Arthur Miller: Politics and Playwriting

To some, he may be best known as Marilyn Monroe's husband, but Arthur Miller was also one of America's most important playwrights. He wrote many outstanding plays and essays in his lifetime. Much of his work is unflinchingly provocative, delving into central topics such as life, injustice, betrayal and death. While too deep for some, to Miller these were the only topics worth writing about. His view that politics and theater go hand in hand is evident in his lecture On Politics and the Art of Acting, posted on the National Endowment for the Humanities Web site. He once said that he thought theater could change the world. To this end, Miller was a success.

Early years

Born in 1915 in New York City, Arthur was the second of three children. The Wall Street crash of 1929 hit his once-well-off family hard. After the family's clothing shop and home were gone, a smaller apartment along with smaller goals took their place. Miller worked many an odd job up until playwriting took him over while he was at the University of Michigan.

Playwriting

After graduation Miller joined the Federal Theater Project, a New Deal agency, back in New York City. When that project was closed, he worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and wrote radio plays to help support himself. He had arrived on Broadway when his plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman garnered him much critical acclaim and commercial success.

Politics

Miller's personal experience with government shaded his view of politics. In 1956, Miller was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and pressured to name names of those writing peers who Miller knew to be communist sympathizers. Miller was unwilling to cooperate in the witch-hunt, and was subsequently convicted of contempt of Congress. This conviction was overturned the next year.

Later in life

Miller achieved much in his lifetime. Some of the most famous plays ever written are works of Miller's: A View from the Bridge, After the Fall, The Price, The American Clock, Broken Glass and many more. Death of a Salesman is a cornerstone in literature for honoring the modest victories and defeats of the common man, and portraying, in the style of the Greek tragedy, the fall of the tragic hero. The Crucible illustrates the anguish of one wrongly and literally involved in a witch-hunt -- a reference to the political atmosphere during the McCarthy era.

The legacy

The compassionate voice of Arthur Miller resonates throughout all of his works. Through playwriting, he was able to express his social values of compassion, empathy, duty and conscience -- and underscore the potential cruelty and unfairness in the world. When Miller died in 2005, the lights of Broadway darkened to honor, as playwright David Hare stated, "the last of the great titans of the American stage."

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