In 1947, the first successful play of playwright Arthur Miller was performed. All My Sons is a powerful account of a family’s struggle following the widespread effects of World War Two. The play had a particularly huge impact as it was first performed just two years after the war. It opened people’s eyes to the fact that while soldiers were risking their lives on the battlefield, businessmen had been making money from the bloodshed. The play shows what a huge effect the war had on everyone. Not only were men dying on the battlefield, families were torn apart.
The war had sown seeds of distrust and secrecy, causing tension between loved ones and ultimately destroying friendship and loyalty. In fact, in the introduction of All My Sons, we are informed that Arthur Miller’s first idea for the play came when he overhead a woman telling the story of a family, a family who were torn apart when the daughter handed her father into the authorities, after finding out he had been selling defective machinery during the war. It is horrific to think that while others were selflessly risking their lives, businessmen were benefiting.
Not only that, but businessmen where lying to save their own necks, regardless of the effects of their crimes. The play begins with a description of Joe Keller. Not only are we given a physical description “A heavy man of stolid mind and build” but we are also given an insight into his character and personality, ” When he reads, when he speaks, when he listens, it is with the terrible concentration of the uneducated man for whom there is still wonder in many commonly known things”. This gives us a brief clue as to what the character is like, i. e. how he is perceived.
This implies that Keller is a more complex character, not only are we told about his physical appearance but his personality, this also indicates that Keller is an important character. While talking to Frank and reading the newspaper Keller says: “You look at a page like this you realize how ignorant you are”. In the stage directions we are told that Keller proceeds to scan the page, softly and in wonder. This shows us that Keller does not think of himself as an intelligent man, but on the other hand I do not believe he truly thinks he is ignorant.
I think the reference to his ignorance is not Keller defining his intelligence but rather to comment about how times have changed. I deduced this from the quote: “Well, that shows you; in my day, there was no such thing”, this is also in reference to the page of the newspaper. When Lydia asks Keller about Annie, Keller replies: “Annie? I don’t suppose she goes around dancing on her toes, but she seems to be over it”. The use of the question mark indicates that Keller is perhaps startled that Lydia has brought up the subject of Annie, a sign that he is feeling guilty.
He is then fairly dismissive, saying she’s not going to be ecstatic but she’s over it. He does not go in to much detail; this suggests he wants to get the subject over with. Keller’s surprise over the subject of Annie and Lydia’s question suggests that something has happened of importance which concerns Annie. Later on, Keller remarks, “Well, that’s what a war does. I had two sons, now I got one. It changed all the tallies. ” Keller refers to his sons but does not mention them by name. He also then refers to tallies, as if his sons where statistics or numbers not humans.
Keller takes a detached view of his situation, instead of showing a certain amount of expected emotion especially as Larry is dead. Furthermore, the subject of Keller losing a son during the war gives us some information about what has happened prior to the beginning of the play. Just as we are about to find out a crucial element to the storyline, Arthur Miller introduces a new character, Bert. This increases suspense in the scene. Bert is a young boy of about eight and seemingly has a good relationship with Keller. We now see two contrasting sides of Keller’s personality which are made evident.
Firstly, when Bert enters Keller swings him around. This is a fun loving gesture, showing Keller is a nice man who likes to entertain the kids. He uses his experiences in jail to play games with Bert. The whole atmosphere of the scene is warm and friendly, everyone is having a great time. In the stage directions it says: Keller chuckles and winks at Chris, who is enjoying all this. However, just after this direction Bert is embarrassed and pulls away from Keller. It is now that we see a contrasting and totally different side to Keller. As Bert pulls away Keller grabs him by the shirt and pulls him back.
This is a violent action and shows Keller’s aggression. Then Chris steps in laughing, saying “Don’t make him do that”. This is a sort of wake up call for Keller, who returns back into character by saying “Okay, Bert. I take your word. Now go out and keep both eyes peeled”. He continues the game as if nothing has happened. So far, we have been able to start to construct a picture of Joe Keller as a character. We have seen how he interacts with others but also how he refers to his sons. The playwright hints at Keller’s character traits in the way he speaks and acts.
