Arthur Asher Miller was an American essayist, playwright of twentieth-century America. He was a controversial figure and blacklisted writer of American theater. He is known for his popular plays Death of the Salesman and All My Sons. His other popular plays include A View from the Bridge and The Crucible. He also wrote numerous screenplays and is prominent for his screenplay, The Misfits. His drama/play The Death of a Salesman has been shortlisted among the finest American plays of the twentieth century.
Miller has been widely recognized during the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. It was during this time that Arthur Miller was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He also testified before the committee of House Un-American Activities. From the St. Louis University Library Associates, Arthur received the St. Louis Literary Award in 1980. In 1999, he received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. He also won the premium Imperiale prize known as Prince of Asturias Award in 2002. In 2003, he received the Jerusalem Prize.
A Short Biography of Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller was born on 17th October 1915. His parents were Jewish immigrants. The family shifted to Brooklyn in 1928 when their business of garment manufacturing started to fail. Miller had been affected immensely by the decay of society due to depression. Moreover, his father had also suffered from depression due to the failure in the business.
When Miller passed out of high school, he started working on various jobs. From the jobs, he saved money for college. He attended the University of Michigan in 1934. He spent the most time in the next four years learning to write and working on a number of plays.
After graduating from the university, Miller went to New York City. There, he worked as a freelance writer. He published his first play The Man Who Had All the Luck in 1944. The play received terrible reviews from the critics. The play is a story of a successful man who is not happy with his success. The themes of this play addressed the major themes of his later plays.
Arthur Miller published a novel in 1945, titled FOCUS. In 1947, he published one of the most celebrated plays, “All My Sons.” The play is a tragedy of a manufacturer, and to save his business, he sells faulty parts to the military.
In 1949, Miller came up with another most respected and most celebrated modern play, Death of a Salesman. This play, like previous ones, deals with the theme of paternal responsibility and depression.
The prevalent intolerance and post-war paranoia greatly influenced the life of Arthur Miller. In the 1950s, he published another major play, The Crucible. The play is set in Salem in the time of witch hunts of the 17th century. His play, though, is concerned with the extraordinary tragedies in the ordinary lives of common people, also deals with both the physical and psychological health of the working-class people.
Sentenced by the disapproval of Congress for not cooperating, Arthur Miller was asked to present the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. It was a difficult time in the life of Arthur Miller. During this time, Miller married and divorced actress Marilyn Monroe. He did not write much during the 1960s and 1970s. He first focuses on the Holocaust and the related issues of guilt; he then moved to write comedies.
In 19602, he married for the third time to Igne Morath, an Austrian born photographer.
The literary career of Miller sees a rebirth with the production of The Ride Down Mount Morgan and The Last Yankee. Both plays also deal with the themes of failure and success like earlier works. Miller, in his works, acknowledges the connection between the 1920’s poverty in America and the wealth in the 1980s. He also focuses on the notion of the American dream and common people’s pursuit of it. A number of earlier plays were also staged with the success of these two plays.
Arthur Miller devoted his time and energy to investigate the moral dilemma of the white working-class of America. Miller created the characters that appear to be very significant in reflecting the voices of American people. He has a strong sense of realism in his works and the strong basis of the American dialect. He has strong insight into the psychology of people, filled with anxiety and depression. He writes stories about people who express the deepest meaning of the struggle of ordinary people. He is regarded as one of the best and widely performed playwrights of America. He remained an active and significant part of the theater in his 85th year
Morath, the third wife of Miller, died in 2002. After death, he soon engaged to a restrained painter Agnes Barley. Before the marriage, Arthur Miller fell severely ill. He died on 10th February 2005 of heart failure at the age of 89.
Arthur Miller’s Writing Style
Before analyzing the writing style of Arthur Miller, let’s first analyze the style and technique used in the playwriting of the contemporary time that has greatly influenced the writing style of Arthur Miller.
Henrik Ibsen is among the best and most thoughtful playwright of the 19th century. He is regarded as the influential and systematic writer of the stage. He filled literature with the craft of stage, stories with ideas, and brought out the sociology and ethic to the forefront. He made the spectators feel and think. He made drama to be dealing with the issues of everyday life.
Those critics and readers who focus on the technical qualities of plays, the plays of Ibsen, are enough for them to seek pleasure from. His plays are powered with self-expression. Powering one’s art/plays with self-expression is a difficult task, and Ibsen had mastered it. He also took efforts to emancipate modern society. He presents modern society in the form of struggling for life. He perfectly blends the complication and refinement of motives, thus giving a richness and psychological depths to his plays.
