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arthur miller 1915 2005
Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
  • Known and respected for his intimate and realistic portrayal of the working class, Arthur Miller remains one of the most prolific playwrights of his time. At the peak of his career immediately following World War II, American theater was transformed by his profound ability to capture the heart of the common man and make his audiences empathize with his plight as he attempts to find his war in an often harsh and unsympathetic world.
arthur miller cont
Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York, into a middle-class Jewish immigrant family. His father was a clothing manufacturer and store owner who experienced significant loss after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Miller attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, and was a gifted athlete and an average student. After being rejected the first time, Miller was finally accepted into the University of Michigan in 1934, where his studies focused on drama and journalism. He graduated in 1938 with a Bachelor’s degree in English. Two years later, he published his first play, the relatively unsuccessful The Man Who Had All the Luck and married his college girlfriend Mary Slattery, with whom he later had two children, Robert and Jane.
arthur miller cont1
Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Miller’s first prominent play was All My Sons(1947), a tragedy about a factory owner who knowingly sold faulty aircraft parts during World War II. All My Sons won the Drama Critics Circle Award and two Tony Awards. His 1949 play Death of a Salesman was also an enormous critical success, winning the Drama Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and several Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Author, and Best Director. To this day, Death of a Salesman remains one of his most famous and respected works.
arthur miller cont2
Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • In 1950, Miller’s troubles began. After directing a production of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, Miller began getting negative attention for his very public political and social commentary. In 1953 The Crucible opened on Broadway, depicting a deliberate parallel between the Salem Witch Trials and the Communist Red Scare that America was experiencing at the time. This production brought more suspicion onto Miller at a very unstable time in American history, and in June of 1956, he was called to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), for which he was found in contempt of court for his refusal to cooperate and identify names of Communist sympathizers. This ruling was later overturned by the United States Court of Appeals, but damage to his reputation had taken place nonetheless.
arthur miller cont3
Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • That same year, he divorced his wife and married actress and American icon Marilyn Monroe; however, his marriage to Monroe did not last long—they divorced in 1961. His plays After the Fall (1964) and Finishing the Picture (2004) are said to loosely depict their turbulent and unhappy marriage. After divorcing Monroe, Miller married Inge Morath, with whom he had a son, Daniel, in 1962, and a daughter, Rebecca, in 1963. There have been unconfirmed reports that Miller’s son Daniel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after he was born and that Miller institutionalized Daniel and never saw or spoke to him again, even in his poignant autobiography Timebends (1987).
arthur miller cont4
Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Miller’s other plays include: Incident at Vichy (1965), The Price (1968), The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), The American Clock (1980), The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991), Broken Glass (1994),and Resurrection Blues (2002). He also wrote a novel, Focus (1945), a book of short stories in 1967, several screenplays and television movies, and Echoes Down the Corridor (2000), a collection of essays. In addition, he collaborated with Inge (who was a photographer) on several books. He received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999 and the National Book Foundation’s medal for his contribution to American literature in 2001.
  • Arthur Miller died of heart failure in February of 2005 at his Connecticut home. He was 89 years old.
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials
Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials
  • In 1950, Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a parallel between the Salem Witch Trials and the current events that were spreading throughout the United States at the time. A similar “witch hunt” was happening in the United States—and this time, the accused were those who were a part of the Communist Party or who were Communist sympathizers.
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials cont
Shortly after the end of World War I, a “Red Scare” took hold of the nation. Named after the red flag of the USSR (now Russia), the “Reds” were seen as a threat to the democracy of the United States. Fear, paranoia, and hysteria gripped the nation, and many innocent people were questioned and then jailed for expressing any view which was seen as anti-Democratic or anti-American.

In June of 1940, Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, which required anyone who was not a legal resident of the United States to file a statement of their occupational and personal status, which included a record of their political beliefs. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was established in 1938, had the job of investigating those who were suspected of overthrowing or threatening the democracy of the U.S. As the Alien Registration Act gathered the information, the HUAC began hunting down those who were believed to be a threat to American beliefs.

Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials (cont.)
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials cont1
Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials (cont.)
  • The HUAC established that Communist beliefs were being spread via mass media. At this time, movies were becoming more liberal, and therefore, were believed to be a threat; many felt that Hollywood was attempting to propagandize Communist beliefs. In September of 1947, the HUAC subpoenaed nineteen witnesses (most of whom were actors, directors, and writers) who had previously refused to comment, claiming their Fifth Amendment rights. Eleven of the seventeen were called to testify; only one actually spoke on the stand—the remaining ten refused to speak and were labeled the “Hollywood Ten.”
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials cont2
Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials (cont.)
  • After these infamous ten refused to speak, executives from the movie industry met to decide how best to handle the bad press. They decided to suspend all ten without pay. Although the initial intention was to save their box office reputation, what eventually resulted was as decade-long blacklist. Hundreds of people who worked in the industry were told to point the finger naming those who had any affiliation with the Communist party. As a result, over 200 people lost their jobs and were unable to find anyone who would hire them. The Communist with-hunt ruined the careers of hundreds, and ruined the reputation of hundreds more.
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials cont3
Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials (cont.)
  • In February of 1950, a Republican senator from Wisconsin names Joseph McCarthy claimed to have a list of over 200 card-carrying members of the Communist party. By 1951, a new flourish of accusations began and a new wave were subpoenaed to “name names”—to snitch on those who were Communists or believed to be Communist sympathizers. Later, the terms McCarthy Trials and McCarthyism were coined, which described the anti-Communist movement and trials of the 1950s.
historical context the red scare and mccarthy trials cont4
Historical Context: The Red Scare and McCarthy Trials (cont.)
  • Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, after witnessing first-hand the modern witch-hunt that had taken place in the United States. Miller wrote the controversial play as an allegory, a play which represents something much deeper. In this case, the story is about the Salem witch trials of the 1690s, but warns of history repeating these tragic events on the 1950s.
miller reacts to a witch hunt
Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt
  • “I had known about the Salem witchcraft phenomenon since my American history class at [the University of] Michigan, but it had remained in my mind as one of those inexplicable mystifications of the long-dead past when people commonly believed that the spirit could leave the body…”
  • “As though it had been ordained, a copy of Marion Starkey’s book The Devil in Massachusetts fell into my hands, and the bizarre story came back as I had recalled it, but this time in remarkably well-organized detail.”
miller reacts to a witch hunt1
Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt
  • “At first I rejected the idea of a play on the subject. My own rationality was too strong, I thought, to really allow me to capture this wildly irrational outbreak. A drama cannot merely describe an emotion, it has to become that emotion. But gradually, over weeks, a living connection between myself and Salem, and between Salem and Washington, was made in my mind—for whatever else they might be, I saw that the hearings in Washington were profoundly and avowedly ritualistic. After all, in almost every case the Committee knew in advance what they wanted the witness to give them: the names of his comrades in the [Communist] Party. The FBI had long since infiltrated the Party, and informers had long ago identified the participants in various meetings. The main point of the hearings, precisely as in seventeenth-century Salem, was that the accused make public confession, damn his confederates as well as his Devil master, and guarantee his sterling new allegiance by breaking disgusting old vows—whereupon he was let loose to rejoin the society of extremely decent people. In other words, the same spiritual nugget lay folded within both procedures—an act of contrition done not in solemn privacy but out in public air.”
miller reacts to a witch hunt cont
Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt (cont.)
  • “The Salem prosecution was actually on more solid legal ground since the defendant, if guilty of familiarity with the Unclean One [the Devil], had broken a law against the practice of witchcraft, a civil as well as a religious offense; whereas the offender against HUAC could not be accused of any such violation but only of a spiritual crime, subservience to a political enemy’s desires and ideology. He was summoned before the Committee to be called a bad name, but one that could destroy his career.”
miller reacts to a witch hunt cont1
“In effect, it came down to a governmental decree of moral guilt that could easily be made to disappear by ritual speech: intoning names of fellow sinners and recanting former beliefs. This last was probably the saddest and truest part of the charade, for by the early 1950s there were few, and even fewer in the arts, who had not left behind their illusions about the Soviets.”

