Questioning faith in the parsha
American playwright who combined in his works social awareness with deep insights into personal weaknesses of his characters’. Miller is best known for the play DEATH OF A SALESMAN (1949), or on the other hand, for his marriage to the actress Marilyn Monroe. Miller’s plays continued the realistic tradition that began in the United States in the period between the two world wars. With Tennessee Williams, Miller was one of the best-known American playwrights after WW II. Several of his works were filmed by such director as John Huston, Sidney Lumet and Karel Reiz.
“Don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally paid to such a person.” (from Death of a Salesman)
Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York City; the family moved shortly afterwards to a six-storey building at 45110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. His father, Isidore Miller, was an illiterate Jewish immigrant from Poland. His succesfull ladies-wear manufacturer and shopkeeper was ruined in the depression. Augusta Barnett, Miller’s mother, was born in New York, but her father came from the same Polish town as the Millers.
The sudden change in fortune had a strong influence on Miller. “This desire to move on, to metamorphose – or perhaps it is a talent for being contemporary – was given me as life’s inevitable and righful condition,” he wrote in TIMEBENDS: A LIFE (1987). The family moved to a small frame house in Brooklyn, which is said to the model for the Brooklyn home in Death of a Salesman. Miller spent his boyhood playing foorball and baseball, reading adventure stories, and appearing generally as a nonintellectual. “If I had any ideology at all it was what I had learned from Hearst newspapers,” he once said. After graduating from a high school in 1932, Miller worked in automobile parts warehouse to earn money for college. Having read Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov Miller decided to become a writer. To study journalism he entered the University of Michigan in 1934, where he won awards for playwriting – one of the other awarded playwright was Tennessee Williams.
After graduating in English in 1938, Miller returned to New York. There he joined the Federal Theatre Project, and wrote scripts for radio programs, such as Columbia Workshop (CBS) and Cavalcade of America (NBC). Because of a football injury, he was exempt from draft. In 1940 Miller married a Catholic girl, Mary Slattery, his college sweetheart, with whom he had two children. Miller’s first play to appear on Broadway was THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE THE LUCK (1944). It closed after four performances. Three years later produced ALL MY SONS was about a factory owner who sells faulty aircraft parts during World War II. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle award and two Tony Awards. In 1944 Miller toured Army camps to collect background material for the screenplay THE STORY OF GI JOE (1945). Miller’s first novel, FOCUS (1945), was about anti-Semitism.
Miller’s plays often depict how families are destroyed by false values. Especially his earliest efforts show his admiration for the classical Greek dramatists. “When I began to write,” he said in an interview, “one assumed inevitably that one was in the mainstream that began with Aeschylus and went through about twenty-five hundred years of playwriting.” (from The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. by Christopher Bigsby, 1997)
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (1949) brought Miller international fame, and become one of the major achievements of modern American theatre. It relates the tragic story of a salesman named Willy Loman, whose past and present are mingled in expressionistic scenes. Loman is not the great success that he claims to be to his family and friends. The postwar economic boom has shaken up his life. He is eventually fired and he begins to hallucinate about significant events from his past. Linda, his wife, believes in the American Dream, but she also keeps her feet on the ground. Deciding that he is worth more dead than alive, Willy kills himself in his car – hoping that the insurance money will support his family and his son Biff could get a new start in his life. Critics have disagreed whether his suicide is an act of cowardice or a last sacrifice on the altar of the American Dream.
WILLY: I’m not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today.
BIFF (shocked): How could you be?
WILLY: I was fired, and I’m looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven’t got a story left in my head, Biff. So don’t give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested. Now what’ve you got so say to me?
(from Death of a Salesman)
In 1949 Miller was named an “Outstanding Father of the Year”, which manifested his success as a famous writer. But the wheel of fortune was going down. In the 1950s Miller was subjected to a scrutiny by a committee of the United States Congress investigating Communist influence in the arts. The FBI read his play The Hook, about a militant union organizer, and he was denied a passport to attend the Brussels premiere of his play THE CRUCIBLE (1953). It was based on court records and historical personages of the Salem witch trials of 1692. In Salem one could be hanged because of ”the inflamed human imagination, the poetry of suggestion.” The daughter of Salem’s minister falls mysteriously ill. Reverend Samuel Parris is a widower, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believes he is persecuted wherever he goes. Rumours of witchcraft spread throughout the people of Salem. “The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today.” The minister accuses Abigail Williams of wrongdoing, but she transforms the accusation into plea for help: her soul has been bewitched. Young girls, led by Abigail, make accusations of witchcraft against townspeople whom they do not like. Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of an upstanding farmer, whom she had once seduced. Elizabeth’s husband John Proctor reveals his past lechery. Elizabeth, unaware, fails to confirm his testimony. To protect him she testifies falsely that her husband has not been intimate with Abigail. Proctor is accused of witchcraft and condemned to death.