Ibsen is also regarded as the pioneer of the theater of realism. He dealt with contemporary social issues and projected them in his characters. Ibsen also simplified the technique of the play to accommodate the dramatic form of an idea. He achieved this by abandoning the formal expression and adopted a retrospective method or narrating the story. He also enforced an elaborate stage setting in his social plays.
Ibsen influenced the most prominent writers of his own age as well as the writers of the succeeding generation. The writing style of Arthur Miller is indebted to Ibsen. In his plays, Arthur Miller attempted to establish an expressive allegorical form to his tragic plays. In the plays of Arthur, all of his protagonists are imprisoned in a situation. They are incapable of coming out from this imprisonment and thus ended in a catastrophe. The tone of Miller’s dramas reveals his own moral ideas. Like Ibsen and other realist playwrights, Miller also used his plays to focus and highlight the human plight in the twentieth century.
Just like Dante, Miller also acknowledges the essential purpose of theatre to be the display or portrayal of the root of the cause of man’s suffering. Moreover, for Miller, the essential purpose of drama/play is to unveil the crisis of humans, and provide some relaxation to the tortured souls. Miller is not a strong follower of Judaism, but he shows his Judaic beliefs in his plays. He asserts that man has to encounter the tragic events in his life that disturb the continuity of his life. And only then will he be able to live peacefully.
According to Arthur, the writing techniques of the writer are the result of his moral passion. This moral passion is something different from the political beliefs of the writer. For him, the most important part of any work is ideas. We see that the plays of Miller are saturated with various sorts of outlooks. Arthur Miller was a conscious writer. He was well aware of the trends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that had greatly influenced the drama of his time.
He was an outspoken person, and never hesitated in saying what he feels wrong about the theatre. In his time, greater emphasis was made on the physical apparatus and techniques of his plays than of the content. The play would appear to be an “engineering project.” There was a great repetition of old ideas, characters, and situations due to the lack of new and innovative ideas. As the Japanese would practice old situations in their art, Miller called it “Japanism.” This lack of ideas and other factors made the modern drama faulty and hollow.
Through his writing, Miller also portrayed the idea that the basic function of drama is to brighten the ray of hope not to raise infectiveness. In the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Miller says that there is a feeling of desolate find amongst the audience. He says that a writer must need not include such feelings but rather create an ideal theater.
Moreover, he adds, the function of art and so as of the writer is to a mutual relationship between society and man. To express the ideas of morality, a writer can employ different techniques.
The technical analysis of Arthur Miller’s works is not based merely on theoretical elements. It is also practical. Instead of practicing a certain faltering rule, he appears to be more functional in his plays. His works are based on the creative experience of life. Though his views on style form and realism in playwriting are not very detailed, they extend the horizon of creative writing.
The element of realism is found in the modified form in the plays of Arthur Miller. He uses realism to resolve the collapse of the modern age and to agree upon the universally sanctioned morality. He based his plays on the realistic surface of life. However, many critics consider this realism, as an offense, as an offense against the assertion of meaning. With all its criticism, realism is still an attractive form in Miller’s plays. He employed it with new lightning schemes, a cut-out revolving stage, and musical background.
To make his expression more authentic, Miller also employed a new technique in his plays known as naturalism. In his plays, naturalism is an important mode of expression. When this technique in his plays went popular, he started experimenting with his writing with states of mind, insanity, fears, dreams, and aspirations.
When the world of theatre witnessed technical experimentation in the form of formalism, expressionism, symbolism, and surrealism, various writers adopted the different styles and modes of technique. Arthur Miller, being a realist writer, adopted the expressionist and symbolist mode of writing. In his writing, expressionism turned out to be most dominant in his writing style. Death of a Salesman is the perfect example of the integration of realism expressionism in Miller’s writing style.
In order to show the inner working of the mind of the character, Arthur Miller employed the “flashback” technique. This flashback technique is very much prominent in his play Death of the salesman. To make his plays successful, he employed more recognizable forms. Miller turned to the plays of Ibsen and used it as a model. His failure in dramatizing the past events in the early plays made him study Ibsen in detail and use his techniques and methods in his own plays. The biggest problem for Miller was to present the past events which he overcame in the best possible ways.
After realism, Miller also employed other modes of expression to make his plays more comprehensible. In his play All My Sons, it is believed that the employment of the realistic mode of expression, an expression of the relationship of the family with the play, and the relationship of society with the play, aroused an “unrealistic” mode of expression.
