The Life of Arthur Miller
"By whatever means it is accomplished, the prime business of a play
is to arouse the passions of its audience so that by the route of passion
may be opened up a new relationship between a man and men, and between
men and Man. Drama is akin to the other inventions of man in that it ought
to help us know more, and not merely to spend our feelings."
--Arthur Miller, from the "Introduction to his Collected Plays"
Since achieving fame with his plays All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Arthur Miller has inspired audiences with a body of work that deftly examines the disillusioned terrain of the human heart as well as "the work of the individual conscience when pitted against the uniform thinking of the mob" (New Yorker). As a result, Miller has been a principal pioneer in the development of a distinctly American form of theatre.
Born in Manhattan in 1915 to Jewish immigrants, Miller was shaped by the failure of his father's garment manufacturing business in the late 1920s. Witnessing the social decay caused by the Depression and his father's desperation had a tremendous impact on Miller and his writing.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1938, Miller began writing in earnest. His first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), about an incredibly successful man who is unhappy with that success, opened to horrible reviews. Its unfavorable reception disheartened Miller, and he decided he would write one more play. If that were not successful, he would give up playwriting. Fortunately, All My Sons was a huge Broadway hit. Concerned with issues of morality when faced with desperation, All My Sons appealed to audiences who had just suffered through a war and a depression.
Miller was launched into the realm of the greatest living American playwrights with his masterpiece Death of a Salesman, which follows the tragic Willy Loman, a failed businessman attempting to remember and reconstruct his life. As Cold War paranoia pervaded the country, Miller penned his third major play, The Crucible (1953), as a response to 1950s McCarthyism. Three years later, he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to name those he knew to have Communist sympathies (he was eventually cleared of the charges). His next play was not produced until 1964. After the Fall, a highly inventive work about a lawyer named Quentin coming to grips with his turbulent past and self-perceived moral inadequacy, was influenced by Miller's tumultuous five-year marriage (1956-1961) to pop-icon Marilyn Monroe.
Among Miller's other plays are A View from the Bridge (1956), Incident at Vichy (1964), The Price (1968), The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), Broken Glass (1994), and Resurrection Blues (2002). His autobiography Timebends was published in 1987, and his most recent play, Finishing the Picture--based on the making of the 1961 film The Misfits, which Miller wrote for Marilyn Monroe--premiered in October 2004.
The Alley's long series of productions of Miller's plays began 50 years ago, when founding Artistic Director Nina Vance directed his Death of a Salesman in February 1954. Since that time, the Alley has mounted 11 productions of plays by Arthur Miller, including a co-production of All My Sons with the University of Houston in 2000. Miller was also the recipient of the 1984 Alley Award, which honored his distinguished body of work. Miller was married three times. In 1940, he married his college sweetheart Mary Slattery, with whom he had a daughter and a son. After their divorce, he later married Marilyn Monroe. At the time of her death by suicide, they were separated. His last wife, Inge Morath, a professional photographer, with whom he had another two children, died in 2002. Arthur Miller died on February 10, 2005 at his home in Connecticut. He was 89.
