America Loses One of its Best in Arthur Miller

In our age, there is a great need for people with the courage to speak truth to power. Those who intelligently question the ideals of the establishment are an invaluable part of any society. Today, however, it seems that all too often the voices of resistance and query come from shrill bloggers or partisan zealots who lack the eloquence to provoke any kind of thought. It was in this context that America lost one of its great voices two weeks ago. Since I first read them in the high school, the plays of Arthur Miller have seemed as a personal inspiration. Miller’s wonderful blend of character drama and social commentary lifted him above his peers and established him as one of thefinest American playwrights. He was truly one of the greats, and such genius merits a eulogy in these pages. In the 1940s and 50s, Arthur Miller transformed the American theater with works that both reflected and probed the society in which he lived. Miller became the conscience of the people as he unscrupulously revealed the times. In doing so, he shook their very foundations. The genius of Miller’s domestic drama was that it spoke to greater societal truths while still creating vivid and authentic drama at the personal level. Brilliantly tragic characters like Willy Loman and John Proctor stand tall in the halls of American literature, and will continue to do so long after our time. The pathetic self-destruction of the Loman family and the emotional tearing apart of the Proctors’ lights the stage with a brilliant display of human passion and tragedy. Miller accomplished this without letting the reader or viewer forget the root causes of such pain, causes lurking in the very fabric of American society.Arthur Miller was born in 1915 to Isadore and Agusta Miller, Jewish immigrants who had settled in Manhattan. Late in his youth, Arthur’s parents were hit hard by the Great Depression. This forced them to move to Brooklyn to face personal and financial hardship for many years. The experience would be essential to Miller’s development and its effect would surface as a constant theme in his works. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1938, Miller returned to New York to work as a freelance writer. In 1944, he opened his first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, despite a terrible reception to this first work. Miller continued writing plays and found tremendous success with the 1947 opening of “All My Sons.” This work dealt with the heavy subject of morality in the face of despair as a struggling manufacturer is forced to sell faulty products to the military. Two years after All My Sons, Miller would create a masterpiece that would propel him to international fame. The Death of a Salesman is recognized as Miller’s greatest work. It had the immediate effect of making him a millionaire and an international celebrity. About the sad figure of self-delusional salesman Willy Loman, “The Death of a Salesman” addresses the frustrations of the middle-class America and the fallacy of the American Dream. The work won the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award, becaming one of the most frequently performed plays in U.S. history. Miller produced another masterpiece in 1953 with The Crucible, which recreated the 17th century Salem witch trials. An obvious allegory to the witch-hunt mentality of the McCarthy era, this play stars the courageous figure of John Proctor. Proctor stands up to the establishment’s madness and loses his life for it. Three years later, Miller would find himself acting out his own part in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, though the price for his defiance was merely a conviction for Contempt of Congress (later overturned).Miller’s refusal to name names to the Committee raised his already high renown. He had become the voice of intelligent resistance in America, and was reaping the benefits. In 1956, Miller married actress Marilyn Monroe, uniting, as one observer put it, “The Great American Brain” and “The Great American Body.” The high-profile marriage ended harshly with Monroe’s suicide. In 1962, Miller married for the third time and remained with his new wife Inge. Ultimately, Miller wrote 30 plays along with many articles and works of fiction. He won seven Tonys, a Pulitzer and a slew of other honors, including honorary degrees from Harvard and Oxford. He was one of the great American writers, one who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed and address the ills of society through the dramatic glory of the stage. Miller criticized with eloquence and grace and will be forever remembered for that. So, today, let’s respect the passing of this great American. Rest in peace, Arthur Miller; you were one of the good guys.