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.
Chriss criticism of Joe
and his morals in juxtaposition to his own
produces a revelation of Chriss true character and
his character flaws. Chriss 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 Joes 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.
tries to defend his actions by saying, Who worked
for nothin in that war? When they work for nothin,
Ill work for nothinits dollars and cents, nickels
and dimes; war and peace, its nickels and dimes,
whats 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 youre 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? Dont you have a country? What the hell are
you? Youre 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 Chriss 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
whats the matter? Whats 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 fathers guilt all along, but as
lacking the moral stamina to force the issue.
Its true. Im 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 Chriss character are also shown when
we examine the love of Chriss 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 Chriss
fiance, was previously also Chriss dead brother,
One must wonder what kind of
morals Chris must have if he wants to marry his
deceased brothers 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 brothers fiancee because that would
acknowledge Larrys death. As Joe tells Chris, From
mothers 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 youll have an answer.
Or are you afraid of the answer? asks George. Im
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 fathers 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 fathers 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
(Wells, 6) When Chris says that,
I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.
I cant look you this way. I cant 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 Im like everybody
else now. Im practical now. You made me
practicalthe cats in that alley were practical,
the bums who ran away when we were fighting were
practical. Only the dead ones werent practical.
But now Im practical, and I spit on myself. Im
going away. Im 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 fathers 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 theres a
universe of people outside and youre responsible
to it, and unless you know that you threw away
your son because thats 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, Dont,
dear. Dont take it on yourself. Forget now.
(Miller 69) Chris has now been freed from his
fathers immoral actions and can now live as the
man he has become, a practical man. Bibliography:
Works Cited 1. Clurman, Harold. Thesis and Drama.
Modern Critical Interpretations:Arthur Millers 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,
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
Ed. James Nagel. Boston: G.K. Hall
& Co., 1979. 6. Yorks, Samuel A.
Joe Keller and
His Sons. Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur
Millers All My Sons. Ed. Harold Bloom. New
York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1988..