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Arthur Miller Contributions to the Literature Essay (Critical Writing)



Obviously, Miller enjoyed variable popularity, and there are still many critics approaching his creative activity quite coolly and indifferently, even negatively. Some opponents of Miller’s style claim that he utilized recurrent, repetitive themes in his works, and failed to reveal the true poetics and drama of some of his plots; nonetheless, Arthur Miller have been coping with the tremendous political and ideological pressure, holding his own point in many aspects of creative, social, and individual life. Miller’s ideological and political views were quite contradictory for the period of his life; he was even sentenced to prison for one year because he refused to tell the names of communists he knew during the Cold War (Parker 4).

All his life Miller was a true proponent of communist and socialist ideals, which revealed his idealistic attitude to life and the place of an individual in a society, the relationship of the society and separate people within it, and the complex social reality created by the individual endeavor as a result of their deeds, consequences, and social responsibility. It is through the typical themes of Miller’s works that the reader is able to understand that he or she never exists in alienation, and the actions of the past always bear a trace to the present and even the future. This is the form of social realism that was lost at the beginning of the 20th century and found its revival in Miller’s plots.

The topics of social inequality, the weakness of an ordinary person are dominant throughout Miller’s creative path, which can ensure him a firm place in the hearts of the lower class, and middle class representatives whose rights and dignity Miller has always protected, and whose pains he voiced.

The biography of Miller is very bright and remarkable, reflecting the creative way of the author directly. The reason for this is that Miller himself was the representative of the lower class who was born in 1915 in a Jewish family at the outbreak of the Great Depression, and who had to work in order to provide for his living and education (Parker 1). Arthur Miller earned for his education himself, taking the least paid manual jobs, and made his dream come true, studying at the University of Michigan. Further on, after the end of the Great Depression, it was still hard for average families to restore their economic welfare, so Miller worked at the auto parts warehouse (Parker 3).

This experience of hard work and deprivation of manual workers who were often exposed to the unfair working conditions, who often were in danger and who never received decent treatment was included in such works as the famous Death of a Salesman and A Memory of Two Mondays.

After the end of the Great Depression and elimination of its consequences for the Americans, Miller became famous for a set of his works and enjoyed popularity and fame for a certain period of time. He married Marilyn Monroe, but their marriage did not last for long and also left a trace on the author’s creative activity (Parker 4). With the outbreak of the Cold War, Miller was condemned for his support of socialist and communist ideas, which caused him many troubles and reduced his popularity very much. Nonetheless, Arthur Miller showed himself as a solid personality and did not deviate from his political and social views even at the period of the toughest political pressure.

Up to the moment of his death in 2005, Miller continued to write well-reasoned and intellectually coherent works and plays, and left the present world as a highly commemorated playwright, activist, and thinker. His social injustice condemnation works stand in line with the ones of Jack London, Charles Dickens, and Somerset Maugham, giving a precise and painfully realistic idea of what the social background of the USA in the 20th century was, and what imperfection and vices it concealed.

Main Body

There is much material to study the creative activity of Arthur Miller, and it is often hard to concentrate on some specific issues of his heterogeneous works and messages. However, there is still a set of articles, reviews, and critiques that direct the researcher in the fields still unknown about the author or under-researched in general. It is still possible to find some interesting viewpoints that enable to take an alternative viewpoint at Miller’s work and life. Thus, for example, one should mention the article of Williams (1959) who was one of the first critics to assess and comment on the works of Miller that earned his the global fame and made him the distinguished author and playwright of the 20th century. It is very useful to have a look at the evaluation that was undertaken more than 50 years ago, at the period of turbulent political situation affecting the opinions about people and their works.

Williams notes that Arthur Miller turned out to revive the drama of social questions so popular in the works of Ibsen, and created the conception of relationship of the individual and the society as a continuous and inseparable process and not the subordinate relation of the part to the whole (Williams 34). Miller’s social thinking is based on direct experience, which makes it extremely valuable and different from Ibsen’s and other social realists’ works. The topics of social crime and the feeling of fear and guilt that harass the criminals as a result of the effect that social responsibility has on them are popular in Miller’s works, and they make a certain distinction of Miller’s works from other popular writers of the same trend.

