Arthur Asher Miller, the American playwright, was born October 17, 1915 in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents. Their family was effected by the depression when the family’s garment business failed and Arthur found a number of odd jobs around the city in order to pay for his tuition to college. In 1934 Miller left New York to attend The University of Michigan where he wrote his first two plays that he received high accolades and awards for.
Upon graduation, Miller returned to New York and became a freelance writer for a number of years. It wasn’t until 1944 that Miller released his first play, “The Man Who Had All the Luck”, which debuted on Broadway but the reviews were less than favorable and only lasted four performances before it was cancelled. Following the Broadway disaster, Miller wrote two books, “Situational Normal” and “Focus” in 1944 and 1945 respectably. His second attempt at Broadway occurred in 1947 with “All My Sons” and was a success earning two awards. “Death of Salesman” followed in 1949 and “The Crucible” in 1953.
Miller’s personal life was a little more chaotic and less successful. Arthur was married three times, he and Mary Slattery married in 1940 and divorced in 1956. Later that same year, he married Marilyn Monroe which resulted in divorce in 1961, and finally to Inge Morath in 1962 until the time of her death in 2002. Miller became engaged to Agnes Barley, an artist, shortly following Morath’s death but he passed away on February 10, 2005 after battling cancer, pneumonia, and a heart condition before the couple were able to be married.
The Crucible is the telling of events in Salem, Massachusetts that occurred in 1692. The story begins with a girl who is thought to have been affected by witchcraft. Following this incident, one person after another were accused and tried as witches. The story ends with a walk to the gallows for one unfortunate person found guilty of witchcraft. Miller wrote the play not as a factual retelling of what occurred during the Salem Witch Trials, but as a response to the politics of the time and The Crucible was his vehicle to do so.
Miller started his research in Salem in 1952 and within a year completed his writing. The Crucible was completed in 1953 and even though he spent excessive time researching the events surrounding the trials, the story was written to be loosely based and a partly fictionalized version of those events. Miller stated that “The play is not reportage of any kind …. [n]obody can start to write a tragedy and hope to make it reportage …. what I was doing was writing a fictional story about an important theme.” The theme was unjust persecution, it just happened to be that Miller used the persecution of the alleged witches to discuss and hide the persecution of communists and communist supporters in America in the 1950s. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were prosecuting suspected communists during the time that Miller was writing and researching the trials.
He was not able to discuss communism outright for fear of being accused of being a communist himself so he needed another story to mask his true purpose. The Salem Witch Trials was the perfect way in which to do this because of how much puritanical New England resembled the anti-communist sentiments in America during the 1950s. Just as being accused of witchcraft in the 17th century was serious enough to warrant arrest and trial, being accused of communist sympathies in the 1950s could have the same end result.
The play was not well received in the first year but with a change in producers, the second year was a success. It was easy to see the underlying meaning of the play when it was on Broadway but in the 1990s a movie was made and was not a success. The added elements of McCarthyism was lost on the audiences in the 90s and the film suffered because of it even though it nearly mirrored the sensational play from forty years earlier.