“All My Sons” by Arthur Miller is one of the first dramatic plays or stories that I have read and truly enjoyed. Written and set in 1947, I wasn’t sure what to expect but as I began reading, it became quite the page turner. Arthur Miller, being a prominent figure in American theater and playwright, has a unique style of writing that seems to capture all aspects of a good story in a manner that’s not only easy to read but also quite intriguing.1 In this play in particular, Miller’s character development, themes, and choice of title all seem to tie together perfectly and create a story that I would recommend to a lot of people.2
Although this play is quite short, Miller is able to define each character’s personality in a clear and concise manner. Throughout the play we see many different sides of the most important character, Joe Keller. In the opening seen, Miller gives the reader a description of Joe that helps us understand why he is the type of person he is today. “When he reads, when he speaks, when he listens, it is with the terrible concentration of the uneducated man for whom there is still wonder in many commonly known things, a man whose judgements must be dredged out of experience and a peasant-like common sense. A man among men.” (358) As the play continues, this image we have of Joe comes up again and again, but as the truths in the story begin to play out we realize who Joe really is.
After his son Chris discovers the truth about the actions of his father, Joe begins to show his true colors in a desperate and guilty manner. “I spoiled the both of you. I should’ve put him out when he was ten like I was put out, and made him earn his keep….I could live on a quarter a day myself, but I got a family so I…Nothin’ is bigger!” (425) As selfish as Joe was to authorize the shipment of the faulty parts and not take blame, he wants his family to understand that he did it for them. Miller does a great job of showing that deep down Joe truly is a loyal family man but the dishonest businessman side of him got the best of him and he is now paying for that by losing the trust of his family. For the play to end with Joe Keller committing suicide, you really get a sense of the author’s goal; Joe Keller was a weak man.
Throughout the play the author shows how the dishonest businessman, Joe Keller, will only thrive for so long in the real world. There are multiple themes throughout the play but there was one that stuck out to me because of the underlying role that it played in the most crucial parts of the play; the theme of honest suckers versus dishonest winners. Before the truth comes out Joe tries to defend Ann’s father in front of her and Chris, “So he takes out his tools and he…covers over the cracks. All right…that’s bad, its wrong, but that’s what a little man does.” (384) Looking back at this quote it’s clear that Joe had no problem telling this lie, but I suppose that by that point in his life he had told that lie so many times that he almost believes himself. Later in the play only moments before the truth comes out Joe says to George, “There are certain men in the world who rather see everybody hung before they’ll take the blame. You understand me George.” (414) Although this quote refers to George’s father’s mistakes in the past, it becomes clear that Joe is unknowingly describing himself. Through Joe Keller’s lies Mr. Deever is eventually portrayed as small man who can’t take the blame, but when the truth finally comes out we realize that up until that point Joe Keller was a dishonest winner and because of him Mr. Deever became the honest sucker paying for Keller’s mistakes. As Americans we see this in our everyday lives but there’s only so much that we can really do about it.
Throughout my education I’ve always enjoyed reading a book whose title makes you wonder what the story could be about. The title of this play, “All My Sons” does not tell the reader what they are about to read but when the name of the play came up in Act III it helped me really understand the play as a whole. Joe’s last line in the play read, “Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.” (432) These were powerful words to have been said right before killing himself. Joe finally decides to take the blame and he realizes how terrible the outcome of his poor decision really was. It was sad to see him go at the end of the play after speaking such meaningful and honest words but he felt as though he didn’t deserve to live after living a lie for so long. It may have been a cowardly move but you wonder if Chris and Kate would have wanted it any other way.
Arthur Miller’s style of writing had me thinking at all times and this play was truly fascinating. Although the dramatic genre never really interested me this was a type of drama that seemed to have a lot more meaning that what I would have expected. The character that Miller created, Joe Keller, brought up some brilliant ideas that really tie in to everyday life. Miller’s character development, choice of themes, and especially the title he chose for the play all make me admire Arthur Miller and I look forward to reading more work by him.
Miller, Arthur. “All My Sons.” Six Great Modern Plays. New York: Dell, 1956. 355-433. Print