Informative Essay Sample on Arthur Miller: His Path to American Theater

Posted on February 20, 2010

Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in Harlem, New York. The early years of Miller’s life did not go smoothly. Still, while having many problems with his grades, Miller was very athletic playing many sports including football, at which he excelled; he also ran track. Miller portrays this in one of his shorter works, Danger: Memory!. The two main characters in this play look back on their lives and regret much of what they did. They wonder if any good came out of their lives. Much like Miller, they do not straight out regret what they did during their lives, but do not commend themselves. Although this work displays Miller’s high school years very clearly without putting characters and him in the middle of regret, all of his earlier works put the characters on one side or the other (Frank 1). Miller attended Public School 29 in Harlem while he was growing up. A little later on, he moved to Harlem in the Midwood Section of New York. He then attended James Madison and Abraham Lincoln High Schools. Now that Miller is much older, he looks back on his life and regrets not trying as hard as he could in high school. Miller does not directly regret his high school years but does wish he could have tried harder. Perhaps the problem was that Miller did not know what he wanted to do with his life until after he graduated. Similarly, in Death of a Salesman, the main character, Willy Loman, has two sons who have both graduated from high school but uncertain about what to do with their lives. Miller portrays his years after high school through these two sons (Moritz 296-297).

Before attending college, Miller worked for his father’s business. Shortly there after he worked in a Manhattan automobile parts warehouse and realized he wanted to do something with his life. After Miller decided what he wanted to do, he attended the University of Michigan in the Department of Drama. There he went and decided to study under Kenneth T. Rowe after reading one of his books. Miller’s grades from high school did not help him get to this position, but luckily he made it by his little work that he had put in. Unfortunately, Miller had to pay for a majority of his tuition because the lack of success of his father’s business. This money he earned before college was put towards his tuition. After it ran out, Miller worked for two years at the University to pay off his tuition where he washed dishes and became the night editor of the Michigan Daily. Miller also won a lot of money from substantial playwright prizes. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English (Moritz 297).

He used this degree to get a job as a writer in the Federal Theater Project when he returned to New York in 1938. Although this job was a great experience for Miller, it became obsolete before any of Miller’s works were published. During the years of World War II, Miller wrote dramas for two programs. One of them was called Columbia Workshop and played on CBS; the other was called Cavalcade of America and was played by NBC.

“In the exigencies of radio writing he [Miller] learned how to handle quick shifts in time and setting and the fusing of reality and fantasy, two elements that he would carry back to his stage work. Several of the scripts he wrote suggest that from the start Miller was a moralist intent on dramatizing the redemptive power of an individual’s refusal to cooperate with corruption.” (Moritz 297)

With these writing jobs, Miller had two part time jobs; he drove truck and was a steamfitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Miller escaped the draft because of and injury he got in his high school years playing football. Since Miller was not drafted, he was sent to army camps to observe and gather information for The Story of GI Joe. The producers that sent Miller only used a little of his information. Reynal published the better parts of Miller’s report and gave it the title Situation Normal in 1944 (Moritz 297-298).

Miller’s only novel he wrote was published a year later by the same publishing house. However, people did not like reading Miller’s works as much as they liked seeing them on stage. Although Miller’s plays were often huge hits on Broadway, Miller did have a few works that were not great successes or a success at all, even though many of his works won him awards and much fame. Miller’s first play that made the stage of Broadway was The Man Who Had All the Luck. This was one of his less successful works. Playing in November of 1944, it stopped playing after four performances. After this play, Miller decided to change his type of writing to adapt of the “realistic” theater of that time. Miller’s next Broadway play brought him the New York Drama Circle Award for the 1946-1947 season after 300 performances (Moritz 297-298).

Miller was brought up Jewish by his parents, Isidore and Augusta Miller. This Jewish upbringing contributed significantly to his style of writing. Miller often ties in religion with his works. Many characters will often attend church and talk about God. Isidore was a clothing manufacture and came from Austria-Hungary. His father, often-called Barnett was a public school teacher and was native born. After Miller was old enough to decide what he wanted to believe in, he broke off from Judaism. Miller’s mother was more the sensitive type and knew more about the culture Miller was growing up in that his father. Miller’s father was referred to as a “gruff entrepreneur.” Miller had an older brother named Kermit and a younger sister named Joan (Moritz 296).

Besides being a teacher, Miller’s father also owned his own business. This business was not much of a success. In Death of Salesman, Willy Loman has the exact situation; he has trouble keeping his business going. Miller worked for his dad before his college years and strongly disliked the way people treated his father. This play is one of Miller’s favorite works because it is semiauto-biographical (Moritz 297).

Miller decided to take a break after his play A View from the Bridge was released in 1955. This break lasted for nine years because of some writing problems. These problems came from some unfortunate situations in his life. In 1956, Miller and his first wife, Mary Grace Slattery, got a divorce. During the same year, Miller was charged for contempt in the court for not giving names of former left-wing associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller was later cleared of this charge. Soon after Miller was divorced, he married the actress Marilyn Monroe. During Miller’s marriage, he released the movie The Misfits in 1960. After five years of this marriage, the two were divorced. After their divorce in 1961, Miller married a photographer, Inge Morath, who was born in Austria. Together they wrote a book called In Russia, which described their trip through the Soviet Union. After Miller’s third marriage, Miller wrote the play After the Fall. This play describes a man who will not marry for a third time. Although Miller denies that he purposely related this book to his marriage, there are obvious connections. The man in this play eventually finds a way by confronting himself. Miller claims that he wanted to demonstrate the “individual’s part in the evil he sees and abhors.” Many people do believe Miller was talking about his past. This controversy actually helped the play make its way (Moritz 298).

