Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The night Ann Deever returns to her old neighborhood to visit Chris Keller and his family, a tree in their backyard blows over in a storm. The tree was planted as a memorial to the older Keller son, Larry, a fighter pilot who was lost in World War II. The morning after the storm, family members and neighbors gather in the yard to chat, to read the newspaper, and to discuss Ann’s return.
Ann’s father, who was Joe Keller’s partner in a wartime business, is in the penitentiary for having allowed cracked cylinder heads to be shipped, which caused the deaths of twenty-one pilots. (Joe was jailed, too, but was later exonerated for his part in the incident.) After the neighbors leave and while Ann is still inside the Keller house eating breakfast, Joe and Chris—a father and grown son who obviously admire each other—discuss Larry’s tree falling and the effect it will have on Kate, the mother. Chris also tells his father that he asked Ann to visit because he wants to ask her to marry him; Joe responds that his mother will not like the news because she still thinks of Ann as Larry’s girl. Chris explains that if he is to stay with the family business, he will need his father’s support in convincing Kate that Larry is not coming back from the war and that Ann and he have the right to be happy.
When she enters the backyard, Kate tries to downplay the significance of Larry’s destroyed tree, but she notes the coincidence of Ann’s return....
(The entire section is 1118 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
All My Sons is a realistic drama with tragic overtones. The play is tightly structured. It takes place in a single day and a single place. Following the tradition of playwright Henrik Ibsen, Miller slowly unravels past events to reveal a moral wrong or sinister crime. Joe Keller is a prosperous manufacturer enjoying the fruits of his wealth. He is a jovial man with a loyal wife, Kate, and a devoted son, Chris, who will inherit his father’s business. Miller said that he started the first scenes slowly, without much action, but he plants unmistakable hints of menace early in the play.
Despite its realistic tone, the play has the air of a fatalistic tragedy. Larry, Joe’s son, was missing in action in World War II. After three years, he is presumed dead, yet Kate refuses to accept his death. As son, brother, and lover, Larry’s haunting presence overshadows the entire action. The night before the play opens, a storm knocks down Larry’s memorial apple tree, a sign of hidden guilt and the fall from innocence. Anne, Larry’s old girlfriend, is staying in his room, which still contains Larry’s clothes and his freshly polished shoes. Chris wants to marry Anne, but he is not sure that she has accepted Larry’s death. Even after Anne has accepted his proposal, Chris still kisses her more as Larry’s brother than as her fiancé. Also, as long as Kate will not accept Larry’s death, Chris cannot have his mother’s blessing to marry Anne....
(The entire section is 444 words.)
The play opens on a Sunday morning in August and is set in the backyard of the Keller home, located on the outskirts of an unidentified American town, a couple of years after the end of World War II. Joe Keller, who has been reading classified ads in a newspaper, banters pleasantly with his neighbors, Dr. Jim Bayliss and Frank Lubey. He explains that the apple tree had split in half during the night.
It is a source of some concern, for the tree is a memorial for Joe's son, Larry, and its destruction might upset Joe's wife, Kate. Frank refers to it as Larry's tree and notes that August is Larry's birth month. He plans to cast Larry's horoscope, to see if the date on which he was reported missing in action was a favorable or unfavorable day for him.
The men ask after the Kellers' visitor, Ann, the daughter of Joe's former partner, Steve Deever, who once lived in the house now owned by the Baylisses. Sue, Jim's wife, arrives and sends Jim home to talk on the phone with a patient. She is followed by Frank's wife, Lydia, who reports a problem with a toaster.
Joe's son, Chris, comes from the house, and a neighborhood boy, Bert, darts into the yard. Joe amuses Bert in a role-playing game in which Bert is learning to be a police deputy under Joe's authority. He has shown Bert a gun, and they pretend that the basement of the house is actually a jail.
After the others leave, Joe and Chris talk about...
(The entire section is 1614 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Act One Summary and Analysis
Joe Keller/Keller: a businessman about sixty years old, who rose from humble beginnings to a career in industrial manufacturing
Kate Keller/Mother: Joe’s wife and Chris’s mother, who is about fifty years old
Chris Keller: the oldest Keller son, who is already a war veteran and partial owner of his father’s business at the age of thirty-two
Ann/Annie Deever: the beautiful, former girl next door, who is twenty-six years old and still single.