From the previous pages we have seen Keller as a gentle man, playing with a young boy and having a laugh with the child and his son, Chris. However, we have also seen other sides of him. When he talks to Lydia he is dismissive about Annie, about the past. This indicates that Keller has something to hide. Also, we have seen a slightly violent and aggressive side to Keller which he quickly covers up, suggesting he is not completely honest or as innocent as he would have us believe. Later on in the story, Keller and Chris are arguing over how to convince Mother that Larry is dead.
Chris wants to be direct but Keller shies away from the confrontation, saying, “How’re you going to prove it? Can you prove it? ” He is trying to avoid having to dredge up the past. Keller then continues to say: “To you it is, and to me. But not to her. You can talk yourself blue in the face, but there’s no body and there’s no grave, so where are you? ” This makes me think that Keller is more concerned about how Chris bringing up the past, will affect him, rather than the effects it will have on Mother who is clearly still grieving for her son.
This indicates that Keller is self – centred and only cares about himself. It also shows that there is clearly something Keller wants to hide. Another example of Keller’s selfishness is when Chris asks for Keller’s advice and Keller responds: “What do you want me to do? You’re old enough to know your own mind”. Additionally, Keller broadens our knowledge of the story by letting slip: “I ignore what I gotta ignore. The girl is Larry’s girl”. Keller talks of ignoring, he clearly wants to keep out of the argument of whether Chris can marry Annie who was Larry’s girl and in the eyes of Mother still is Larry’s girl.
Keller is trying to avoid and stay out of anything related to the past and to Annie. This is a scene of conflict between Keller and Chris, highlighting the differences between them and their attitudes towards Kate. We are given another insight into Keller’s complex character in the dialogue with Mother. Keller and Mother are arguing about why Annie has returned. Mother is suspicious and Keller acts as if he does not know, covering up the truth, which is just one of his minor lies. “Look, it’s a nice day. What are we arguing for? ” Keller steers the conversation away from the past and starts talking about the weather.
The change of conversation suggests he is not comfortable and has something to hide, he is feeling guilty. This is another hint used by Arthur Miller to create suspension in the scene. Keller depends on Mother and Mother is determined Larry is still alive, relying on superstition to back up her claim. “Laugh, but there are meanings in such things. She goes to sleep in his room and his memorial breaks in pieces.
Look at it; look. ” Mother is determined that no one is going to believe that Larry is dead. She is breaking down. She even makes a reference to suicide: “Because if he’s not coming back, then I’ll kill myself! It’s as if her son being alive is the only thing Mother has left to cling to, and her husband and son taking that from her is too much to bear. Mother needs someone to listen to her and support her she even makes a direct cry for help “Believe with me Joe. I can’t stand all alone. ” Despite, this Keller dismisses what she is saying and the tension builds up causing an argument. This is another scene of conflict, but between Keller and Mother, there is also, tension and hints to secrets. Keller is always changing the subject or walking away from a conversation when he does not like the way it is heading.
We can also see this with life, Keller depends on others but is not willing to help, and he runs from his problems instead of facing them or dumps them on others to sort out. In the dialogue with Annie, later in the Act, we see Keller’s attitude towards the trial and case. The family laugh about what has happened but Keller also uses the fact he was in jail to entertain the kids, using it as a joke and appointing them as police. This makes Keller seem like he was innocent and likes to play with the kids and have fun. But it is also a way of distracting people from what really happened.
Keller talks about the day he came back from jail saying: “Walkin’ down the street that day I was guilty as hell. Except I wasn’t and there was a court paper in my pocket to prove I wasn’t, and I walked… past… the porches. Result? Fourteen months later I had one of the best shops in the state again, a respected man again; bigger than ever. ” Keller convinces Annie that showing her face and being proud will gain her respect. This also shows us that Keller thinks that by taking pride in coming back from jail it caused people to change their views on him and decide he was innocent.