It becomes obvious from Williams’ review that there are several recurrent symbolic themes and messages pursued by Miller – first of all, it is the inevitability of truth that affects the lives of not only the criminals and people not known to them, but the dramatic effect on their family, relatives, and neighbors. The tragic impact on the human life is metaphoric to the organic connection between all actions people commit, either being aware of the effect on others, or completely ignorant about it – they never pass unnoticed, and the supposition that the evil will not return is false. The false consciousness of Miller’s characters is one of the dominant elements visible in every work (Williams 36).

Some other typical elements of Miller’s works are the guilt and pain connected with some crimes, and the reflection of that guilt in the family relationships, especially in the examples of fathers versus sons. Many characters of Miller (including the main characters of the works All My Sons and Death of A Salesman) experience refusal from their sons, which happens after their social crimes, which creates a vicious circle of familial love and guilt for social wrongdoings (Williams 35).

The personal experience of Miller in hard labor of deprived manual workers is revealed in his socially sharp work A Memory of Two Mondays. According to the estimate of Williams, the work is full of frustration of inarticulacy, inability of ordinary men to express themselves and establish normal work relationships (36). However, the most important findings from the article of Williams on the review of the most significant works of Miller written by 1959 concern the overall spirit of the works, and messages that Miller generally pursued. They include the loss of meaning of life and pursuit of meaning by death (Williams 37). Deeply in the core of Miller’s philosophy, the individual tragedy is closely related to the social drama, and it is the loss of meaning in relationships that actually represents the drama of consciousness and drives ordinary people to death:

“In reaching out for this new social consciousness —in which “every aspect of personal life is radically affected by the quality of the general life, yet the general life is seen at its most important in completely personal terms”—Miller, for all the marks of difficulty, uncertainty and weakness that stand within the intensity of his effort, seems clearly a central figure in the drama and consciousness of our time” (Williams 67).

Continuing the review of literature related to Arthur Miller, one should certainly mention the article of Brustein written in 2002; it is highly valuable in shedding light at the multiple aspects of Miller’s life rich in events and marked by the intense struggle at first for social welfare and recognition, then – against political and ideological pressure, and at last – for consistency, realism, fairness of conveying the social reality. Brustein takes a critical standpoint about Miller’s topics, arguing that the famous playwright may be accused for repetitiveness and lack of originality (26). However, Brustein states at the same time that recurrent topics of Miller serve as a sign of his intellectual consistency:

“This intellectual consistency is a sign of Miller’s stubbornness and persistence, qualities that have helped him keep his balance in our fickle culture. The price of this is a degree of repetition within each book and from one book to the other, possibly because Miller is always being asked the same questions. The echoes down the corridor often reverberate from similar acoustical sources” (Brustein 26).

The philosophy of Arthur Miller is analyzed by Brustein in chronological order in connection with his creative activity; the author marks the intense effect of nostalgia Miller used to have and voiced in his social essays, the support and fascination of Arthur Miller about radical student movement in the 1960s, and the outrage against social injustice that Arthur Miller managed to carry up to the end of his life (Brustein 26). Brustein also delineates certain connection between Arthur Miller’s plots in creative activity and his support of Marxism, even in the most severe oppression of all Soviet regime elements (Brustein 26). Hence, the political basis of Miller’s themes and structures becomes evident and clear.

Finally, what is valuable about Brustein’s article is the high evaluation of spiritual firmness Arthur Miller managed to preserve in the most turbulent times of the 20th century (Brustein 28). It is not only through support of dissident artists and repressed intellectuals that Arthur Miller deserves tribute and fame. The author has been, and has remained, an example of morale and ethics in the changeable political and ideological conditions, and it is high moral equilibrium that was never altered or questioned that distinguishes him from the range of many other authors of past times and modernity (Brustein 28).

Nonetheless, in addition to Arthur Miller’s extensive literary, social, and political activity, one has to note the realization of Arthur Miller’s Jewish identity in the period of the Holocaust and after it. The most tragic and massive genocide effort in the history of the humanity was a drama in itself; however, American Jews were often accused of revealing little regret, support, and attention to the European Jews’ tragedy. Indeed, there have been a small number of literary works written by American Jews on the issue of Holocaust and anti-Semitism, but Arthur Miller should not be accused of indifference, as the article of Mesher proves.

Mesher analyzes the work Focus in which Miller transferred the horrors of Holocaust into the traditional New York setting, showing how misconception, stereotypes and unsubstantiated hatred may ruin the lives of people who do not even belong to the subject of hatred, i.e. Jews. The main character of Focus worked as an identifier of Jews as undesirable candidates for work in a certain corporation, but finally became associated with Jews because of his appearance as well, and in the end he voluntarily assimilated with them as a symbol of struggle against injustice that has no race, color, or class (Mesher 470-472).

