The following are a mix of information guides to various plays, ideas for classroom activities, and short articles to introduce interesting topics for discussion, which we are freely offering to encourage and facilitate the teaching of Miller's works at all levels. Just click on the links to get to the materials described. If anyone has any further lesson plans, activities, topics etc. they would like to share with other teachers by adding to this site, please contact the webmaster, Sue Abbotson. To further help, below these resources you will also find synopses of most of Miller's major works.
After the Fall
All My Sons
The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944) The play depicts a young man, David Beeves, who has a hard time dealing with his good luck, especially when he sees his no less deserving brother have no luck at all. Beeves becomes a successful businessman, while his brother Amos loses his chance to pitch in the baseball big leagues and turns on the father he feels misled him in such a dream. Thinking that at any moment his luck must run out and disaster will strike, Beeves begins to live his life in constant fear, at one point even contemplating suicide. He expects his garage to fail, his son to be born dead, his mink farm to be devasted, but he is repeatedly rewarded with a healthy son and successful businesses, even when his fellow businessmen go broke. By the close he seems to at last accept that this is in part by his own diligence, which allows him to finally enjoy the fruits of his work (in an earlier novelisation of this story Miller had Beeves commit suicide at the close, but in the play he just has Beeves consider the possibility, but decide against it).
All My Sons (1947) Joe Keller, is an apparently successful businessman who made his fortune by selling airplane parts to the army during World War Two. Not wanting to slow business he sent out a batch that he knew to be defective, and twenty-one pilots died as a result. Keller was arrested and tried, but lied, saying that the parts went out without his knowledge and his partner, Steve Deever, was the one who had covered it up. Deever is sent to jail and Keller is exonerated. One of his sons, Larry, is missing in action, but the mother, Kate, insists that their son is still alive, though we later learn that he committed suicide on learning of his father's arrest. When their other son, Chris, asks Larry's old girlfriend (who happens to be Deever's daughter, Ann) to marry him, it causes tension, which results in Keller's deceit coming out. Chris fought during the war and watched many of his peers die, so on discovering his father's guilt he totally rejects him. On discovering why Larry died, Keller finally accepts his responsibility for the crime and kills himself.
Death of a Salesman (1949) Death of a Salesman relates the story of Willy Loman, a down-on-his-luck traveling salesman. In order to cope with his failures in life, he retreats to the past in his mind and seems to be losing touch with reality. He tries to relive the good times, but keeps coming up against things that went wrong. His family try to help him by lying about their prospects, but when Loman loses his job, after a lifetime with the same company, he becomes desperate. His depression is exacerbated by the guilt he feels from a past infidelity which has estranged him from his older son, Biff. Rather than accept that his life has been a failure, and that Biff is not interested in big business, Loman decides to commit suicide in hopes that the insurance money will help Biff become successful. The play ends with his family and only friend, Charley, grieving by his graveside.
An Enemy of the People (1950) An adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play of the same title, Miller's version remains very faithful to the original as he worked from a literal translation of the original Norwegian. The play depicts a respected, resort-town doctor who finds himself shunned by his community. Dr. Stockmann counters the town's decision to conceal information that would put the health of many tourists at considerable risk, but ensure the great revenue the tourists would bring to the area. By standing up to his peers, Stockmann is embracing his responsibility to others, but finds himself branded "an enemy of the people."
The Crucible (1953) The Crucible is an allegorical re-telling of the McCarthy era red scare that occurred in the United States after World War II. Based on historical accounts, the play is set during the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials when several young girls accuse innocent town members of witchcraft to avoid getting into trouble for entertaining ideas of witchery themselves. The husbands of some of the women involved try to convince the judges as to the girls' deceit, but find them unshakeable. Eventually even the most prominent members of the community find themselves indicted, and the tension mounts as the central protagonist, John Proctor, must confess an earlier adultery in order to save his own wife from being hanged based upon charges brought by his former lover. However, because his wife lies about the adultery to save his name, the judges fail to believe his charges. Proctor is given the chance to save his own life by confessing to witchery and naming names, but chooses to die rather than betray his friends and neighbors.
A Memory of Two Mondays (1955) A one-act play which glances back upon the Depression, Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays is based largely upon his experiences in an automobile parts warehouse in Brooklyn, where he worked to save money for college. The play takes a look at his co-workers and the various people he met who stumbled through life in a haze of hopelessness and despondency, and portrays the compassion the lead character has for others less fortunate than himself.