Keller believes in pride but as we will see later, he does not take responsibility. Keller believes that everyone is fooled and thinks he is innocent. Keller is convincing himself as well as Annie that everyone believes he is innocent. When Keller has a dialogue with Annie he talks about Annie’s father and makes out that he was not innocent but he must have done it for the right reasons. At first glance it seems like Keller is trying to help Annie and her father “Well, he ain’t my sweetheart, but you gotta forgive, don’t you? ” Keller encourages Annie to forgive her father.
However, at a second glance, we see through Keller’s act. By acting like the “good guy” it makes his story more plausible. Keller has a monologue in the scene with Chris an Annie, Keller says: “The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him”. Keller then proceeds to talk all about industry and the business. Whereas, in Chris’s monologue he talks about the love his men had for each other during the war. “A little more selfish and they’d’ve been here today”, this shows Chris’s admiration for his men, also the responsibility that the men had for each other. This shows how different and contrasting Keller and Chris are.
Keller’s monologue is primarily focused on the business, whilst Chris talks of social responsibility. When Annie breaks the news that George is coming to visit, Keller shows no reaction, either positive or negative, he simply replies “Sure, fine! Your father took sick? “. Keller immediately acts concerned for Annie’s father, keeping up the facade of being a thoughtful man, hiding his real personality. However, as soon as Chris and Annie exit, Keller questions Mother saying: “What does George want? ” This shows us that he is concerned about George’s sudden arrival.
Tension begins to rise in this scene after the mention of George’s imminent arrival. The scene is dramatic and suspenseful because the audience can tell from Keller’s reaction that there is a secret but we do not know what it is and why Keller and Mother are worried, additionally the fact that Chris and Annie exit suggests a secret. At this point, Mother is scared and questions Keller continuously about George’s appearance. At first Keller acts normally saying “What do I care what Steve’s got to tell him? ” Although, once Mother starts warning Keller, the tension rises again.
We see this because Mother sits stiffly in her chair and we are told that Keller replies desperately, trying to convince Mother but also trying to convince himself. At the end of the scene and the act Keller leaves in “hopeless fury” violently slamming the door. This ends Act one. In Act One Keller is presented as a character with two sides. When he is in public he puts up a facade, pretending to be someone else, the friendly and successful businessman and neighbour. On the other hand, when he is with Mother the tension of whatever Keller is hiding builds up and they end up arguing.
Keller is wholly dependent on Mother, ignoring her needs and taking her advice but never heeding her warnings. When Keller is alone with Mother we see his true colours, he is hostile and aggressive. In public Keller is distant, steering conversations away from topics he does not like and avoiding confrontation always covering up. Nevertheless, every so often we see an example of Keller’s violent side. Arthur Miller gives us clues to Keller’s character through the differences between the ways he acts around Mother which is a complete contrast to the way he acts in public.
We can also build an idea of Keller’s characters by what he says, and then what he really means, the hidden meanings; the way he avoids topics and changes the subjects, also, the way he pretends and uses people like Bert to keep up his pretence. Keller is never quick to argue unless it is to defend himself, he is very defensive and can become angry very quickly, especially with Chris whose ideas clash with his. Act One helps us piece together the puzzle of the events that happened before the beginning of the play, such as: Annie being Larry’s girl.
Moreover, tension and suspense have begun to build up due to Arthur Miller’s hints to secrets and lies which have yet to be revealed. Act Two arrives bringing with it a whole new wave of secrets. With the arrival of George we see what the neighbours really think of Keller, “Who is he to ruin a man’s life? Everybody knows Joe pulled a fast one to get out of jail”. Also, George suspects Keller and tells Chris this. This sparks an angry reaction from Chris as he rushes to defend his father; however, we can suggest that maybe he rushes to his father’s defence because he suspects it’s true.
Later on at the end of Act Two we see Chris’s rejection of his father, after the truth is uncovered. Chris used to look up to his father, even calling him “Joe McGuts”, Chris is shocked to uncover his father’s secrets and guilt. Chris is so furious, especially when Keller tries to pass on the blame by telling Chris it was all for him. Chris is outraged, questioning his father, “For me! Where do you live, where have you come from? ” Chris feels that he no longer recognises his father, he feels like he has lost his father and this adds to his pain. In Act Two the differences between Keller and Chris are defined, causing conflict.
