Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Joe Keller, a middle-aged factory owner of working-class background. He is a plain, inarticulate man with a certain peasant shrewdness. His values are simple: work and family. His purpose in life is to pass on his business to his surviving son, Chris. His moral simplicity, however, is his undoing. During World War II, he knowingly authorized the shipment of cracked cylinder heads to the Army air force; the defective parts caused the deaths of twenty-one pilots. Although imprisoned and brought to trial, he avoided conviction by shifting the blame to his hapless partner, Steve Deever. Although he is accepted by his neighbors, they do not doubt his guilt, nor did his son Larry, who, ashamed of his father’s actions, committed suicide during the war. Only his son Chris believes he is innocent. Joe is forced to face his responsibility when Larry’s former girlfriend, Ann Deever, now about to marry Chris, gives the Kellers Larry’s suicide letter. Realizing that his actions caused Larry’s death and that the twenty-one pilots are as much his sons as Larry (he refers to them as “all my sons” in his last speech), Joe shoots himself.
Kate Keller, the fiftyish wife of Joe Keller. She superstitiously clings to the hope that her son Larry, who disappeared during the war and is assumed to be dead, will return. This false hope complicates her surviving son’s plan to marry Ann Deever. To Kate, accepting the marriage means that Larry will never come back; she therefore opposes the marriage and tries to get rid of Ann. Her denial of Larry’s death is rooted in her knowledge of her husband’s guilt. In her mind, Larry’s death is linked to the pilots’ deaths; denying the reality of his death is her way of denying her husband’s responsibility for the deaths of the others. Her denial is shattered by Ann, who, to save her future happiness with Chris, reluctantly shows her Larry’s suicide note.
Chris Keller, Joe’s thirty-two-year-old, sensitive, and intellectual son. He works for his father’s company, which someday will be his. A World War II veteran whose combat experience has left him with a strong sense of...
(The entire section is 912 words.)
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