The authors featured in our exhibit American Voices represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Arthur Miller began writing plays at the University of Michigan and, after graduation, moved back to his hometown of New York City to pursue his calling. He found success on Broadway with All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949). Both plays won Tony Awards, while Salesman earned a Pulitzer—firmly establishing Miller as one of the major playwrights of the 20th century.
Miller ultimately wrote more than 30 plays, all finely crafted meditations on morality and justice. Death of a Salesman exposes the human toll exacted by capitalism. The Crucible (1953) is a call to resist censorship. “The job is to ask questions,” he said. “And to ask them as inexorably as I can.”
Lee J. Cobb starred as the tragically misguided Willy Loman in the original 1949 Broadway production of Death of a Salesman. “Willy’s writing his name in a cake of ice on a hot day,” Miller observed. “But he wishes he were writing in stone.”
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which persecuted Americans with suspected Communist ties, inspired Miller to write The Crucible, his classic play about the Salem witch trials. Miller refused to comply with the HUAC when called to testify in 1957.