Chris is shocked at his Father’s actions, and is unable to comprehend what his Father has done; this shows the contrast in morals between Chris and Keller. At the beginning of Act One, we do not yet suspect anything of Keller and he seems like an ordinary, regular man. However, later on we see this is just a facade. At the beginning of Act Three we can see obvious signs that Keller has been affected by the happenings of Act Two. The first indication is “What does he want here? ” he is immediately suspicious; we see this continually through the dialogue with Mother.
Keller is always asking questions, being suspicious of everyone and everything. This shows a new sort of vulnerability about Keller that was not there in Act One. Also, once again Keller is relying on Mother, and ignoring her advice. “Don’t ask me Joe”. This is a clear sign that Mother is giving up and needs someone to depend on but Keller does not get the hint. Ironically, Keller persists saying “Then who do I ask? But I don’t think she’ll do anything about it”. Mother then points out that Keller is still relying on her and questioning her. The tension is building gradually and Keller blames Mother saying “You have no strength.
The minute there’s trouble you have no strength”. Keller is blind, he is oblivious to the fact that Mother has had to stay strong for Keller while grieving for her son and now she needs someone to lean on, not more secrets. From this scene we can see how Act Two has affected the characters. This is the outcome of the conflicts and secrets which were revealed in Act Two. In the dialogue between Mother and Keller we see that Keller is in denial. “He would forgive me! For what? ” Keller is unable to see he is guilty. He then uses his family as a scapegoat saying “You wanted money, so I made money. What must I be forgiven?
You wanted money, didn’t you? ” Keller directly blames Mother saying it was for the family. Even when Mother tells him that doing it for the family does not excuse his crimes Keller replies “It’s got to excuse it! ” Further on in the scene Keller brings up Larry, saying that Larry would understand, it seems as if Chris is a disappointment. This is Keller indirectly blaming Chris. Whilst blaming Chris we are given a clear insight into the differences between Chris and his father, Chris is too innocent and honest. Keller describes him as not understanding the way the world was made. Keller, on the other hand, is completely different.
He knows the world is full of misdeeds and he sees no reason why he should not partake seeing as everyone else is, an idea which would horrify Chris. We are then told in stage directions that Keller slumps on a chair. This shows that Keller is fed up and lost, there is another example of this when Keller talks to Mother desperately and sounding lost saying “For you, Kate, for both of you, that’s all I ever lived for… ” From this we see that Keller is giving up, he’s got himself in too deep and needs help. We also see that Keller has learnt nothing and is still depending on Mother to help him, despite blaming her for all that has gone wrong.
We can see clearly the differences between Chris and Keller when they have a conversation; Keller is pleading and desperate asking: “Who worked for nothin’ in that war? When they work for nothin’, I’ll work for nothin’. ” He is beseeching Chris but is going the wrong way about it; he is using the war to justify his actions, saying everyone was doing it. Keller has not quite grasped the concept that just because others were doing it, it does not condone it. It’s as if Keller does not understand his son, we know that Chris loved his men and was struck by the love they had for each other.
Then his father starts using the war to validate his actions. Another point to note is that Chris is disappointed, he was so proud of his father, always defending him and his father has thrown it back in his face. Chris says to his father, “I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father”. At this point Chris almost breaks down, he had put his father high up on a pedestal and now he feels he has lost him. Now everything comes to a climax, and the tension and suspense rises. Keller has to face up to the fact that Larry, his son, killed himself because he was so ashamed.
It was the wake up call Keller needed and we are told he speaks inaudibly with a mix of shock and embarrassment. This is the result of Keller’s lies and secrets and it is catastrophic. Mother has given up, Chris is overcome and cannot decide what action he should take against his Father and Keller has to face up to the consequences of his actions. The title has specific relevance to this scene, Keller says: “Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were”. The use of repetition in this quote shows, I think, a certain realisation on Keller’s part.