The Crucible, which received Antoinette Perry Award, was an allegory for the McCarthy era and mass hysteria. Although its first Broadway production flopped, it become one of Miller’s most-produced play. Miller wrote The Crucible in the atmosphere in which the author saw “accepted the notion that conscience was no longer a private matter but one of state administration.” In the play he expressed his faith in the ability of an individual to resist conformist pressures.
“You know, sometimes God mixes up the people. We all love somebody, the wife, the kids – every man’s got somebody he loves, heh? Bus sometimes… there’s too much. You know? There’s too much, and it goes where it mustn’t. A man works hard, he brings up a child, sometimes it’s niece, sometimes even a daughter, and he never realizes it, but through the years – there is too much love for the daughter, there is too much love for the niece.” (from A View from the Bridge)
Elia Kazan, with whom Miller had shared an artistic vision and for a period a girlfriend, the motion-picture actress Marilyn Monroe, named in 1952 eight former reds, who had been in the Communist Party with him. Kazan virtually became a pariah overnight, Miller remained a hero of the Left. Two short plays under the collective title A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE were successfully produced in 1955. The drama, dealing with incestuous love, jealousy and betrayal, was also an answer to Kazan’s film On the Waterfront (1954), in which the director justified his naming names.
In 1956 Miller was awarded honorary degree at the University of Michigan but also called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Miller admitted that he had attended certain meetings, but denied that he was a Communist. He had attended among others four or five writers’s meetings sponsored by the Communist Party in 1947, supported a Peace Conference at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and signed many apppeals and protests. “Marilyn’s fiance admits aiding reds,” wrote the press. Refusing to offer other people’s names, who had associated with leftist or suspected Communist groups, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress, but the ruling was reversed by the courts in 1958.
Miller – “the man who had all the luck” – married Marilyn Monroe in 1956; they divorced in 1961. At that time Marilyn was beyond saving. She died in 1962.
In the late 1950s Miller wrote nothing for the theatre. His screenplay MISFITS was written with a role for his wife. The film was directed by John Huston, starring Mongomery Clift, Clark Gable, and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was always late getting to the set and used heavily drugs. The marriage was already breaking, and Miller was feeling lonely. John Huston wrote in his book of memoir, An Open Book, (1980): “One evening I was about to drive away from the location – miles out in the desert – when I saw Arthur standing alone. Marilyn and her friends hadn’t offered him a ride back; they’d just left him. If I hadn’t happened to see him, he would have been stranded out there. My sympathies were more and more with him.” Later Miller said that there “should have been more long shots to remind us constantly how isolated there people were, physically and morally.” Miller’s last play, FINISHING THE PICTURE, produced in 2004, depicted the making of Misfits.
Miller was politically active throughout his life. In 1965 he was elected president of P.E.N., the international literary organization. At the 1968 Democratic Party Convention he was a delegate for Eugene McCarthy. In 1964 Miller returned to stage after a nine-year absence with the play AFTER THE FALL, a strongly autobiographical work, which dealt with the questions of guilt and innocence. The play also united Kazan and Miller, but their close friendship was over, destroyed by the blacklist. Many critics consider that Maggie, the self-destructive central character, was modelled on Monroe, though Miller denied this. A year after his divorce, Miller married the Austrian photographer Inge Morath (1923-2002), whom he had met during the filming of The Misfits. Miller co-operated with her on two books about China and Russia. After Inge Morath died, Miller plannd to marry Agnes Barley, a 34-year-old artist. In 1985 Miller went to Turkey with the playwright Harold Pinter. Their journey was arranged by PEN in conjunction with the Helsinki Watch Committee. One of their guides in Istanbul was Orhan Pamuk.
In the 1990s Miller wrote such plays as THE RIDE DOWN MOUNT MORGAN (prod. 1991) and THE LAST YANKEE (prod. 1993), but in an interview he stated that “It happens to be a very bad historical moment for playwriting, because the theater is getting more and more difficult to find actors for, since television pays so much and the movies even more than that. If you’re young, you’ll probably be writing about young people, and that’s easier — you can find young actors — but you can’t readily find mature actors.” (‘We’re Probably in an Art That Is — Not Dying’ , The New York Times, January 17, 1993) In 2002 Miller was honored with Spain’s prestigious Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature, making him the first U.S. recipient of the award. Miller died of heart failure at home in Roxbury, Connecticut, on February 10, 2005.
