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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller | Biography


Arthur Asher Miller was born into a Jewish immigrant family in New York City on October 17, 1915. Miller's father, a small-business owner in Manhattan, manufactured coats, while Miller's mother taught. The family enjoyed financial success until the stock market crashed in 1929, when, like many other Americans, they lost their savings. This loss forced them to relocate from affluent Manhattan to working-class Brooklyn.

Miller's experience as a teenager growing up in Brooklyn was a mixture of the American Dream and Great Depression–era reality. He was a well-known and well-regarded high school football star; yet after graduation he worked his way through college, earning $15 per week at an auto parts warehouse. He also took jobs as a truck driver, waiter, and tanker crewman. These experiences never left Miller. Even after his success as a playwright, he continued to work in factories from time to time, saying, "Standing eight hours a day at a machine in one place, you know what it's about."

The effects of the Great Depression on Miller's family and the country would later influence Miller's work and characters, including the ambitions and dissatisfactions of the main character, Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman. New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote that Willy Loman is a man haunted by "the phantom of his life" catching up with him: "suddenly, there is nothing."

Following its opening at the Morosco Theater in New York on February 10, 1949, Death of a Salesman became one of the best-known and most highly revered plays of the 20th century. Death of a Salesman received many awards, including the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, securing Miller's reputation as one of the country's greatest playwrights. The play has been staged countless times since its original Broadway run, and the 1985 movie version starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich was critically acclaimed.

Miller died on February 10, 2005, at age 89.

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