Miller's Production History at the Alley Theatre
o Death of a Salesman in 1954 and 1997
o All My Sons in 1955 and 1984 and 2000*
o A View From the Bridge in 1957, 1989, and 1999
o After the Fall in 2005
o The Crucible in 1959, 1994 and 2005
*Co-production with the University of Houston
In writing The Crucible, Miller went to the source of the Salem Witch Hunts by reading the recorded transcripts of the trials. After much research, he struggled with the dilemma of how to make this more than an interesting historical play with connections to the House of Un-American Activities Commission Hearings that were ongoing during the time he was writing the play. He was struggling with how to connect the play to his own story in such a way that audiences over time could connect it to their own life. He writes about his struggle in his autobiography, Timebends:
One day, after several hours of reading at the Historical Society [...] I got up to leave and that was when I noticed hanging on a wall several framed etchings of the witchcraft trials, apparently made by an artist who must have witnessed them. In one of them, a shaft of sepulchral light shoots down from a window high up in a vaulted room, falling upon the head of a judge whose face is blanched white, his long white beard hanging to his waist, arms raised in defensive horror as beneath him the covey of afflicted girls screams and claws at invisible tormentors. Dark and almost indistinguishable figures huddle on the periphery of the picture, but a few men can be made out, bearded like the judge, and shrinking back in pious outrage. Suddenly it became my memory of the dancing men in the synagogue on 114th Street as I had glimpsed them between my shielding fingers, the same chaos of bodily motion - in this picture, adults fleeing the sight of a supernatural event; in my memory, a happier but no less eerie circumstance--both scenes frighteningly attached to the long reins of God. I knew instantly what the connection was: the moral intensity of the Jews and the clan's defensiveness against pollution from outside the ranks. Yes, I understood Salem in that flash; it was suddenly my own inheritance. I might not yet be able to work a play's shape out of this roiling mass of stuff, but it belonged to me now, and I felt I could begin circling around the space where a structure of my own could conceivably rise.
As Miller spent hours pouring over the testimony of the participants in the trial, he tried to catch their speech patterns, reading out loud and listening to old time residents. Then he followed the train of testimony against one of the executed, a farmer named John Proctor. He realized there was a connection between Abigail and Parrish and that they were some-how connected to the Proctor family. There were sexual innuendos throughout the transcript. So in his play he fictionalized the adulterous relationship between John Proctor and the young Abigail. He knew that would create the dramatic energy and a reason for Abigail to attack Elizabeth as a witch. Like many writers, Miller became attached to his characters and to the real people they represented. He wrote the following while standing on the rock at Gallows Hill:
Here hung Rebecca, John Proctor, George Jacobs, people more real to me than the living can ever be. The sense of a terrible marvel again that people could have such a belief in themselves and in the rightness of their consciences as to give their lives rather that say what they thought was false. Or, perhaps, they only feared Hell so much? Yet, Rebecca said, and it is written in the record, I cannot belie myself. And she knew it would kill her [...] The rock stands forever in Salem. They knew who they were. Nineteen.
Set in the village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, The Crucible tells the story of what happens when the town's Pastor, Reverend Parris, spies his young daughter, Betty, and a group of other girls from his church, dancing in the woods. Betty is in a coma and her cousin, Abigail, admits that they were indeed dancing and accuses Betty of faking her illness to escape punishment. A neighbor, Ann Putman arrives and says that her daughter is behaving strangely also, and that she has heard the rumor that Betty has been seen flying like a witch. She declares her suspicion that Parris's slave, Tituba has been introducing the girls to native spiritual rituals and practices. She, herself, has sent her servant girl to Tituba to find out why she has lost so many of her babies. Reverend Hale is called in for a consultation on whether this is a case of some evil invading the community. Once the charge of possible witchcraft is leveled, there is no turning back for the people of Salem. As the play progresses we learn of the disputes and jealousies that resided in this farming community whose law is the dogma of their faith and whose judges must uphold not only the law but the authority and power of the church. Abigail and the other young girls enter into a deadly game of naming as witches, the townspeople who try to reason with the court. Many prominent and successful families are destroyed, giving rise to the question of why the young girls have been given so much power. Why does the court believe adolescent girls over the stability of church members, who by all accounts, have led good and productive lives?
We begin to see that what the court wants is the confessions of those
who stand accused. It matters not if they are guilty or innocent. It is
the authority of the court that cannot be questioned. Finally, John Proctor
is faced with the decision to tell the truth, plead his innocence of witchcraft
and hang, or to tell a lie and live. Elizabeth Proctor, who tells the only
lie of her life in an attempt to save her husband, escapes the hangman
because she is pregnant. When John Proctor declares he will plead guilty,
Rebecca Nurse, the town's midwife, is brought in from her prison cell to
witness his declaration in hopes that she too will also plead guilty. She
refuses and is shocked by Proctor's willingness to confess to a lie. When
the Judges try to force Proctor to name others and post his confession
in public, he refuses because he has confessed to them before God. He admits
that his confession is a lie. He is taken to be hanged with the other accused.
