Arthur Miller

New York-born dramatist-novelist-essayist-biographer Arthur Miller reached his personal pinnacle in 1949 with Death of a Salesman, a study of man's search for merit and worth in his life and the realization that failure invariably looms. Set within the Loman family, it hinges on the uneven relationships of father and sons, husband and wife. It is a mirror of the literary attitudes of the 1940s -- with its rich combination of realism tinged with naturalism; carefully drawn, rounded characters; and insistence on the value of the individual, despite failure and error. Death of a Salesman is a moving paean to the common man -- to whom, as Willy Loman's widow eulogizes, "attention must be paid." Poignant and somber, it is also a story of dreams. As one character notes ironically, "a salesman has got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."

Death of a Salesman, a landmark work, still is only one of a number of dramas Miller wrote over several decades, including All My Sons (1947) and The Crucible (1953). Both are political -- one contemporary, and the other set in colonial times. The first deals with a manufacturer who knowingly allows defective parts to be shipped to airplane firms during World War II, resulting in the death of his son and others. The Crucible depicts the Salem (Massachusetts) witchcraft trials of the 17th century in which Puritan settlers were wrongfully executed as supposed witches. Its message, though -- that "witch hunts" directed at innocent people are anathema in a democracy -- was relevant to the era in which the play was staged, the early 1950s, when an anti- Communist crusade led by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and others ruined innocent people's lives.