A View from the Bridge (1956) The
lawyer, Alfieri, tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a head-strong
who has helped raise his wife's niece, Catherine, but has developed an
unwitting sexual attraction towards her. When his wife's two cousins
the country illegally looking for work, the Carbones take them in, but
when Catherine begins dating the younger of the cousins, Rodolpho,
gets jealous. Finding his insinuations of Rodolpho's homosexuality and
his warning to Catherine that Rodolpho is only after an American
are ignored, in an act of desperation to split them up before they can
marry, Eddie breaks an unwritten rule within his community by betraying
both cousins to the Immigration authorities. The older brother, Marco,
vows revenge, exacerbated by Eddie's refusal to admit his "crime." Out
on bail Marco comes to Eddie, who challenges him to a fight to try and
redeem his blackened , but when Eddie draws a knife Marco kills him
it. Eddie dies declaring his love for his wife, never having fully come
to with his actions or how they led to his downfall.
production of A View from the Bridge (1987)
The Misfits (1961) Written as a gift to his then wife Marilyn Monroe, Miller's screenplay relates the story of three modern day cowboys who refuse to settle down in a society which no longer respects the traditions and values of the past. In order to mask their frustration with their lives, Gay, Perce, and Guido drown themselves with drink, sex, and other reckless behavior. They begin to re-evaluate their lives, however, after a wild mustang chase. One of the cowboys meets a beautiful divorcee, Roslyn (played by Monroe) who teaches him to change his ways and attitudes and together, they take a chance on an uncertain future.
After the Fall (1964) Often viewed as highly autobiographical, this play received much criticism from reviewers who thought he was tarnishing the memory of American icon Marilyn Monroe, who had recently committed suicide. After the Fall examines the parallels between private and public acts of betrayal by drawing connections between the central character's self-assessment and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. In an extended confession, Quentin relates the story of his life, describing what he sees as his formative relationships with women, most notably his mother, and his first two wives, Louise and Maggie. We also learn of his experiences living through the Depression, HUAC, and of his eventual acceptance of the possibility of future happiness with his new wife, Holga.
Incident at Vichy (1964) Written as a companion piece to After the Fall, Incident at Vichy illustrates the anti-Semitic ideas which fed the Holocaust. Set in Vichy France during the German occupation in 1942, the action focuses on a group of detainees representing all walks of life-from a beggar to a prince-who wait to be interrogated by the Nazis who are searching for Jews to send to the death camps. As the men anxiously wait, a number of discussions arise among the prisoners concerning their attitudes on the occupation, the resistance, and the anti-Semitic environment rampant in Europe at the time. Despite confrontations with the Nazi captors and their fear of what awaits them, the prisoners discover the possibility of meaning in their adversity through non-Jewish Prince Von Berg's gift of his own pass to freedom to the Jew, Leduc.
The Price (1968) Upon the death of their father, two brothers meet in order to go through their father's belongings. The two men occupy decidedly different ends of the spectrum-Walter is a highly successful surgeon, Victor a poorly paid policeman. Both resent each other for different reasons, one for his family attachments, the other for his financial achievements. Tempers rise until a confrontation between the brothers occurs and each must decide whether or not to accept or forsake his past mistakes and accomplishments. Witnessing their inability to understand the value of each other's decisions and achievements, is a wise old furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, whose final response to whole sad situation is laughter.
The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972) Miller pretty much follows the early events of The Bible, only with a comedic twist, beginning with the creation, the story of Adam and Eve and their temptation, and culminating with the slaying of Able by his brother Cain. Miller portrays Lucifer as the voice of wisdom, with God being depicted as a bumbling, good-natured idiot, despite his powers. Lucifer plots to introduce evil to the world as he feels that evil must be present for good to have any real meaning. The play was turned into a musical called Up From Paradise two years after its Broadway production.
Fame (1978) This screenplay is based on an earlier short story written by Miller of the same name. A prosperous playwright has trouble coming to terms with his fame. His self-consciousness leads him to feel alienated from those around him, but his situation takes a turn for the better when he meets a female jockey who teaches him to look for the things that really matter in life and helps him to accept his success.