“It was this immaterial element, the surreal spiritual transaction, that now fascinated me, for the rituals of guilt and confession followed all the forms of a religious inquisition, except, of course, that the offended parties were not God and his ministers but a congressional committee…”

Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt (cont.)
notes from christopher bigsby s introduction to the play
Notes from Christopher Bigsby’s Introduction to the play:
  • “The question is not the reality of witches but the power of authority to define the nature of the real, and the desire, on the part of individuals and the state, to identify those whose purging will relieve a sense of anxiety and guilt. What lay behind the procedures of both witch trial and political hearing was a familiar American need to assert a recoverable innocence even if the only guarantee of such innocence lay in the displacement of guilt onto others. To sustain the integrity of their own names, the accused were invited to offer the names of others, even though to do so would be to make them complicit in procedures they despised and hence to damage their sense of themselves. And here is a theme that connects virtually all of Miller’s plays: betrayal, of the self no less than of others.”
notes continued
Notes (continued):
  • “…in Miller’s plays there usually comes a moment when the central character cries out his own name, determined to invest it with meaning and integrity. Almost invariably this moment occurs when he is on the point of betraying himself and others. A climactic scene in The Crucible occurs when John Proctor, on the point of trading his integrity for his life, finally refuses to pay the price, which is to offer the names of others to buy his life…Three years later, Miller himself was called before the Committee. His reply, when asked to betray others, was a virtual paraphrase of the one offered by Proctor. He announced, “I am trying to, and will protect my sense of myself. I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him.’”
notes continued1
Notes (continued):
  • “[The Crucible] is Arthur Miller’s most frequently produced play not, I think, because it addresses affairs of the state nor even because it offers us the tragic sight of a man who dies to save his conception of himself and the world, but because audiences understand all too well that the breaking of charity is no less a truth of their own lives than it is an account of historical processes…The Crucible reminds us how fragile is our grasp on those shared values that are the foundation of any society.”
notes continued2
Notes (continued)
  • “Beyond anything else The Crucible is a study in power and the mechanisms by which power is sustained, challenged, and lost…In the landscape of The Crucible, on the one hand stands the church, which provides the defining language within which all social, political, and moral debate is conducted. On the other stand those usually deprived of power—the black slave Tituba and the young children—who suddenly gain access to an authority as absolute as that which had previously subordinated them…Those socially marginalized move to the very center of social action…The Crucible is a play about the seductive nature of power…”
notes continued3
Notes (continued)
  • The Crucible is both an intense psychological drama and a play of epic proportions…this is a drama about an entire community betrayed by a Dionysian surrender to the irrational; it is also, however, a play about the redemption of an individual and, through the individual, of a society. Some scenes, therefore, people the stage with characters, while others show the individual confronted by little more than his own conscience. That oscillation between the public and the private is a part of the rhythmic pattern of the play.”
notes continued4
Notes (continued)
  • “…the play’s success now owes little to the political and social context in which it was written. It stands, instead, as a study of the debilitating power of guilt, the seductions of power, the flawed nature of the individual and of the society to which the individual owes allegiance. It stands as a testimony to the ease with which we betray those very values essential to our survival, but also the courage with which some men and women can challenge what seems to be a ruling orthodoxy.”
notes continued5
Notes (continued)
  • “Like so many of Miller’s other plays, it is a study of a man who wishes, above all, to believe that he has invested his life with meaning, but cannot do so if he betrays himself through betraying others. It is a study of a society that believes in its unique virtues and seeks to sustain that dream of perfection by denying all possibility of its imperfection…America is to believe that it is at the same time both guilty and without flaw.”
  • The Crucible Literature Guide. Secondary Solutions, 2006.
  • The Crucible. Latitudes. Perfection Learning, 1995.
  • Christopher Bigsby’s Introduction in the Penguin Books version of The Crucible, 1995.