* In the earliest published edition of The Crucible, playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote commentary about the actual events and people of seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts.
List of Characters
Reverend Samuel Parris
The New England minister who discovered his young daughter Betty dancing with other young girls in the woods. He is the person most responsible for the belief in witches having read a copy of "The Hammer of Witches" (Malleus malefi-carum), 1486.
His daughter age 10. Betty has pretended to be ill because she afraid of the beating and punishment she will receive for being caught. She goes along with the rest of the girls.
Rev. Parris' Negro slave from Barbados who has taught the girls about spirits.
An orphan and Rev. Parris' 19-year-old niece, who leads the other girls in the accusations. She has recently left the service of the Proctors and hates Elizabeth Proctor.
Abigail's friend, who also joins in the game to be part of the group.
A mean spirited and wealthy landowner who covets his neighbors' property. He is accused of coercing his daughter to accuse people in order to gain their land.
His wife, who is embittered by the still births of seven babies. She blames Rebecca Nurse and supernatural forces for their deaths.
A servant to the Putmans, she gladly goes along with the other girls.
She works for the Proctors and struggles to tell the truth during the trial.
Married to Elizabeth and accused by her of adultery. He is outspoken and well respected. He has stopped going to church and wrestles with telling the truth or protecting his wife.
John's wife who has discovered the affair. She never lies.
A farmer and one of the oldest men in the community, he is brutally put to death because he challenges the proceedings
of the court.
Reverend John Hale
A self appointed expert on witchcraft, he is the minister who is first called in to investigate the happenings in Salem.
One of the most respected elders in town, he is the husband to Rebecca.
A much revered woman in the town who is a midwife and mother of 17 children. She is eventually tried as a witch.
The clerk of the court, he is responsible for the warrants and arrest of the accused.
Deputy Governor Danforth
He is the judge at the witch trials. He rules by law and will not allow exceptions or allow anyone to undermine his authority and his court.
Major Themes in The Crucible
An overriding theme of The Crucible is the abuse of power. The power of the church and its ministers to the Puritan community is paramount to the whole witchcraft trial. Arthur Miller creates a world where the authorities of the church and town use fear as a method of controlling the people of the town and the townspeople use the compensating defense of invoking the power of gossip and slander. The hero of the drama, John Proctor has abused a young girl who works for him, by committing adultery with her. She is portrayed as the stereotypical other - a conniving woman. But in reality she is compensating, for her loss of innocence and respect, by leading the other children in a game of sticking together for safety sake, no matter what.
Scholar and philosopher, Lord Actin (1834-1902) has been credited with the saying; "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In the story of the Salem witch trials, Miller is able to show the domino effect of that corruption. In the end the only people left standing are awaiting the hangman's noose. The Crucible reminds us that we must always question the status quo, as well as the power structures and authorities that we allow--by our vote and consent--to govern us.
The role of women and the theme of misogyny or distrust of women is an undercurrent theme in The Crucible. Almost all of the accused who were imprisoned and executed for the crime of witchcraft were women. Miller does not tell us what happens to the children of the accused. When Rebecca Nurse was accused, who stood up for her? Why were so many women accused? Were they condemned for standing up for the midwife who had helped them bear children? It is the untold story of the play and one that deserves a follow-up discussion.
1. What is the world of the play and its story?
2. What was happening in the world of the playwright at that moment in history?
3. What is happening in the world of the audience or reader?
When attending a performance of The Crucible, consider the time and setting of the play; the 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts. Also take a look at the 1950s and the world concerns of the playwright and the audiences of that time. And, examine it from the current time period. Does the play connect to any thing happening in our contemporary world?