To show the private life of a man, Miller employed “Pure realism” and lifted it up with a poetic expression to make it social. In the play All My Sons, Miller shows “undisturbed normality” to create an atmosphere in the play. After the one-act, the past events are flashbacked and show that the peaceful day was preceded by the stormy night. The stormy night has been planted in the memories of characters. There is a fallen tree whose branches are still covered with fruits. The fallen tree symbolizes the dead son who had been killed in the war, and this symbolism is identified by the characters. The family is also aware of the changes that are about to come to Keller’s family.
Though, the memories of the dead son are buried in the daily routine activities. However, the members of the family are hunted by the dead son. They struggle to flush out his memories by oppressing reality. The characters of the play are the family members who are brought together by the family bond. However, this bond is fractured because one character denies taking responsibility. The structure of the according to Miller, is to “To bring a man into the direct path of the consequences he has wrought.”
The protagonist of the play consciously shows dishonesty in supplying the faulty cylinder heads to be used in the engines of aircraft. Instead of accepting the result of his own acts, he plays on others to bear the responsibility. The bond between family and a social contract between man and society is what Miller is trying to preach in his plays.
Miller employs surface meanings in his plays with the uses of symbols. Similarly, he employs deep meaning through the ordinary conversation between the characters. For example, the house of Keller was constructed in the 1920s, but they painted it recently and gave it a comfortable and compact look. Ironically, it implies that they are made lively artificially.
Arthur Miller, in his plays, is not focusing on the private values of the individual, which he/she is missing with the society. The Crime of Keller is answerable. Moreover, the way he lies, it is normal. In his characters, Miller portrays an ordinary everyday person. Moreover, he shows how normal people react in the ordinary wartime period. Like Joe Keller, Miller notices many wartime illegal businesses that he portrayed in his plays. Nobody publicly acknowledges the societal rule which was violated on a daily basis.
The audience, though, never justifies the action of Joe Killer, but rejects his motives. The continuous relevance of the play is the audience can acknowledge the force because they themselves are prone to it.
To make it plays appear to be more realistic, Arthur Miller employed ordinary language. It has been observed that the language employed in tragedies is often ornamental and poetic. It has been traditional that the characters of tragedy, as being the pursuit of noble and extraordinary characters, must converse in the poetic language. However, in his tragedies, Arthur Miller did not adhere to the conventional norms of tragedies. He used his tragedies to depict the life of ordinary people in an ordinary language. He used the style of “linguistic realism.”
Moreover, Arthur Miller employed tragedy in a specific manner. His treatment tragedy made him hated by most of the dramatists. For example, the play Death of the Salesman is not about the tragedy of a noble person or of the high-rank person like that of Greek and medieval tragedies. It is about an ordinary person with ordinary pursuits of life.
The symbols employed by Arthur Miller in his plays are to establish the reality of events and characters in the play. His symbols are simpler and narrower in implication. For example, at the beginning of the play Death of the Salesman, Miller says Willy Lowman enters carrying two suitcases. These suitcases symbolize the burdens of his life. In the play, Miller employed symbols with great impressiveness and subtleness. He employed these symbols to abandon the conventional forms of symbols.
Just like experimentation with the realism and symbolism, Miller also experiments with the style and technique of the narration. For instance, in the play The Crucible, Miller employed lengthy pieces of exposition that read as the stage directions. With the first look, it appears that the readers either have to read it or listen to the narrator. However, it becomes evident later that the background material permits the directors and actors to analyze the motivations of characters and then internalize the information.
Similarly, in the play Death of the Salesman, Miller gives out a unique experience of narration to the readers and audience. The play appears to be traditional in many ways. For example, the actors interact with one another, there is a plotline, and there are standard dramatic elements in the play. The dramatic elements include exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, and resolution.
However, a non-traditional environment is also created as Miller manipulates time and space. Through this manipulation is unsettling but also effective as it reflects the mental state of Willy Loman. Through this technique, he allows the audience and readers to observe the mental instability of Willy.
To conclude, the style and technique of Arthur Miller are unique as it describes the life of ordinary people in ordinary society. The language employed is based on realism. Instead of making warriors, medieval heroes the subject of his playwriting, he concerned himself to the lives of ordinary people. As in his essay “Tragedy and the Common man” says that since in the twentieth we do not have kings and princes, and the dominant community in the modern world is common to man, we shall base our studies on the lives and experiences of these common men. Thus, he makes a common man a suitable subject of tragedy. He employed the techniques of realism and symbolism in his plays to make them appear more realistic.