Arthur Miller was born in the house of a Polish Jewish couple in Harlem, New York City in 1915. In his book, “Timebends: A Life,” Miller mentions that the part of Harlem he was born in was quite modern and popular, but the Great Depression had already made its way in Brooklyn by the time was grown up. Since Miller was studying in the University of Michigan at that time, he had to a variety of physical labor to pay for his education. The above mentioned book is the only autobiography that Arthur Miller has ever written, but that is not all. The dramas, novels, and plays that Miller has written ever since he was studying at the University of Michigan provide another account of his life and the events that influenced his writings. The fictional characters and situations that he has depicted in his plays are a reflection of actual people and events in his life.
Most of influence that that helped Arthur Miller in writing much of the work that he wrote in his later years came from the time when he was living in Brooklyn, New York. In almost all the plays that Miller has produced, more than often the setting is New York, and the cast of those plays are immigrants and Italians that were a part of Brooklyn’s population when Miller was living there. For instance, in his play, “A View from the Bridge,” Eddie Carbone, the protagonist is a hard-working Italian American longshoreman, lives in Brooklyn. Since Miller himself grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by quite a few immigrants, he genuinely depicts all aspects of illegal immigration when Eddie comes face to face with this moral issue. Miller would probably have not read other books to look for his subjects; rather he most likely came up with these characters from his own experience. Perhaps this is why no influence from other authors can be detected in Miller’s works (Bloom).
As mentioned above, Arthur Miller was quite familiar with hard work and manual labor, from the time when he was studying at the University of Michigan. So, he had first and experience of the difficult and unfortunate situation of the common man and he was aware of how hard workers like he once was felt a sense of concern for the injustices and problems of society. Whether or not Miller intended it to be this way, his writing definitely is a reflection of his childhood experiences and identity, which he had apparently carried along throughout his life. The values of Miller’s characters are most likely the same values that were ingrained in Miller from being Jewish and having grown up during the Depression and lived through World War II and the post-war era. Willy Loman, the main character of Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” and many other of his characters hold the traditional Jewish idiosyncrasies and values that came from Miller’s own. Many of his plays have not been widely praised and recognized because attributes such as these made them seem too Jewish (Bloom).
Arthur Miller also encountered deprivation and destitution during the Great Depression, which became a part of his identity, and his writing has frequently reflected this influence. No doubt, when Miller was born his family had been quite wealthy, but the Depression almost completely devastated them. As the fortune of Miller’s family depleted, he was forced to join the ranks of the blue-collar workers, who have been foundation of American society, and Miller used these experiences of his as a foundation for his works. As a result of growing up during the Depression, Miller had quite an unmemorable childhood like millions of other children, and this is how he ended up developing his pattern of writing. If Death of a Salesman is taken as an example, it can be said that he based his works on the ordinary individuals he had once own and on the minor inadequate events that occurred in the lives of the commoners who were living hand-to-mouth.
While Miller was studying at the University of Michigan, he had already produced a couple of plays, however, the subject that he emphasized on never changed, i.e. the plight of ordinary people trying to find their true place in society (Moss). Death of a Salesman, which is Miller’s most famous play, is the foremost example of Miller’s emphasis on this subject. Willy Loman, the main character, is a diligent traveling salesman, who realizes that his family loathes him and society refuses to accept him. No matter how much he fights back, he feels that he has failed himself. Apparently, this is the kind of people Miller was surrounded by during his childhood. He knew the struggles of the ordinary blue-collar workers who were not paid well enough and were still leading somewhat optimistic lives. These common men were partly desperate and they were partly optimistic, hoping that a day would come when their lives would improve. Since Miller himself was a part of such a plight, he was very well-aware of what it was like.
Even when the Depression ended, by then Arthur Miller was studying in the University of Michigan, and so he had to continue working hard for his education and to make ends up. During that time, he worked in an auto parts warehouse, where the working conditions were not safe, something he and his co-workers were not informed about. Miller’s one-act play, “A Memory of Two Mondays,” although fictional, is certainly a version of the time when Miller was working in that auto parts warehouse and how common workers like him were struggling there. It is surprising that Miller did not stop working at humble, lowly jobs even after he had become a renowned author. Through his career and life, it seems that Miller never lost touch of this understanding of hardworking, ordinary Americans, and his writings have mostly been a portrayal of these ordinary, struggling American people.
In 1956, Arthur Miller married the famous American actress, Marilyn Monroe. Thus, his wife had a great and intense influence on Miller’s life and his works, during the years Miller was married to her. The screenplay for Monroe’s film, “The Misfits,” was written by Miller, and sadly, the couple divorced soon after the movie had been produced. Miller’s play, “After the Fall,” was written soon after his divorce, and despite an attempt to hide it, the play actually depicts the fact that Miller and Monroe were not happy in their marriage. Miller has admitted that he somewhat represented Monroe in Maggie from the play and her emotional concerns and distress in her married life are similar to those of Monroe’s. The play is not really an account of Miller’s married life with Marilyn Monroe; rather the experiences of the characters of his play had most likely been influenced by his own.
Most of Miller’s life throughout the 20th century, the challenges he faced and his experiences are all documented in “Timebends: A Life,” an autobiography that Miller published in 1987. In his autobiography, Miller recalls all of the important events in his life and the people he met, everything that had an influence on his writing. Arthur Miller’s experiences as a part of the American society and those in his own personal life had an influence on his writing. Perhaps this is why the American audience of that time and even today is able to identify with Miller and understand his works. Almost every piece of writing that Arthur Miller wrote told the tale of the ordinary American people and their plight to find their place in the American society. Thus, Arthur Miller’s own experiences helped him shape the characters and situations in his works.
Bloom, Harold. "Introduction." Trans. Array Arthur Miller: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. Print.
Miller, Arthur. Timebends: A Life. New online ed. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1999. Print.
Moss, Leonard. "The Perspective of a Playwright." Trans. Array Arthur Miller: Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. Print.