The Puritans were a group of Christians who wanted the Church of England purified of any liturgy, ceremony or practices that were not found in scripture. They thought the Anglican Church was still too close to the Catholic Church. The Bible was their sole authority and they believed that it applied to every level of their lives. They left England and migrated first to Holland and then to the new colonies that were being formed in America. The Puritans were stockholders in the Massachusetts Bay Company, which had received its charter from King Charles of England in the early 1620s. The Puritans arrived in groups and organized into towns and settlements. They were very fearful in this new land. They were afraid of nature and the unknown. In England, they had been people of wealth and political influence. Here, they had to survive in totally foreign and inhospitable terrain. For survival in this life and for the salvation of their souls they set up their towns under the laws of scripture in order to both prosper and show gratitude to God. They did not accept non-members of the church into their towns. Either you belonged to their church and believed their teachings or laws or you moved elsewhere. The Puritans feared annihilation. That fear opened them to the possibility that evil might exist inside their community.
Did witchcraft trials really occur in America?
o In January 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts a group of adolescent girls became ill with a strange illness.
o By March, the first examinations for suspicions of witchcraft had begun to take place in Salem. By April, over 300 suspected witches were in jail.
o In June, the courts legalized the death penalty for the crime of witchcraft and Bridget Bishop was hanged.
o In July, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good and three other women were hung. John Proctor petitions the minister of Boston to investigate the legality of the trials because torture is being used in order to elicit confessions. He wants the trial moved to Boston but he receives no reply.
o John Proctor and four others are hung in August. His wife escapes death because she is pregnant.
o In September, eight more people are hung, mostly women. These were the last hangings in Salem, for
the crime of witchcraft.
Why did the hangings in Salem stop?
The Governor of Massachusetts' wife was accused of witchcraft along with Rev. Hale's wife. The judges finally began to question the witnesses' credibility. They found the young women to be guilty as "distempered persons." In January 1693 the court reconvened and eventually released 150 persons who were still in jail on charges of witchcraft. In 1697 the General Court set aside a day of fasting in repentance for wrongs committed in the witchcraft trials. It took another 14 years before the falsely accused and their dependents were awarded any recompense. John Proctor's wife and children receive the largest settlement --150 pounds.
The end of WWII had brought prosperity back to the country. Young families were buying houses and cars and televisions. They were having babies. Weekends were for dancing and going to the drive in movies with the whole family. Father Knows Best was the best loved family series. "Gorgeous George" was the prince of wrestling and the Dodgers and the Yankees were the best game in town. Catholic Bishop Sheen and Evangelist Billy Graham were regulars on the family TV bringing church to the home. It was a white world though in TV land. There was another world out there. African American soldiers returned from WWII and moved back into "colored towns." But they had the same GI Bill as the white veterans and they went back to school too. And slowly people's attitudes would begin to change and unrest with the status quo was beginning to rise. In response to the unrest, Congress voted to insert the words under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. Change and disruption was in the air.
Americans were afraid in the 1950s of losing what they had worked so
hard for. They were afraid of Communism and of nuclear weapons. After WWII
the Soviet Union was gathering up countries throughout Eastern Europe and
it was announced that the Russians had developed their own nuclear bomb.
The United States no longer had control over the use of the bomb. Americans
feared annihilation. That fear drove them to accept the leadership, and
against innocent people by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who in turn played on their fears.
Kenneth C. Davis writes in his history, Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About History But Never Learned: "In the 1950's 'McCarthyism' meant a brave, patriotic stand against Communism. It had the support of the media and the American people. Now it has come to mean a smear campaign of groundless accusations from which the accused cannot escape, because professions of innocence become admission of guilt and only confessions are accept-ed." Many who came before McCarthy, as well as many who testified before the powerful House Un-American Activities Committee (HUCA), were willing to point fingers at others to save their own careers and reputations." (Davis, 326) Another historian of the 1950s, David Halberstam, writes that McCarthyism crystallized and politicized the anxieties of a nation living in a dangerous new era. "He took people who were at the worst, guilty of political naïveté (innocence, gullibility) and accused them of treason. He set out to do the unthinkable, and it turned out to be surprisingly thinkable." (26)
The 21st Century
Fear persists. As the old millennium ended everyone who owned a computer had a new one, just in case the old computer lost all of its data because it's built in clock wasn't programmed past the end of 1999. People didn't fly on January 1, 2000, just in case the computers in the plane and the control towers didn't work. And when everything worked, Americans let out a big sigh of relief that another disaster had been overcome with American ingenuity. It was an election
year and things were good.