Perhaps he finally understands. This shows the connection Larry felt that Keller had with all the men. They had a special relationship, each time they flew Keller had their lives in his hands. The men depended on him like a son depends on a father, and he let them down. Now, at the end of the play we have built a picture of Keller in our minds and there are a few differences that stick out between Act One and Act Three. Firstly, in Act One he is sly and careful but confident but by Act Three he is vulnerable, depending on Mother more than ever and using any reason or excuse to justify his actions.
We can see at the end of the play that Keller really did love his sons, despite acting so distantly and unemotional about them at the beginning of Act one. We see this in his reactions to Larry’s suicide; he is despondent and no longer cares about anything, not even the business. However, we can see that in at least one way, Keller has not changed. At the end of the play he commits suicide rather than take responsibility for his actions. Additionally, this is also a selfish act; he does not think how his actions will affect his wife or his son.
I think this play will have a great impact on the audience, it will shock and emotions will run high. The audience will be horrified at the tactics Keller employs to avoid responsibility and how he blames other people, even those risking their lives. On the other hand, Keller was a confused character, unable to stand on his own two feet, constantly needing reassurance and incredibly insecure. This play includes various themes which are closely linked to the storyline; firstly, there is a theme of individualism and society. We can clearly see society as a theme; this is highlighted by Keller and his love for the business.
Is that as far as your mind can see the business? What is that, the world – the business? ” This shows us that Keller only cares for the business and is completely oblivious to the effects his actions are having on the people around him. Also, another key theme is crime and punishment, the whole way through the play Keller is unable to face up to his crimes and accept the punishment due. He initially blames Steve but during the play he uses his family as a scapegoat. We see at the end of the play that Keller despite admitting his guilt is unable to face the consequences, his punishment and so kills himself.
Additionally, Guilt is a theme which is very clear from Keller’s actions during the play. Keller begins as quite a careful character and appears to be unemotional and detached, however, as the play progresses Keller begins to loose control. “What’s wrong with you? You know Larry never flew P – 40’s”. This is a good example of Keller’s denial, he knows he is guilty and he is beginning to develop a conscience but he still tries to justify his actions. Lastly, two themes which are evident from Keller’s interactions with Chris, his son are: Secrets and Lies Vs Honesty and Materialism Vs Idealism.
For the duration of the play we see Keller’s and Chris’s contrasting ideas about the world and morals. Keller is a very materialistic man, his fanaticism is his business and he feels that if everyone else does it he can to, this is illustrated when Keller says to Chris: “Who worked for nothin’ in that war? … What’s clean? Half the goddam country is gotta go if I go! That’s why you can’t tell me” Keller is a man with little conscience, he ignores the consequences of his actions, avoiding subjects and questions.
Also, Keller’s live is steeped in lies as are his relationships, especially his relationship with Kate. Keller’s relationship with Kate is teetering on the edge of a cliff, they act very tense together and normally ending in a fight and example of this is at the end of Act One, Keller exits slamming the door. The lies begin to weave a web of deceit, growing all the time, until in the end Keller is lying to himself. In complete contrast to Keller is his son, Chris. Chris fought during the war and was touched by the love the men had for each other, we see this in Act One: “they killed themselves for each other”.
Chris is a very idealistic person, in Act Two Sue says to Annie “Chris makes people want to be better than it’s possible to be. He does that to people”. From this we can see that Chris believes in more than material items. Chris refers to Keller’s beloved business as “that rat – race again”, this shows that Chris is not inspired by the business and perhaps feels contempt towards it. Another character trait of Chris is he is honest, and at the beginning of Act Three, Jim suggests to Kate that Chris has gone to watch his “star of honesty” go out.
Chris is shocked when his Father’s secrets are uncovered, he defended his Father from George and now his Father is guilty. Chris looked up to his Father and now he feels lost and let down. From this play there are many lessons to learn especially from the key themes, one lesson we can learn is to always be conscious of other people around us and how our actions might affect them. Also, from the play we can see how a lie, even just a small lie can spiral out of control, leaving a path of both pain and destruction behind it. All we can do is sit and watch as it tears the Keller’s lives apart.