Saturday, 31 October 2015

All My Sons

                                                                                                               Arthur Miller

Joe Keller is the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons. He is a sixty year old industrialist. He is a man of strong mind and body. He has risen from rags to riches by sheer hard work.  Starting as a factory worker, this uneducated man built up an engineering business in forty years.  His judgements are based on hard experience of his life. But he is a poor victim of American socio-economic system.  The profit and success values of American society controlled all his actions.

2.  The play All My Sons takes its title from the last words of Joe Keller who is the tragic character in the play. His sense of guilt leads him to commit suicide and before taking his life, he quotes the words of his dead son Larry who made penance for the death of twenty-one pilots.  These pilots were killed in plane crashes because they all had used the cracked cylinder heads sent from the factory of Joe Keller. Larry’s death opened the inner eyes of Joe Keller to the truth that all those dead pilots were his sons. Thus Larry’s death made Joe Keller learn his social responsibility.  As John F. Kennedy, the late President of America reminded the people that they should not ask America what the country could do for them, instead they should ask themselves what they could do for America.

3.  The theme of All My Sons is the tragic conflict between family loyalties and social responsibilities.  Joe Keller is deeply devoted to his wife Kate and his two sons, Larry and Chris.  He is willing to make any sacrifice for them because he thinks his family is far greater than even American society. It is for his family that he committed crime in the war. A batch of cylinder heads manufactured in his factory developed hairline cracks. The commanders of the army want quick delivery of the cylinders. If Joe Keller did not send them those cylinder heads immediately, his war contract would be cancelled and Keller’s business would be collapsed and he would become a pauper. So he pretends to be suffering from flue at home and rings up his partner Steve to patch up the cracks and ship them. He knows that the defective cylinder heads would lead to plane crashing and the pilots would be killed. But he thought that some one in the army would find out the defects and they would not use such cylinders. By that time new cylinders could be manufactured and sent to the army. But the inevitable happened. The cylinders were used in the planes and twenty one pilots were killed.

4.  When the matter was taken to court and Joe Keller and Steev were arrested, Joe Keller denied the phone call and he was acquitted. Steev was imprisoned.  Returning to society, as if nothing happened, Joe Keller again built up his business and his social status has gone up. He has no prick of conscience about the death of those twenty  one young men in the plane crash.  Joe Keller argues that all people in the American society made money during the war and money is very important. One’s social status and honour depends on his wealth.  Unfortunately both the sons of Joe Keller don’t agree to their father’s idea of  money making. This is the tragedy of Joe Keller.

5. Again, Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons shows us different types of realistic and interesting pictures of  family life in America. The play is centered round Keller home.  But we can see a glimpse into the family of Steev Deever, Dr.Bayliss and Lubey .  Keller and his wife Kate are very much devoted to each other. Joe complains jokingly that in his house he wears the pants, but Kate beats him with the belt. The relation between Dr.Jim Bayliss and his wife Sue presents a different picture. Dr. Jim is an idealist. He wants to do research. But his wife has made him practical because she believes in the American principle that social status and dignity is based on money and money only. This type of blind materialism leads to tragedy.

6.  On the other hand the family life of the Lubeys give us another aspect of life. Lydia is always very happy and Frank is not at all ambitious. He loves horoscopes and birth stars of others. So they find life rewarding and when the neighbours laugh at them, they also laugh with the neighbours. In the Deever family, the two children- George and Ann and their mother don’t have strong bonds of love for each other. It is somewhat a broken family. When Steev Deever was arrested and imprisoned neither his children nor his wife stood with him. They did not even visit him in the jail. This is another aspect of American family life. But after some time George visits his father in jail and comes to know that Joe Keller made his father a scapegoat. He than comes to Keller’s family to question the honesty of Keller. But somehow Keller and his wife failed him. But truth cannot be hidden for a long time. It must come out. While talking, Kate makes a slip about the illness of Joe Keller on the day the cracked cylinders were shipped. Thus George learns the truth that how Joe Keller cheated his father.