For further reading: Arthur Miller: 1915-1962 by Christopher Bigsby (2009); Arthur Miller by Martin Gottfried (2003); The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. by Christopher Bigsby (1997); Approaches to Teaching Miller’s Death of a Salesman, ed. by Matthew C. Roudane (1995); Arthur Miller and His Plays by P. Singh (1990); Arthur Miller by B. Glassman (1990); File on Miller, ed. by C.W.E. Bigsby (1988); Arthur Miller, ed. by H. Bloom (1987); Arthur Miller by J. Schlueter and J.K. Flanagan (1987); Convesations with Arthur Miller, M.C. Roudané (1987); Arthur Miller: Social Drama as Tragedy by S.K. Bhatia (1985); Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman, ed. by H.W. Koon (1983); Arthur Miller by N. Carson (1982); Arthur Miller by L. Moss (1980); Arthur Miller by R. Hayman (1972); Arthur Miller by R. Hogan (1964); Arthur Miller, ed. by R.W. Corrigan (1962)
- HONORS AT DAWN, 1936
- NO VILLAIN, / THEY TOO ARISE, 1937
- THE PUSSYCAT AND THE EXPERT PLUMBER WHO WAS A MAN, 1941
- WILLIAM IRELAND’S CONFESSION, 1941
- THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK, 1944
- THAT THEY MAY WIN, 1944
- SITUATION NORMAL, 1944
- GRANDPA AND THE STATUE, 1945
- The Story of G.I. Joe, 1945 (film script)
- FOCUS, 1945 – Poltinmerkki (suom. Elvi Sinervo, 1960) – films: TV drama 1968, Inzicht, prod. N.T.S., dir. Ruth Smeale; 2001, dir. by Neal Slavin, screenplay by Kendrew Lascelles, starring William H. Macy, David Paymer, Laura Dern, and Meat Loaf
- The Guardsman, 1947 (from F. Molnar)
- Three Men on a Horse, 1947 (from G. Abbott and J.C. Holm)
- ALL MY SONS, 1947 – films: 1948, dir. by Irving Reis, starring Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster, Mady Christians; TV drama 1955, Alle meine Söhne, dir. Franz Peter Wirth; TV drama 1965, Alla mina söner, prod. Sveriges Radio, dir. Bengt Lagerkvist, starring Erik Hell, Marianne Stjernqvist, Ove Tjernberg, Mariann Nordwall, Jan-Olof Strandberg; TV drama 1986, dir. Jack O’Brien, starring James Whitmore, Aidan Quinn, Michael Learned, Joan Allen, Zeljko Ivanek
- DEATH OF A SALESMAN, 1949 (Pulitzer Prize) – Kauppamatkustajan kuolema (suom. Kaija Siikala, 1984; Juha Siltanen, 1999; Rauno Ekholm, 2001) – films: 1951, dir. by Laslo Denedek, starring Fredric March, Mildred Dunnock, Kevin McCarthy, Cameron Mitchell; TV drama 1957, La Muerte de un viajante, dir. Narciso Ibáñez Menta, starring Narciso Ibáñez Menta; TV drama 1960, De Dood van een handelsreiziger, dir. Kris Betz; TV drama 1961, Kauppamatkustajan kuolema, dir. Seppo Wallin, starring Tauno Palo; TV drama 1961, En handelsresandes död, dir. Hans Abramson, starring Kolbjörn Knudsen; TV drama 1963, Tod eines Handlungsreisenden, dir. Michael Kehlmann, starring Leopold Rudolf; TV drama 1966, dir. Alex Segal, starring Lee J. Cobb; TV drama 1968, Der Tod des Handlungsreisenden, dir. Gerhard Klingenberg, starring Heinz Rühmann; TV drama 1974, A Morte de um Caixeiro Viajante, dir. Artur Ramos, starring Rogério Paulo; TV drama 1979, En Handelsresandes död, dir. Bo Widerberg, starring Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, TV drama 1985, dir. by Volker Schlöndorff, starring Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich, Stephen Lang; TV drama 1996, dir. David Thacker, starring Warren Mitchell; TV drama 2000, dir. Kirk Browning, starring Brian Dennehy; TV drama 2001, Tod eines Handlungsreisenden, starring Karl Merkatz – see also Elia Kazan