The Archbishop's Ceiling (1977)An American writer, Adrian, pays a visit to some old friends, Maya and Marcus, behind the Iron Curtain and gets a taste of what life is like under a corrupt communist government. Adrian's current girlfriend Ruth, is back in America, but he has a desire to see Maya once more, with whom he has had an affair in the past, and about whom he has been trying, unsuccessfully, to write a book. Marcus joins them with Irina, a decorative blonde, in tow. Though rebels in the past, it is unclear whether or not Maya and Marcus are now working for the government; however, they join Adrian in trying to help Sigmund, a writer who is still a rebel, get his newly completed manuscript returned after it has been confiscated by the authorities.
Playing For Time (1980) Miller developed Playing For Time from the autobiography of the real Fania Fenelon. It relates Fania's experiences at Auschwitz during World War Two; how she survived not only as a human being, but also as a Jew. The notorious Dr. Mengele is the camp physician, and though not a major character in the play, is clearly depicted as an apparently cultured man who, nevertheless, has no compunction engaging in unethical medical experiments. He and other Nazi officials have decided they needed a prisoner orchestra and Fania, with her musical background, is swiftly recruited, along with young Marianne, a girl whom Fania met on the train which brought them to the camp. The orchestra is led by former concert violinist, Alma Rosè, and it is made up of both Jewish prisoners, such as Esther, Hèlène, Liesle, Lotte, Paulette and Etalina, and non-Jewish Poles, such as Elzvieta. Though most of the prisoners have been cowed into submission by the Nazi supervisors and chiefs, like Frau Schmidt and Mandel, we do hear about the exploits of one subversive, Mala, and we occasionally meet Shmuel, an electrician, who gives Fania advice about how to survive.
The American Clock (1980) In The American Clock Miller tells the story of America in the 1930s through the conflated stories of a vast array of characters. We meet businessmen like Jesse Livermore and William Durant who lose everything, and more successful entrepreneurs like Arthur A. Robertson and Theodore K. Quinn. We learn the plight of farmers, like Henry Taylor, young intellectuals, like Joe and Edie, and an assortment of people from all walks of life. At the center, Miller places the Baum family, who are partly autobiographical. Through the Baums he explores, even more deeply, the concerns and demands of such a time. The father, Moe, loses a prosperous business but keeps on going, even as his wife, Rose begins to fall apart under the strain. Their son Lee goes from childhood to adulthood as he travels through the nation, and finally comes to terms with the demands of living in America.
Two-Way Mirror(1982-1984)Two-Way Mirror consists of "Elegy for a Lady" and "Some Kind of Love Story." In "Elegy" a Man enters a boutique and discusses with the Proprietess what might be an appropriate gift to buy for his ailing lover. Their discussion forces the Man to face some home truths about his relationship and realize that he needs to take a greater responsibility for his life. In "Some Kind" a private detective, Tom O'Toole, comes to interview a possible witness in a case he is investigating. The witness, Angela, suffers from multiple-personality-disorder and appears reluctant to give him the information he needs. They maintain a connection by playing a cat and mouse game in which neither will tell the other everything they need to hear, and so their meetings may continue ad infinitum.
Danger: Memory (1987) Danger: Memory! consists of "I Can't Remember Anything" and "Clara." In "I Can't" Leonora pays one of her regular visits to her old friend Leo. The two of them discuss the state of their current lives and recall what it was like before Leonora's husband, Frederick, died. Unable to reconcile their own different outlooks on life, they quarrel and Leonora leaves. The title character from "Clara" has just been brutally killed and we witness Detective Lew Fine questioning Clara's father, Kroll, to try and find out who might have have committed the murder. This questionning, however, tells us far more about the father than the daughter.
The Last Yankee (1991-1993) The Last Yankee begins with the meeting of Leroy Hamilton, a freelance carpenter and descendent of Alexander Hamilton, and John Frick, a conservative businessman, in the visiting room of the state mental hospital. Both have wives who are currently staying in this establishment, and as they make small talk, we discover that this appears to be about the only thing that they have in common. Next we meet the wives, and discover that their mental problems are closely tied to their marriages. Patricia Hamilton seems well on the road to recovery as she is beginning to realize that she must tone down her high expectations of life, but Karen Frick still suffers from a crippling lack of self-esteem. As the two couples interact we see Patricia and Leroy reach a compromise that will allow Patricia to go home, but the Fricks remain unable to communicate with each other, and Karen shows little sign of recovery.
