1. Discuss the ways in which the characters of Joe and Chris are presented in the play. mitigate
2. Go onto discuss how a clash between them is inevitable.
3. Discuss how the clash arises from the difference in their values.
As the play progresses, the characteristics, personality and values of both Joe and Chris Keller are revealed slowly. At the beginning, Joe is described as a rather popular man who is sociable and respected among his friends. He enjoys spending time with his neighbors. He is successful in his business; he gives us an impression of a pragmatic, self-made, man among men. He is described as a good husband and a loving, sensible father. He cares about his family and puts them at a high priority.
However, his lack in education and a “peasant-like common sense” resulted in his minimal insight and judgment of the world and the things around him. Although he is not very bright, he is quite frank about it and willing to admit it which is shown in a dialogue between Joe Keller and Frank Lubey where Joe casually proclaimes: “When you look at a page like this you realize how ignorant you are” when he was reading the newspaper. From what he said, it also suggests that he is also somewhat defensive about it.
His personality also led to much admiration from his friends and family. At one point, Chris even made a nickname for his father, calling him “Joe McGuts” This shows that he is still well respected after the dramatic indecent with the cracked cylinder heads and how other still think he pulled a fast one in getting himself exonerated. However, some did not mind the incident such as Jim Bayliss, many admire his courage and his shrewdness.
The way the Joe was presented also gives us an impression that he is kindhearted and caring. He loves children and he is popular with them. This is pointed out by how Bert, a child from the neighborhood loves playing the Jail Game with Joe, however the purpose of Bert’s role was to be used as an instrument of pointing out that Joe has something to hide and shows that something is not as it seems.
His righteous values are shown when he pointed out during another dialogue with a friend of his. “Today a doctor could make a million dollars if he could figure out a way to bring a way into the world without a trigger finger.” This shows that he loathes war and conflict, but ironically these righteous values where suddenly out the window during the cracked cylinder incident.
Joe also has very strong bonding with his family. The family plays an enormous role in his life. It almost seems like the family is everything to him, the motivator of his profession, possibly his life. This is shown by a quote he said during the moments of despair towards the end of the play: “For you, Kate, for both of you, that’s all I ever lived for…” During the beginning of the play, Joe also claims that everything he worked for and his business is for Chris: “…what the hell did I work for? That’s only for you, Chris, the whole shooting’ match is for you.” At the end of the play, he announced that the war crime he committed was for the family.
At first, it seemed like a lame attempt to shed off the responsibility, however, at the end it does seem plausible and he did it for his family. This is because why else would he want to do such a thing? From his personality, he does not seem like a wealth hungry monster but rather a “If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs” person. The incident is also directly linked to his lack of education. It seems to us that he was only capable of making a decision based on the result of the immediate stage. He was unable to foresee the future consequences.
His personality and values shapes the character of Joe. These characteristics help form the story and leads to the clash between Chris and Joe.
On the other hand, Chris’s properties are very different when compared to his father’s. Chris views the world differently and he is disappointed by how the world and people has not been changed after the war. Unlike Joe, Chris’ experience and principles are dredged by the Second World War. During the war, “he liked everybody. In the battalion he was known as Mother McKeller.” He is a warm-hearted, innocent, idealistic child. Chris is a good son; he respects both his parents and especially admires his father and trusts him fully. He believes his father is a great man and he has no doubts about his father’s innocence.
Chris is rather realistic about life. He has many visions and hopes, this can shown from a conversation between Chris and Joe discussing about Larry at the beginning: “…I want it beautiful. I want a family, I want some kids, I want to build something I can give myself to.” For Chris, friendship, trust and love has a higher value than for the rest of the family. He believes in love and self-sacrifice among people. Perhaps he is even a bit too perfect. He is too “holy”, which is mentioned during a dialogue between Ann and Sue about Chris. Chris makes people want to be better than it’s possible to be. He does that to people.” She resents living next to the “Holy Family” because he inspires people to become better.
He also gives us an impression on a morally righteous, however it almost comes to a point were he can be described as an excessively pious person. It seems as if Chris is unable to lie about anything. This is maybe because of the experience Chris had during the war, the trust and bond with each other and how be he became aware of a great value in life. “That’s only a little thing — but…that’s the kind of guys I had. They didn’t die; they killed themselves for each other. I mean that exactly; a little more selfish and they’d’ve been here today. And I got an idea — watching them go down. Everything was being destroyed, see, but it seemed to me that one new thing was made. A kind of — responsibility. Man for man.” Honesty is also one of the most important things in Chris’ life, as he points out in a dialogue with Ann: “Do you think I could forgive him if he’d done that thing?”
The clash between Joe and Chris is chiefly due to the difference in values between them. Joe was practical about the incident. He was afraid that the business might fail and collapse and all his hard work devoted on saving the business for his sons would be ruined. He felt that it was the right thing to do; he does not believe he was guilty in any way. He also felt that everybody else worked for a profit during the war and thought that he ought to as well. The business is the furthest his mind could see. The lives of 21 men meant little to him when it comes to the business. The conscience of what has had done wasn’t there, it was real to him. Joe did not realize how the attitude that he adopted would have such a large impact on Chris.
Chris was totally shocked by his father’s doings. It violated his principles and beliefs altruism and selflessness. He became confused and failed to know what to do with his father. This shattered all trust and bonding between father and son, he failed to close his eyes on guilt.