- An Enemy of the People (adaptation of Ibsen‘s play)
- THE CRUCIBLE, 1953 – films: 1957, Les Sorcières de Salem, dir. Raymond Rouleau, screenplay Jean-Paul Sartre, starring Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Mylène Demongeot; TV drama 1965, Smeltedigelen, dir. Knut M. Hansson, dir. Liv Ullmann, Tor Stokke TV drama 1967, dir, Alex Segal, starring George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, Melvyn Douglas, Tuesday Weld; TV drama 1980, dir. Don Taylor, starring Michael N. Harbour, Eric Porter, Sarah Berger; 1996, dir. by Nicholas Hytner, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen
- A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, 1955 – films: 1961, Vu du pont, dir. by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Norman Rosten, starring Raf Vallone, Jean Sorel, Maureen Stapleton; TV drama 1967, Blick von der Brücke, dir. Ludwig Cremer, starring Hans Christian Blech, Louise Martini, Monika Peitsch
- A MEMORY OF TWO MONDAYS, 1955 – films: TV drama 1966, Et Minde om to mandage, dir. Astrid Henning-Jensen; TV drama 1971, prod. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), dir. Paul Bogart
- The Misfits (screenplay) – film directed 1961 by John Huston, starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift
- JANE’S BLANKET, 1963
- AFTER THE FALL, 1964
- INCIDENT AT VICHY, 1964 – films: TV drama 1973, Incident à Vichy, dir. Jean Allaert&Jean Nergal; TV drama 1973, dir. Stacy Keach, starring Rene Auberjonois, Richard Jordan, Harris Yulin; TV drama 1981, prod. Magyar Televízió, dir. Közjáték Vichyben
- I DON’T NEED YOU ANY MORE, 1967
- THE PRICE, 1968 – films: 1969, Tsena, prod. Moldova Film, dir. Mikhail Kalik; TV drama 1975, Le Prix, dir. René Lucot, starring Georges Wilson, Martin Trévières, Michel Auclair, Loleh Bellon; TV drama 1979, De Prijs, dir. Anton Stevens, Martin Van Zundert, starring Roger Coorens, Denise De Weerdt, Robert Marcel, Rudi Van Vlaenderen
- IN RUSSIA, 1969 (with Inge Morath)
- FAME AND THE REASON WHY, 1970
- THE CREATION OF THE WORLD AND OTHER BUSINESS, 1972
- THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING, 1977
- IN THE COUNTRY, 1977 (with Inge Morath)
- THE THEATRE ESSAYS OF ARTHUR MILLER, 1978
- FAME, 1978 (television play, dir. Marc Daniels, starring Richard Benjamin)
- CHINESE ENCOUNTERS, 1979 (with Inge Morath)
- THE AMERICAN CLOCK, 1980 (inspired by Stud Terkel’s Hard Times)
- Playing For Time, 1980 (television drama, from F. Fenelon’s novel, prod. Szygzy Productions, dir. Daniel Mann, starring Vanessa Redgrave)
- ELEGY FOR A LADY, 1982
- SALESMAN IN BEIJING, 1984
- SOME KIND OF LOVE STORY / EVERYBODY WINS, 1982
- DANGER! MEMORY!, 1987
- CLARA, 1987
- I CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING, 1987
- TIMEBENDS: A LIFE, 1987 (autobiography) – Ajan uurteita: eräs elämä (suom. Kalevi Nyytäjä, Harry Forsblom, 1989)
- THE GOLDEN YEARS, 1987
- ‘THE MISFITS’ AND OTHER STORIES, 1987
- Everybody Wins (screenplay) – film 1989, prod. Film Trustees Ltd., dir. by Karel Reiz, starring Debra Winger, Nick Nolte, Will Patton
- THE LAST YANKEE, 1990
- THE RIDE DOWN MOUNT MORGAN, 1991
- GILLBURY, 1993
- BROKEN GLASS, 1994 – TV drama 1996, dir. David Thacker, starring Mandy Patinkin, Henry Goodman, Margot Leicester, Elizabeth McGovern
- ECHOES DOWN THE CORRIDOR: COLLECTED ESSAYS 1944-2000, 2000 (ed. by Steven R. Centola)
- RESURRECTION BLUES, 2002
- FINISHING THE PICTURE, 2004 (prod.)
- PRESENCE: COLLECTED STORIES, 2009