Focus is full of realistic details of anti-Semitism spirit that was present in America before, during, and after the Second World War. Miller depicts the way Christian Front operated, and how people harassed the suspected Jews, arranged disorders and tried to get rid of them, forcing the haunted families to leave. The literary device used in the present work is intentional omission of Holocaust being mentioned or talked about, which becomes highly evident and recognizable, implying its invisible presence in every line of the work (Mesher 469). Therefore, it is one of brightest Miller’s works attributed to Holocaust and Jews.

Finally, the topic of Miller’s own secrets and lack of responsibility is very helpful in understanding the personality of this author if not completely, then to a much larger extent. It is the article of Barnwell that opens the door to the biggest mystery of the most famous moralist of the 20th century – it is his son Daniel born in 1962 and diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth. Barnwell states that Arthur Miller put him in a specialized institution and never visited him there, and even the closest friends who saw Daniel on the first days of his life never saw him again, after the diagnosis became known. Miller did everything to make Daniel disappear from his life:

“He did not mention him once in the scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years. He also never referred to him in his 1987 memoir, Timebends. In 2002, Daniel was left out of the New York Times obituary for Miller’s wife, the photographer Inge Morath, who was Daniel’s mother. A brief account of his birth appeared in a 2003 biography of Miller by the theater critic Martin Gottfried. But even then Miller maintained his silence” (Barnwell ¶4).

The most troubling question connected with the life of Daniel Miller was how Miller, so ethically solid and pure man, who spent his whole life in pointing out the drawbacks of the society he was living in, could do such evil to his son. It is hard to understand the decision on institutionalization of Daniel now, but Barnwell enumerates several reasons that could be in effect then – the 1960s’ philosophy of putting disabled children away from the family, the sad experience with Arthur Miller’s cousin Carl Barnett who also had Down syndrome and was raised at home (Barnwell).

However, no matter why Miller did so, it is still clear that the decision was cruel and arrogant, especially taking into consideration that Daniel was raised in Southbury, an institution with awful, nightmarish conditions, and Arthur never visited him in contrast to Inge who came to Daniel nearly every week. Still, it seems that Arthur Miller felt the lingering pain and guilt because of his decision that he described in his great works so well; this is the only explanation to the fact that Miller left four equal parts of his heritage to all four children, Daniel included (Barnwell).


It stands to reason that Arthur Miller is a profound figure in the world’s literature, and he managed to leave a rich literary heritage to be studied, appreciated, and remembered by readership all over the world. Arthur Miller was not only a remarkable writer, but a protector of deprived, low class workers who never possessed the power to speak out and claim their rights. It is true that sometimes the contribution of Arthur Miller cannot be assessed as more literary or more political because he genuinely believed that the literature should carry a political message, and should fulfill a political function. This is the reason for which Miller has been dedicating equal effort to writing and to ideological propaganda of pure socialist values he cherished all his life.

Though Arthur Miller belonged to the category of American Jews accused of the neglect towards the issues of Holocaust and anti-Semitism, he wrote extensively on these topics and called the issue into attention, which can be seen from the review of Focus and other essays of Miller. Miller’s creative activity was rather homogeneous, but still there are works in which every reader and viewer will find something personal, something appealing, and something valuable.

His life was interesting and full of events but not always easy, which can be seen from his political pressure, the unsuccessful marriage with Marilyn Monroe, the temporary and turbulent fame that came to him and left him many times during his life, and surely the disabled child whom he concealed from the public. However, Arthur Miller will always be remembered both for his socialist struggle for the better life of the working class, and the skilful depiction of social reality, realistic drama of the individuals lost in their lives, and the path of the truth and responsibility that each should pursue not to do evil for others.

Works Cited

Andrews, Suzanna. ‘Arthur Miller’s Missing Act’. MasterFILE Premier Database. Vanity Fair, 07338899 (2007), Issue 565. Print.

Brustein, Robert. ‘Arthur Miller at 87’. The New Republic, (2002): 26-28. Print.

Mesher, R. David. ‘Arthur Miller’s Focus: The First American Novel of the Holocaust?’ Judaism (2001): 469-478. Print.

Parker, D. Brad. ‘Reflections of a Life’. n.d. Web.

Williams, Raymond. The Realism of Arthur Miller. Universities & Left Review 7 (1959): 34-37. Print.

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