7.  All My Sons may be rightly considered as an Aristotlean tragedy in the modern world.  The effect of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to arouse pity and fear in the audience in such a way as to effect that special purging and relief called “catharsis”.  Aristotle gave an important place to suffering. An incident of a destructive or painful sort, such as violent death or physical agony.  All My Sons is a great tragedy. The protagonist of the play Joe Keller is a tragic hero. He committed suicide. His son Larry committed suicide. Twenty one young pilots were killed. It is all due to the crime committed by Joe Keller.But the tragic flaw comes to him from American society where everything is measured on the value of money. Similarly all the tragic characters in the play are common men.  They are poor victims of circumstances. In this play, Arthur Miller presents the individual and the society as reacting on each other. Both individual and society are to be blamed, because man is a product of society and at the same time he is the creator of society. Joe Keller tries to justify his crime of killing twenty one pilots. He says that everyone in the American society made money out of war. Thus he blames the society. But the truth is that American society is made up of such Joe Kellers. The fatal flaw that triggers the tragedy is Joe Keller’s failure to respect his public role. He forgot that he is a part of society and he thought that his family is more important to him than his society.
8.  Miller’s play produces the feelings of awe and pity because the hero Joe Keller is primarily responsible for his own actions. Twenty-one pilots, Larry and Joe Keller himself die, but the curtain does not fall on the play. Finally Kate advises Chris to bury the past and live. This is an important message because error is human but to forgive is divine and life must go on.  The final atmosphere is one of “idealistic calm” which contributes to the power and effect of the play. The curtain falls on it.
Essay: Prepare your own essay on the following after studying the above notes:
1.      Comment on the aptness of the title All My Sons
2.      Discuss the major themes of All My Sons
3.      All My Sons presents the tragic conflict between family loyalties and social responsibilities- Discuss
4.      All My Sons is a powerful critique of American value system. Do you agree?
5.      Comment on the dramatic significance of the love story between Chris and Ann

The love story of Chris and Ann is a sub theme of the play All My Sons. It gives a romantic touch to the great tragedy All My Sons. The deep love of the young man and woman not only sweetens the play but also deepens the tragedy. Ann is the beautiful daughter of Steev Deever. Deever’s family and Joe Keller’s family are not only neighbours but partners in the tragic events that fall their families.  George and Ann are the children of Steev Deever and they are also the playmates of Keller’s boys Larry and Chris. Love blossoms between Ann and Larry, but war throws a spanner on their romance.  Larry joins the air force and he was reported missing. The cracked cylinder heads sent by Joe and Steve cause the death of twenty-one pilots and both Joe and Steve are arrested. But Joe manages to escape from punishment while Steve is imprisoned. Being insulted and humiliated, Steve’s family went to New York.

We see Ann in the Keller home when the curtain rises.  She is enchantingly beautiful and is being attracted by all the neighbours. Chris believes that Larry is no more and he plans to marry Ann. That is why Ann has come to Keller’s home. Chris tells his father that he wants to marry Ann. Keller has no objection to the marriage of Chris with Ann. But Kate has an illusion that Larry is not dead and he will come back. On the other hand Ann has concrete proof about the death of Larry. Just before his death, Larry has written letter to Ann explaining how he is ashamed of his father’s crime and he is going to undertake a suicial mission as a penance for the death of the twenty-one young pilots. Ann has that trumpet card (letter) in her pocket in case others in the family oppose to her marriage with Chris. She loves Chris because he is sincere and simple. Ann knows well that Joe Keller is guilty and he alone is responsible for send the cracked cylinder heads to the air force and her father is not given justice by Keller. Yet she is kind to Joe Keller and Kate. It shows that Ann is a woman of noble manners. She is not only intelligent but also kind hearted. In fact both Chris and Ann are made for each other. When George comes to Keller’s home, Ann  very skilfully tackles the angry young brother and saves the situation. She rises to the occasion and deal effectively with the situation. Similarly Ann destroys the illusion of Kate. Ann shows Kate the letter written by Larry and it is enough to wipe out the illusory vision of Larry from the mind of Kate and she comes down to the tragic reality. that even a father can kill his own son if he produces cracked cylinder heads and send them to the army.

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