Arthur Miller was born in Manhattan, New York, on October 17, 1915. His parents were Jewish immigrants who had come to America in search of prosperity. His father, Isadore, ran a successful garment business for a number of years, while his mother, Augusta, was a schoolteacher. Following the failure of his father's business in 1928, Miller's family moved to Brooklyn, which would serve as the setting for a number of his plays, including Death of a Salesman. His father's failure and subsequent withdrawal from the world of business had a profound effect on the young Miller, one that has direct roots in the character of Willy Loman. By the time Miller reached young adulthood, America was in the midst of the Great Depression. He saw firsthand how once-wealthy neighbors were reduced to poverty and the humiliation of menial labor or outright panhandling. Much of the playwright's cynicism regarding wealth and conspicuous consumption can be attributed to his experiences during these years.

Miller followed his high school graduation with two years of work in the hopes of earning enough money to attend college. In 1934 he was admitted to the University of Michigan. His time in college nurtured both his writing skills and his interest in liberal social causes. He studied play writing under Kenneth Rowe and was twice awarded the Avery Hopwood Award for playwriting. In 1938, the year of his graduation, he won the Theater Guild National Award for his play They Too Arise; like many of his early plays, the work features youthful idealogues fighting against social inequity. Following his graduation, Miller returned to New York and began a series of jobs involving play writing. Near the onset of World War II, he began writing radio scripts for such anthology programs as The Calvalcade of America and The Columbia Workshop.

During the war, Miller worked on a screenplay for the film The Story of GI Joe, a work he envisioned as a realistic portrayal of the average combat soldier. His efforts were overruled by film studio executives, however, who wanted a more palatable, romanticized story to sell the American public. Miller's hunger for realism in drama was not dimmed, however, and he sought out a forum for his art. Unfortunately, the Broadway stage of 1944 would not offer such a forum: Miller's debut with The Man Who Had All the Luck, a tale of a man unhappily trapped in his world of wealth, was a failure. Three years later, however, he achieved success on Broadway with All My Sons. In 1949 he presented Death of a Salesman, the work that established him as a major force in American theatre.

Miller's work in subsequent years continued his interest in current events and social injustice, with works such as The Crucible (1953) furthering his reputation. By the mid-1950s, however, Miller's personal life began to overshadow his professional. His marriage to film star Marilyn Monroe swept him into a life of celebrity that all but eclipsed his work as a playwright. After his divorce from Monroe, and a lengthy hiatus, he returned to his craft. Not content to rest on the laurels of his past, Miller continued to experiment with forms of drama, crafting a variety of works throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, at the age of eighty-one, he adapted The Crucible for a filmed adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.