Three major surprises of the new millennium.
oThe country woke up on the day after the November 2000 presidential election and for the first time in recent history, did not know who won the election. This showed that there were major flaws in the American election process and that our system of government might be in danger.
oSeptember 11, 2001 revealed America's vulnerability to outside forces. It was a dual loss of innocence and a false sense of safety.
oIn November 2001, Enron Corporation suffered a financial and corporate melt down. The stock market that was wheezy after the events of 9/11, came tumbling down after Enron, as did consumer confidence.
Where has our fear led us?
oIncreased security that infringes on rights of privacy to the masses and the loss of rights for the many people wrongly suspected of terrorism.
oWashington, D.C. tourists can no longer get a clear view of the White House. For security reasons, it has been surrounded by barricades.
oThe acknowledgement by the government of the abuse and torture of prisoners at the hands of American troops. This is calling forth national debate on proposed torture policy and its consequences.
oA pervasive fear that is fed by 24-hour news accounts of the latest atrocities.
Discussion Questions & Activities
The Kobe Bryant case has many of the same elements of the John Proctor and Abigail Parris relationship. How are these cases similar? A man who is in a position of power seduces a young woman, or is she the seducer? And does it matter if she was physically forced to engage in activity she said no too. Examine the different sides of the case or others where misuse of power is evident.
Mohammed Ali is a well-respected former athlete. But in the 1960s his
heavy weight crown was taken away because of his objections to America's
involvement in Vietnam. What was his birth name? Why was the changing of
his name so upsetting to so many people? Was he a hero for standing for
believes? What recent stories of other citizens might you find in the newspapers?
--Using Margaret Atwood's poem, "Half Hanged Mary," which is based on the life of Mary Murray, have the students pick other historical or contemporary women whose lives parallel the women of Salem. They could write a monologue or poem that gives the women who suffer injustice a voice.
Check out: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/01/277707.shtml (This site is provocative.)
--Find information that explores how women were treated in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban.
Separation of Church and State
Have your students explore how the happenings in Salem influenced the thinking of the writers of the Constitution of the United States nearly 100 later.
o Stage a mock trial debating if there should be a separation of church and state.
o Consider the preamble to the United States Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Have your students rewrite the preamble as if they were a descendant of one of the accused or the accusers during the Salem Witch Trials.
(Go to Contents at the top of the web page and scroll down to Study Guides. These are very interesting sites to explore the basis for the constitutional arguments that are currently being decided by the US Supreme court as well as lower courts.)
(Copy of an article to the National Gazette, written by James Madison and published December 20, 1792, "Who Are the Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?")
The settings of the play
Act I. - A room with a ray of morning sun light shining through a window.
There are many books in the room, spring of 1692.
Act II. - A room of twilight, shadow, eight days later. In the fireplace, a pot is seen hanging on a swivel hook.
Act III. - A vestry of the Salem Meeting House, ante room without windows lit only with candles and light that seeps through doorways. It is two weeks later.
Act IV. - A dark, moonlit cell in the Salem jail, three months later.
Note how the lighting in each scene changes denoting the seasons. We begin in the morning, move to evening, then an interior room scene that has no windows, then a dark prison. The seasons move from spring to early winter or late fall. What do the seasons and light make you think of?
In some versions of the play it is divided into two acts with an extra
Act I ? Scene 1: A bedroom in Reverend Samuel Parrisí house.
Act I ? Scene 2: The common room of Proctorís house, eight days later.
It is daylight. Instead of a cooking pot, Proctor washes his hands.
Act II ? Scene 1: Five Weeks later. A clearing in a wood. A large log and a whip. (Miller moved the scene between Proctor and Abigail)
Act II ? Scene 2: The vestry of the Salem Meeting house, two weeks later.
Act II ? Scene 3. A cell in Salem Jail, three months later.
