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As a dramatist, Miller has more in common with Ibsen, Shaw, Chekov, and Brecht than with his fellow American playwrights, Eugene O'Neil or Thornton Wilder. With Ibsen, Shaw, and Chekov, Miller shares in common the philosophy that the fate of a person is social and that the stage should be considered as a medium more important for ideas than for mere entertainment. As a dramatist, Miller is a moralist, and his plays have a serious intellectual purpose.
The theater of twentieth century America took a long time to come of age. No American dramatist in the early 1900's dared to experiment with subjects, ideas, or production techniques because theatre was regarded as business. Slowly, in response to the plays of European realistic dramatists, American theater began to change. The years between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Depression saw more frequent reflections of economic problems on the American stage. In 1922, Eugene O'Neill's Hairy Ape represented the psychological defeat of an uncouth proletarian struggling to adjust himself to a complex economic order which he could not understand. Maxwell Anderson's play What Price Glory (1924) dealt with the bitter realities of war and its aftermath.
After World War II, the theatre of social protest fell into disrepute. Senator McCarthy succeeded in suppressing critical dissent and created a climate hostile to the free expression of the artist. During this period, the American theater concentrated on light comedy and lush musicals. Arthur Miller, born in 1915, was a young adult at the time of the suppression of free thinking. He decided to fight McCarthyism and to work for the expression of free ideas in the theatre. He also decided to write plays of social protest. In Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller criticizes the falsity of the American Dream and the emphasis placed on financial success in the United States.