Arthur Miller's "All My Sons"

Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”

With his 1947 play “All My Sons” Arthur Miller writes  an American tragedy dealing with the American dream of material wealth leading to happiness - Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" introduction. Miller explores the American dream notion that hard work will result in material wealth that will lead to happiness. Miller finds this idea lacking and potentially damaging. Instead, Miller shows that pursuit of wealth without regard to moral behavior leads to eventual unhappiness or even death. Such emphasis on material wealth leads to the breakdown of family harmony and integrity. Finally Miller suggests restitution for gains gotten by immoral means must be paid before true growth and happiness are possible.

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Miller sketches the inadequacy of material wealth by telling the story of the Keller family.  To all appearances Joe Keller has achieved the American Dream. Keller is a self-made man, starting as a blue-collar worker and working his way up the ladder until he became a partner in his own manufacturing company. He owns and lives in a comfortable home in typical American town, and has a family. However Miller reveals flaws in Keller’s life by revealing the family’s history. Latent tension exists among members of the Keller family, as well as increasing conflict between the Kellers and the family of his former partner, the Deevers. Before the play’s opening scene Joe Keller and Steve Deever had been partners in a manufacturing company that made airplane parts for the military during World War II. However their livelihoods are threatened when Miller reveals they had knowingly shipped damaged cylinder heads. Because of the damage twenty-one P-40 airplanes crashed and the pilots killed. Authorities arrested both Keller and Deever. During the trial Joe Keller claimed he had been sick the day the parts shipped and knew nothing about the damaged parts. The court declared Keller not guilty, but found Steve Deever guilty. Deever went to prison and Keller returned home to assume control of the company (Miller 26). Later in the play Miller revealed that Keller lied when claiming illness. He felt the company could not afford the expense of scrapping the one hundred cylinder heads. So he told Deever by telephone to weld the cylinder heads to hide the defects and ship the parts (Miller 51, 62). Clearly Miller believes Joe Keller’s material greed led to the death of the pilots and his later behavior that caused blame to fall on Steve Deever.

Miller describes the breakdown of the family by using the symbol of the Keller’s apple tree that represents the Keller Family Tree. The night before the play opens, an apple tree in the Kellers’ yard broke in a storm suggesting the Keller family had broken as well. Originally the Kellers planted the tree as a memorial to Larry Keller, elder son of Joe and Kate Keller. Keller went missing while serving as a fighter pilot during World War II. Members of the Keller family, except for his mother Kate, had accepted that Larry was killed and would not be returning. Kate fully expected his return and believed they should not have planted the memorial, “we never should have planted that tree. . . it was too soon to plant a tree for him” (Miller 16). Because Kate assumed Larry would return the Keller family remained in a state of paralysis. Chris, the younger Keller son, loved Ann Deever and they wished to marry. Since Kate refused to accept her elder son’s death Chris and Ann’s marriage and a vibrant Keller family tree remained remote possibilities.

Miller uses this paralysis or stasis to signal his belief that restitution for immoral acts must be made life can continue. Only after a letter from Larry revealed that he had committed suicide because of shame of his father’s actions with the cylinder heads did the possibility of an end to the paralysis of the Keller family. Once the Kellers realize that Joe’s immoral act had killed not only the twenty-one pilots who were sons, but his own son, did the opportunity for moral restitution present itself. Joe Keller assumes responsibility for his act by killing himself offstage. This results in the possibility for growth for the remaining Kellers. Kate recognizes Larry will not return and that it is time to move forward. She urges Chris to “[l]ive now. Forget now”(Miller 84).

“All My Sons” provides a critical account of the American dream that cautions against the danger that gathering wealth without regard to moral rules presents to society. Although Miller first staged his play sixty years ago it provides an important, but poignant message to Americans. Given recent and continuing allegations that contractors have engaged in malfeasance and bribery, in the current war in Iraq, “All My Sons” is pertinent and relevant.
Works Cited

 

Glanz, James. “Funds for Iraq Spent on Real Estate and a Cessna.” 2 Feb. 2006. International Herald Tribune. 20 July 2007 <http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/02/news/cpa.php>.
Miller, Arthur. “All My Sons. Arthur Miller. New York, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995.
Witte, Griff. “U.S. Contractor Admits Bribery for Jobs in Iraq.” 19 Apr. 2006. Washington Post. 20 July 2007 < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/

04/18/AR2006041801742.html>.

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