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991) The Ride Down Mt. Morgan purportedly takes place in the hospital room of a bedridden Lyman Felt who is recovering from a bad car accident. Lyman, we soon discover, is a bigamist, and both of his wives, Theo and Leah, turn up, each unaware, until now, that the other existed. Refusing to accept that he has done anything really wrong, Lyman tries to salvage the situation and keep both of his wives happy. He largely fails in this attempt as it is clearly too selfishly motivated, something his daughter, Bessie, tries to teach him. He ends the play alone; even his admiring friend Tom cannot continue to support his actions.
Broken Glass (1994) In Broken Glass Miller tells the story of Sylvia and Phillip Gellburg, who after years of marriage come to realize that they hardly know each other at all. Phillip is the only Jew working at a very traditional Wall Street bank where he mainly works on foreclosings. Obsessed with work, and his own desire to assimilate, Phillip has little time for his wife until she demands his attention by suddenly falling prey to a mysterious paralysis after seeing the events of Kristallnacht in the newspaper. Up until now Sylvia has been a quiet little housewife, but she needs to express her buried fears and longings. Dr. Harry Hyman is called in to help, and though no specialist, he decides the case is a psychiatric one, and proceeds to try and treat Sylvia. Hyman, however, has problems of his own, which become apparent during his interaction with the Gellburgs.
Mr. Peter's Connections (1998) Mr. Harry Peter is an elderly man who comes to a run-down night-club run by his brother for some ambiguous reason. There we meet various people from his family and past, as Peter tries to make sense of who he is and what he has achieved. The play ends with a plea from his daughter for him not to die which seems to give him the strength to continue.
Resurrection Blues (2002) A satiric piece in which the local dictator on a fictional island plans to televise the crucifixion of a local rebel whom people believe to be Jesus. Even the mainland television crew become antagonistic to such brutality, and the play culminates in an uncertain apotheosis of the figure in question.
Finishing the Picture (2004) A distinguished director is about to lose his picture due to the unstable behavior of a famously fragile movie star. She is recognized all over the world, loved by millions, but unable to believe in herself. The studio owners are threatening to pull the plug, and a temperamental acting teacher is flown in to coax the actress out of bed and onto the set.
Focus (1945) His only novel to date, Focus tells the story of Lawrence Newman, an anti-Semite, whose life is transformed with the addition of a pair of eyeglasses. Newman has spent his entire life discriminating against minorities, but after wearing a pair of eyeglasses which alter his physical appearance, he is mistaken for a Jew. Friends who once treated him with respect now treat him with hostility as he becomes the target of discriminatory behavior he once judiciously dealt to others. By the close of the novel, however, Newman has accepted his connection with the Jews and earnestly accepts his responsibility to his fellow men.
Homely Girl: A Life and Other Stories (1992) Published in England in 1995 as Plain Girl. The title story tells the life of Janice Sessions, a woman who lives through the tumultous 1950s to find her socialist convictions challenged and her marriage a sham. She eventually finds happiness with a blind man who accepts her for who she is. The other two stories in the collection are reprints of "Fame" and Fitter's Night."
