All My Sons Essay, Research Paper
December 11, 2000
All My Sons
All My Sons, a play by Arthur Miller, tells predominantly of the story of the Kellers. This play takes place after World War II, in the year 1947. It is a drama of actions and consequences and morality. This theme of actions and consequences is shown after Joe Keller ships out defective engine parts, which ultimately ends in the death of many pilots including that of his own son, Larry Keller, who kills himself in shame of his father? s actions. Joe Keller had two sons, Chris and Larry, who is dead. Chris and his father, Joe, have opposing morals and viewpoints on many of the issues that govern their lives, primarily the issue of the shipment of the defective engine parts. Chris?s criticism of Joe and his morals in juxtaposition to his own produces a revelation of Chris?s true character and his character flaws.
Chris?s main criticisms of Joe, his father, chiefly deals with the shipment of the defective engine parts. Joe plays a major role in this play. He is shown as the antagonist, the one who through his bad decisions, ends up killing many innocent pilots who were only defending their country. ?In All My Sons, Miller complicates the story in that the father becomes flawed morally to such an extent that the outside forces function as reflections or testimonies of the essential inner weakness.?
(Martin, 9) As Yorks shows in his essay, through Joe?s loyalty to his business and his family, Joe betrays the ?larger loyalties of the global conflict? [World War II] (21) by shipping out defective engine parts. Joe tries to defend his actions by saying, ?Who worked for nothin? in that war? When they work for nothin?, I?ll work for nothin??it?s dollars and cents, nickels and dimes; war and peace, it?s nickels and dimes, what?s clean? Half the Goddamn country is gotta go if I go!? (Miller, 67) Joe claims to Chris that almost all the businesses involved in the war, made a profit from it and if that is considered dirty, then nobody is clean. Chris says that is exactly why he is so upset. ?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.? (Miller, 67) Chris expected his father to be better than most men, and is shamed when he learns of what his father has done. Chris says to his father, ?What the hell do you mean, you did it for me? Don?t you have a country? What the hell are you? You?re not even an animal, no animal kills his own, what are you?? (Miller, 59) Miller, through the title, tries to make us understand that Joe commits suicide as a final recognition of all those who ?fought as his sons?. (Yorks, 22). Chris is the one who drives his father to see that all the fighting men were actually his sons.
While one analyzes Chris?s criticism of Joe and his morals, the focus then moves to Chris and his own morals. Though Chris preaches to his father about morality and his loyalty to his country, we see that Chris may be just as dirty as his father. He too has pocketed the profits of the family business, yet he continues to hold himself to be morally superior to Joe. Joe himself asks Chris, ?Exactly what?s the matter? What?s the matter? You got too much money? Is that what bothers you?? (Miller, 67) Chris claims all the money that his father has earned is dirty, yet Chris has taken the profits just as his father has. Chris is revealed as suspecting his father?s guilt all along, but as ?lacking the moral stamina to force the issue?. (Clurman, 24). ?It?s true. I?m yellow, I was made
yellow in this house because I suspected my father and I did nothing about it.? says Chris. (Miller, 66)
Flaws in Chris?s character are also shown when we examine the love of Chris?s life, Annie. It is Chris who, in reaching out for love and a life of his own with Annie, first weakens and destroys the sense of security his father has tried to upkeep for his family. Annie, who has become Chris?s fianc?e, was previously also Chris?s dead brother, Larry?s fiancee. One must wonder what kind of morals Chris must have if he wants to marry his deceased brother?s fiancee. Chris knows that
marrying Annie will destroy his mother, Kate, who still believes that Larry is not dead and will reappear one day. Kate refuses to allow Chris to marry his brother?s fiancee because that would acknowledge Larry?s death. As Joe tells Chris, ?From mother?s point of view he is not dead and you have no right to take his girl.? (Miller, 14) Yet despite the wishes of his parents, Chris still intends on marrying Annie.
In an essay written by Wells, it is shown that during and exchange between Chris and George, Chris has always suspected his father. ?Let me go up and talk to your father. In ten minutes you?ll have an answer. Or are you afraid of the answer?? asks George. ?I?m not afraid. I know the answer? replies Chris. (Miller 48) Chris has not allowed himself to admit what he knew because he would not know how to live with it. Chris could not love a guilty father, ?not out of moral fastidious but out of self-love? (Gross, 13) If as George says, Chris has lied to himself about his father?s guilt, it is more to deny what he himself is than what his father is. Chris has always known his father was guilty but could not handle the consequences- the condemnation of his father and also of himself because he too has been polluted. This is exactly what the ?exposure of his father forces upon him
and his father?s arguments all shatter upon the hard shell of Chris? idealism not simply because they are, in fact, evasions and irrelevant half-truths, but because they can not satisfy Chris? conscience.?
(Wells, 6) When Chris says that, ?I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father. I can?t look you this way. I can?t look at myself!? (Miller, 67) ?An unwittingly, illuminating admission: he cannot look at his father as no better than most because he cannot look at himself as no better than most, he had never seen his father as a man because he has not wanted to see himself as one.? (Gross, 13)
At the conclusion of All My Sons, we see that Chris has come to a realization of what he has become. He has become a man, something he never wanted to see himself or his father as.
?I could jail him! I could jail him, if I were human any more. But I?m like everybody
else now. I?m practical now. You made me practical?the cats in that alley were practical, the bums who ran away when we were fighting were practical. Only the dead ones weren?t practical. But now I?m practical, and I spit on myself. I?m going away. I?m going now.? (Miller, 66)
Chris has become what he never wanted to be a practical man. The true Chris was always soiled, just as his father by his father?s actions and just like his dead brother, Larry, he could no longer stand himself. Chris tells his mother, ?You can do better! Once and for all you can know there?s a universe of people outside and you?re responsible to it, and unless you know that you threw away your son because that?s why he died.? (Miller, 69) At this moment, a shot is heard and we find out that Joe has committed suicide. Chris starts to apologize to his mother for being so harsh with Joe, but his mother stops him and says, ?Don?t, dear. Don?t take it on yourself. Forget now. Live.? (Miller 69) Chris has now been freed from his father?s immoral actions and can now live as the man he has become, a ?practical? man.
1. Clurman, Harold. ?Thesis and Drama.? Modern Critical Interpretations:Arthur Miller?s All My Sons. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988
2. Gross, Barry. ?All My Sons and the Larger Context.? Critical Essays on Arthur Miller. Ed. James Nagel. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1979.
3. Martin, Robert A. ?Introduction.? Arthur Miller, New Perspectives. Ed. Robert A. Martin. New Jersey:Prentice Hall Inc. 1982.
4. Miller, Arthur. All My Sons. New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 1947.
5. Wells, Arvin A. ?The Living and The Dead in All My Sons.? Critical Essays on Arthur Miller. Ed. James Nagel. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1979.
6. Yorks, Samuel A. ?Joe Keller and His Sons?. Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Miller?s All My Sons. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.