even more acclaim. Soon he was awarded the
Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics
Circle Award. He was quickly catapulted into the
realm of the great, living, American playwrights;
and once was compared to Ibsen and the Greek
tragedians. After his graduation from Abraham
Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, young Miller
worked as a stock clerk in an automobile parts
warehouse for two and a half years until he had
enough money to pay for his first year at the
University of Michigan. He finished college with
the financial aid of the National Youth
Administration supplemented by his salary as night
editor on the Michigan Daily newspaper.

Before his
graduation with a BA degree in 1938, he had
written a number of plays, winning a $500 Avery
Hopwood Award in 1936 and a $1,200 Theater Guild
National Award in 1938 for an effort entitled The
Grass Still Grows. Then, having returned to New
York in 1938, he joined the Federal Theater
Project. But, before his first play had been
produced, the Project ended. Dismayed and setback,
he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here he
wrote radio scripts that were later heard in the
Columbia Workshop and on the Calvacade of America.
He also wrote two books during this period:
Situation Normal (1944) and Focus, two novels
about anti-Semitism (1945). He had not, however,
given up playwriting.

In November of 1944, his
play, The Man Who Had All the Luck opened on
Broadway. Unfortunately it became much less of a
success than he had hoped. Its unfavorable
reception disheartened Miller, and he decided he
would write one more play. If that were not
successful, he would give up. In 1947 he wrote All
My Sons, his first real success, which established
him as a significant American playwright. Soon
after he wrote The Crucible in 1953, which became
a Broadway hit, and won a Tony Award.

This
thrilling retelling of the witch trials and
hangings in Salem, Massachusetts (1962) riveted
audiences. But it reflected a more ready issue,
the McCarthy era of his time. The autobiographical
tone of After the Fall in 1964 also evoked
controversy as well as praise. And it was through
knowledge of the Brooklyn waterfront that he was
able to form his characters in A View from the
Bridge in 1955. More of his native city came
through later when he wrote The Price, about a New
York policeman (1968). Miller’s later works
include The Creation of the Word and Other
Business (1972) and The American Clock (1980).

In
1980 Miller won four Emmy Awards following the
television debut of Playing for Time, the
true-life dramatic special about the experiences
of an all-woman orchestra in a Nazi concentration
camp. The show itself received the Emmy for an
Outstanding Drama Special and Miller received one
for Outstanding Writing. Vanessa Redgrave won as
Outstanding Actress, and Jane Alexander, as
Outstanding Supporting Actress. In addition to his
novels, Miller has written two books of reportage:
In Russia and Chinese Encounters, both were
accompanied by photographs by his wife Inge
Morath, a professional photographer. His book
Salesman in Beijing is based on his experience in
China where he directed Death of a Salesman. Then,
in 1987, Miller published his autobiography
Timebends: A Life, in which he recalls his
childhood in Brooklyn, the political turmoil of
the 1950s, and the later half of the century.
Miller continues to write, winning the 1995 Oliver
for his most recent play Broken Glass .

In his
youth he was really quite unorganized and
concentrated more on sports than on academics, he
spent his boyhood playing football and baseball,
skating, swimming, dating, failing algebra three
times, reading adventure stories, and just plain
fooling around. It wasnt until he was above the
age of seventeen that he read Tom Swift, and Rover
Boys, and started to dabble into the books of
Dickens. He passed through the public school
system unscathed. His family remembered him as a
child handy with tools, he even built their back
porch and planted roses in the back yard. In brief
Arthur Miller was a very physical child. Some
people say that some of the basis for his
wonderful plays would never have been there if it
werent for his extremely active childhood.

With
all of his great experiences and special childhood
with two caring parents this set the tone for his
writings and then prepared him to stand up in
times of tyranny and speak the truth. He used his
talent to fight back against what was wrong in his
society. His writing was unique in that it
appealed to the reader not always from a action or
romance level sometimes the reader was simply
captivated through the realms of simple logic.
This is shown in the way that he paralleled his
work of The Crucible and what was going on in
their society. This in itself can be one of the
most captivating aspects of a play. With the
twists and turns in the plot, the whole scheme can
be turned back and then revealed in a totally
different manner in the final act. He knew what
crowd he was appealing to and the approached the
writing in the way that it could best be
appreciated.

That is why Arthur Miller is
considered one of the greatest play rights in
American history. Arthur Miller always addressed
his drama to a whole people asking a basic
question and demanding an answer. From the
beginning though he presented his question as a
subtle message that was awaiting an answer. His
first thirty plays were more for entertainment
written for strictly college, radio, and amateur
performance, almost a dozen of his full-length
plays were never produced. In a sense Millers
characters represent his history as well his
convictions. In his plays he tries to draw his
characters from real past happenings, In exception
to Focus all of his plays in some manner allude to
and actual person or place.

Arthur Miller felt
that the reader should never know too much about
the author. It seemed to create a feeling of
knowing something you shouldnt and began to poison
the readers mind. In a way Millers feelings are
quite on target. Though because of Millers many
references to personal experiences in some of his
plays it is important to know some objective facts
of his life. Sometimes the themes are mottled,
they can turn from a positive effect as in The
Crucible were truth and righteousness win out over
tyranny in the town and of the time. Though
sometimes his plays did have the effect of leaving
you helpless, like Death of a Salesman, this play
seemed to leave the reader in a down on a negative
note feeling quite insignificant.

With the power
to not only inform the reader and carry out a plot
but to be able to control the readers feelings, is
a gift. A gift that he truly beheld in his life
time. Bibliography: To much stuff-usf library and
UT library.

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