I Don't Need You Anymore(1967) There is a short introduction in which Miller explains how he sees the following short stories as unintentionally interrelating, and what he sees as the difference between short stories and plays. The title story is about a five year old Jewish boy who expresses a desire to see the wider world, and begins his growth away from maternal cushioning, to his mother's displeasure and father approval. "Fitter's Night" is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WW2 and is the only previously unpublished story in the collection; it follows a night's work in the life of Tony Calabrese, an Italian-American with a dubious past, who had married for a non-existent dowry, but finds some dignity in completing a dangerous task and winning the respect of the ship's captain. "Monte Sant Angelo" introduces us to Bernstein, an American Jew who accompanies his friend's search in an Italian village for relatives. Knowing his relatives to be dead in the Holocaust, Bernstein is surprised to recognize someone, however, it is not someone he knows but a fellow Jew (although this man is unaware of his Jewishness but follows the Shabbat rituals). This encounter gives Berstein a renewed sense of connection and self-esteem. "Please Don't Kill Anything," based on a similar event in Miller's time with Marilyn Monroe, shows a couple walking on the beach watching the fishermen, who involve themselves in saving the "useless" fish by throwing them back into the sea. "Glimpse at a Jockey" is mostly conversation as a New York jockey chats to a stranger in a bar, expressing his distaste with all the pressure to win, and telling how he found his long lost father and bought him a lawnmower. "The Prophecy" tells of the complicated relations between couples who threaten infidelity and live their lives in petty dispute. Cleota tries to seduce neighbor Joe, who turns her down, but then tries it on when she apologizes, flattering her ego, but now finding her resistant. Various prophecies (some false) regarding death, and couples splitting up give a sense of how it is personal resolve rather than fate which keeps people together or splits them apart. In "A Search for a Future" a son learns from his elderly father how to appreciate life by being involved in it and having goals, rather than hiding behind a facade of acting all the time and pretending things don't matter. "The Misfits," is the story from which the movie evolved, and it is a simpler tale in which Roslyn plays only a minor role. Three drifters go mustanging; Gay has left his unfaithful wife, but misses his children. He is seeing Roslyn, but suspects she prefers his partner Perce, a minor rodeo star. Their pilot is suicidal from losing his wife during childbirth. They catch five horses and head into town. Their lives are minor, but they are content. "Fame" (also made into a movie) tells of a rich and famous playwright, Meyer Berkowitz, who is sick of insincere adulation, and wants for people to see the real him over the media image and treat him more naturally. He meets an old friend at a bar who at first does not connect him with his fame, but whenhe does becomes less chummy and leaves, evidence of Meyer's complaint.
Jane's Blanket (1963) This children's book, dedicated to Miller's first daughter, Jane, tells the tale of young girl who carries a blanket around with her for security when she is very young. As she grows older she becomes less and less reliant on the blanket, though it is a release which she at times finds difficult. The blanket eventually disintegrates with age and the last few threads are taken by a bird to line its nest, and Jane is led to an acceptance of this development by the gentle guidance of her father.
Situation Normal (1944) Based on his experiences researching the war correspondence of Ernie Pyle, Miller relates interviews he made with various soldiers, warts and all.
In Russia (1969) The first of three books created with his photographer and wife Inge Morath. This one offers a few insights regarding Miller's impressions of Russia and Russian society.
In the Country (1977) A mix of photographs by Inge Morath and text by Miller, here we get a great insight into how Miller spent his time in Roxbury, Connecticut and learn about his various neighbors.
Chinese Encounters (1979) Chinese Encounters takes the form of a travel journal liberally illustrated with photographs provided by Miller's wife, Inge Morath. Chinese Encounters depicts the Chinese society in the state of flux which followed the end of the Cultural Revolution. Miller discusses the hardships of many writers, professors, and artists as they try to regain the sense of freedom and place ripped from them under Mao's rule.
"Salesman" in Beijing (1984) Written about the production of Death of a Salesman at the Beijing People's Theatre in 1983, Miller describes the idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and insights of directing a Chinese cast in his decidedly American play. Miller-and his readers-- realize that the play's themes transcend cultural borders. The book includes several photographs which document dramatic scenes from the production as well as Miller's experiences.
The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller (1978, updated 1996) Contains a variety of essays outlining Miller's views about his own plays, the state of professional theater in America, and playwriting in general. Includes such famous pieces as his "Tragedy and the Common Man" which offers a modern take on how tragedy should be judged.
Timebends: A Life (1987) Incredibly insightful to those fascinated with Miller's creative genius, his autobiography relates the intimate details of his boyhood in Harlem, his college years at the University of Michigan, and the finer points of his three marriages-including his infamous union with Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps of greatest interest are Miller's descriptions of his meetings and connections with the likes of Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, Saul Bellow, and many political figures such as Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Miller's confrontation with the House Un-American Activities Committee is described in vivid detail, as is his involvement as President of the International PEN organization. The book includes thirty-two pages of photographs and a helpful index. For those who wish to really know the man behind the work, this is a must read.
Echoes Down the Corridors: Collected Essays 1944-2000
This collection deals more with Miller's political and social musings over the years, although there are inevitably many essays that also deal with his plays in relation to these issues. A good companion to the earlier Theater Essays collection.
Selected non-dramatic articles/publications by Miller 2000-2005
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Last updated: 11 January 2011