1. Why do you think the Playwright changes the setting?
2. Which one do you like best?
3. Where do you find different symbols within these descriptions?
Symbolism in The Crucible
The Play's Title
Crucible - A crucible is a container that can resist severe heat, or the bottom of an oven used to fuse or calcify metals. It also means a great trial or test. How many times can you find a prop, or setting or action in the play that contains the symbol of a crucible?
Dolls - in voodoo rituals the dolls represented the person needing healing from some illness, or as a means of bringing about illness or a curse on the person that the doll represented.
Hanging - a way of keeping evil hanging between heaven and earth.
Rope - like a chain it represents both bonding and connecting.
Night - is related to the passive principle, the feminine and the unconscious. Within the tradition of symbology it has the same significance as death and the color black.
Whip - is a sign of domination and power or authority.
Wood - a mother symbol.
Suggested Student Activity
1. Find three symbols in each act. How do the symbols make the play's meaning clearer?
2. Create a collage of photos and pictures representative of the play's symbols.
--John Proctor thinks that Rev. Parrish is like Pontus Pilate. But in the second act Proctor washes his own hands. What does that symbolize within the context of the scene with his wife Elizabeth, and later with Abigail?
--John Proctor tastes the soup Elizabeth has made, makes a face and adds a pinch of salt. What does adding salt to something signify? How does the action reveal the relationship between Proctor and Elizabeth? Is he thinking that his wife like her cooking is not spicy enough? Is that his justification for having an affair with Abigail?
See how simple finding a symbol is? Try it and see if that makes the playís meaning clearer to you?
Useful websites for Miller
http://www.webenglishteacher.com/miller.html (Links to many excellent sites including the official Miller web page. This site is the most complete. The two following entries here are examples of the other sites webenglishteacher will link you too:
http://www.umich.edu/~amfiles/timeline.swf (includes a time line of photographs of Millerís life and works over a historical line of photos. Pop up explanations make this a fun site and is appropriate for middle school.)
Also look at:
http://www.curtainup.com/miller.html (Internet Theatre Magazine of Reviews and Articles. Great source for understanding the choices that directors and designers make.)
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/witches1.html (Mid-evil sources for books and maps, includes extracts from The Hammer of the Witches [Malleus Maleficarum], 1486)
http://www.areasearchguide.com/crucible.html (good search engine)
http://www.curriculumunits.com/crucible/ (great study guide with pictures, activities, as well as production notes. )
http://www.english.upenn.edu/-afilreis/50s/miller-mccarthyism.html (teacherís guide with good primary and secondary sources)
http://www.17thc.us/docs/fact-fiction.shtml (good historical site with interesting links)
http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/crucible/ (study guide for students, character lists, themes, synopsis)
Abbotson, Susan C.W. Student Companion to Arthur Miller. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood, 2000.
(Has good activities and ideas for Drama classes as well as criticism for English classes.)
Asimov, Isaac. Asimovís Chronology Of The World: The History
of the World to Modern Times. New York, Harper Collins, 1991.
(Asimov was more widely known as a writer of science fiction. This is an example of his grasp of history and its significance for todayís world events. Easy to read and short blocks of history going back to the "Big Bang.")
Bloom, Harold, Ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur
Millerís The Crucible. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
(Includes a wide range of essays that are very helpful in seeing The Crucibleís range of themes and concerns: Jungian, feminist, historical, cultural.)
Davis, Kenneth C. Donít Know Much About History: Everything You Need
to Know About History But Never Learned. New York: Crown, 1990.
(A concise but good overview of history and its consequences. Easy to read.)
Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Villard Books,
(The definitive book on the 1950ís. Everything from politics to poodle skirts and rock and roll.)
Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust.
New York: Harper Collins, 1976.
(Milton Melzer has written over 50 titles, many for young students. He is a wonderful historian. Never to Forget is filled with letters and stories of people whose lives were suddenly turned upside down by the rule of slander and fear and hatred.)
Miller, Arthur. Timebends: a Life. New York: Grove Press, 1987.
(Millerís autobiography is packed with stories and commentary on his writing and the people whom he met on th