All My Sons Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Context

All My Sons is one of Miller’s earliest plays to explore what has become one of the playwright’s major thematic concerns: the tragic destruction of the common man. Miller’s reputation as one of the finest contemporary American playwrights rests on that theme. Miller’s major and more mature plays all derive their power from this early work. Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949) absorbingly charts the inevitable downfall of Willy Loman, a failed salesman and father. The Crucible (pr., pb. 1953), a thinly disguised commentary on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist purges, examines the question of individual responsibility in times of mass hysteria. A View from the Bridge (pr. 1955) echoes the intimacy and tragedy of All My Sons as Miller explores the death of Eddie Carbone, an Italian American longshoreman.

In each of these works, Miller exploits those themes and devices which proved successful in All My Sons. In both Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge, the playwright focuses on a single family, a family held together by the most fragile of bonds. At the center of each family is a husband and father who is unable to conquer the forces which threaten to destroy his dreams and family. Willy Loman, a slave to the myth of the American dream (yet never able to achieve that vision of success), cannot face his failure and commits suicide. In A View from the Bridge, Eddie Carbone is destroyed because of his destructive and incestuous love for Catherine, his adolescent niece. Furthermore, these later plays also rely on the same tight structure and powerful use of language that made All My Sons a successful and provocative play. All My Sons, then, is both a success on its own terms and a blueprint for the niche that Miller has created for himself in the world of American theater.