Another example of Miller relating his works to his life is the many complications that go on in the aging salesman’s life Death of a Salesman. Miller directly relates himself to the salesman Willy Loman. Willy is not the normal person in the world today, but rather an annoying, down-on-his luck man. He is not so abnormal that nobody can relate to him but rather so close to the average person that many people can relate to some of his struggles (Riley and Harte 279). Willy Loman feels that he is a failure as a father. Being the father of two selfish sons, he struggled with suicide for a long time. However, nobody knows for sure if Miller was ever struggling with suicide through his life full of problems. Through this book, Miller does a great job of relating to a salesman’s life, even though he had no connection with any salesmen before writing this book. This play was an incredibly written drama. It doesn’t seem as if this play was written but rather a real life story. It has so many real life situations and many of them are unavoidable in our lives today. Miller really turned people’s views toward the theater. This play is a drama that will never be forgotten (Atkinson 1-2). Charles Moritz says, “It took Miller only six weeks to write the masterpiece that had been germinating in him so long and which some theater critics and historians regard as the great American play: Death of a Salesman, a tragedy about hollow values, personal and social (298).

Death of a Salesman played in 1949 and played at the Morosco Theater where it showed 742 times. It won Miller the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. This play that people are still reading five decades later was made into a movie in 1952 and again a few years later (Moritz 298).

Miller also relates his problems to a story of lies through The Crucible. This play was considered to be one of Miller’s greatest works. It played for seven months starting in January of 1953. This play won Miller the Tony Award. There is a lot of truth but also partly false when comparing the Salem witch hunts with those of the McCarthy Communist hunts. The Crucible is repetitious but overall is well done. By watching or reading the first few chapters of The Crucible, many will understand how Miller was at the top of the list in popularity for a social dramatist. He was at the top over the whole world partly because of how he only uses liberal ideas in all of his works. Many other dramatists dealt with dangerous ideas (Riley and Harte 280). Although Miller is very liberal, he stands apart from the contemporary, liberal dramatists in the U.S. As Miller got older he started to use more symbols as he got more experience (Moritz 297).

Miller has a consistency in his works; there is a thematic lack of community. A great example of this is Miller’s play called Incident at Vichy. This piece of work gained faith that Miller lost over his nine-year absence from the playwright world. The faith Miller gained helped him get elected to be the president of a writing club. Several months after this election in 1995, Miller turned down an invitation to the White House to attend the signing of the Arts and Humanities Act (Moritz 299).

As Miller ages, he still is very critical towards the theater. He specifically puts down the theater of New York. Miller believes the prices are too high and that the theater is missing adventure. This lowered the middle class population in the New York Theater. Some people blame this on the increasing films, television and pop music. Although Miller does not believe this is the reason, he believes the word is far more important than the picture (“Dusted Off, Old… 2). Miller also criticizes Broadway and many other plays and playwrights. Miller calls Broadway irrelevant but enjoyable and nice (Hofler 1-2).

Miller was unhappy with the way people responded to some of his works. Miller shows his frustration by quoting, ” ‘I already had one child, and I couldn’t see myself going on writing play after play and getting absolutely nowhere. I sat down… to write a play about which nobody could say to me, as they had with all the other plays, “What does this mean?” or “I don’t understand that” ‘ ” (Moritz 298). Not all of Miller’s works brought these questions. “As theater, Danger: Memory! Is gray, too, resolutely resisting the efforts of a high-powered cast to inject drama. While the plays are meant to be casual, they’ve been staged in the intimate Newhouse Theater. The writing is studied and ponderous. Mr. Miller seems to have begun with his themes and conceits, then worked backward to fashion (and diminish) his characters to fit the predetermined patter” (Frank 1). The two plays of this boo have different settings and different stories. The plays do have a lot in common. Both plays have common tones and consist of specific, common metaphors and both have the same key prop, a phonograph record. This helps the author’s message, but does not help the naturalness on the stage. Another similarity is a simple case of amnesia comes over one of the main characters in both plays. Leonora, in “I Can’t Remember Anything,” cannot recall simple things. She questions “the value of her own existence.” In “Clara,” the father, or Mr. McMillan, cannot remember any evidence or clues to help the police officers. He slowly recalls some things to help solve the case of his murdered daughter but still cannot bring up everything (Frank 1-2).

In an interview in July of 2000, Miller tells how it is hard to write political plays now because of the “absence of a single cataclysmic event threatening us.” Miller also commented on terrorist attacks and called them a “war against humanity.” He explained terrorists as people who are angry at life and desire to kill (Dusted Off, Old… 1).

Miller is known to speak in a precise, unhurried manner. Miller is also known to be alert, intense and watchful. Miller is a tall man and is described as “angular,” “rangy” and having an “outdoor quality.” He is described to put together his shyness with a great sense of himself. Miller was called a storyteller who is a simple man and has a great memory. He is commended for being concerned with people and ideas. He has a great mind with much wonder (Moritz 299).

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