Doctor Jim Bayliss: the current next-door neighbor to the Kellers, who is a physician
Sue Bayliss: Jim’s wife
Frank Lubey: a neighbor who grew up with the Keller boys
Lydia Lubey: Frank’s wife and mother of their three children
The play consists of three acts only; the device of subdividing each act into scenes is not used. This straightforward structure extends to the plot and setting; the action begins and ends in less than twenty-four hours—from a Sunday to a Monday morning—and takes place in the sole setting of the Keller family home and backyard. We are in post-World War II America. The Keller home is large and newly painted, symbolizing middle-class success and respectability. The backyard, on the other hand, is littered with lawn furniture, household items, and even debris from an apple tree. The discontinuity between the respectable house and the disheveled yard hints at several of the play’s prevalent thematic contrasts—between success and failure, order and disorder, harmony and conflict.
In fact, multiple sources of conflict within the Keller home are revealed in act one. Larry, Joe Keller’s youngest son, disappeared during service in WWII and has been missing in action for three years. The act opens with small talk between Joe and his neighbors, Frank and Jim, that quickly turns from the daily news to Larry. The attention of the group is focused on an ominous portent of trouble: an apple tree intended to be a memorial to Larry has been downed by a windstorm during the previous night. Joe worries that this event, which occurs in the same month as Larry’s birthday, will upset his wife, Kate. Moreover, Ann Deever, Larry’s former girlfriend, has returned for a surprise visit to the Keller home. Her visit will serve only as another painful reminder of...
(The entire section is 2168 words.)
Act Two Summary and Analysis
George Deever: Ann’s brother, who is a WWII veteran and a lawyer in his early thirties
It is later in the same evening, and Chris finally removes the trunk of the apple tree from the Keller yard. Afterward, Chris and Kate discuss the possible reasons for George’s impending visit. Kate expresses concern that the case (about the failed airplane engine parts) will be opened again and indicates that she could not withstand the strain of another trial. Chris continues to dismiss his mother’s concerns, including the possibility that the feud between the Keller and Deever families, which occurred during the trial, will resurface, a development that would be of particular significance to his wish to marry Ann. Kate, however, still has not been informed of the wedding plans. As Kate exits, Ann enters, and she and Chris resolve to announce their engagement to Kate later that evening.
Chris exits and Sue enters to find Ann hovering near the tree stump. A discussion ensues between the two women about the forthcoming nuptials, specifically, and the challenges of married life, generally. Sue betrays her own mercenary views of marriage—that happiness is based more on the financial stability of the couple than on the presence of love. Her comments reveal deep jealousy and resentment of the Kellers, especially Chris, whom she believes nurtures an idealism that is ridiculous, in view of the financial success of his business and the social standing of his family. In fact, Sue believes that Chris is distracting Jim from his work and encouraging a frivolous desire to leave his medical practice for a career in research. The conversation becomes heated as the two women argue, first about Chris and then about the reputation of the entire Keller family.
Chris enters and interrupts the discussion; Sue exits. The scenes that follow develop the problem of merging the two families and their troubled histories. Ann questions Chris about the truth of Sue’s accusations, especially the possibility that the entire community is convinced of Joe’s guilt. Ann reminds Chris that, in effect, she has exchanged one father (Steve) for another (Joe), by assigning guilt to the former and innocence to the latter. The implication is that she wants to be certain that the reward of switching allegiance has been worth the terrible cost: the emotional pain of losing her own father...
(The entire section is 2008 words.)
Act Three Summary and Analysis
It is early morning of the following day. Jim stops by the Keller home after a late-night house call to find Kate rocking compulsively in a chair on the porch. He learns that Chris has discovered the truth about Joe and reveals that he has always known himself. Jim’s comments on the moral compromises made in his own life due to monetary greed underscore the importance of this theme to the final act and to the play as a whole.
Joe Keller enters as Jim exits. Joe and Kate discuss strategies for winning Chris back as they await his return. Kate believes that Joe can prove his remorse by offering to go to jail; she suggests that Chris will then forgive his father but not actually insist on his imprisonment. Joe, on the other hand, continues to claim that his decision was justified as a means to maintain his business and provide for his family. According to this logic, his only crime has been to love his family too much. Yet Kate reminds Joe that their son does not share these values. Joe can only reply that if this dedication to his family is wrong, he will “put a bullet in [his] head.”
While Joe and Kate continue to talk, Ann enters and proposes her own solution to the predicament. She demands that Kate finally admit to herself and her family that Larry is dead; then, Chris can start a new life with Ann without feeling either regret or guilt. As might be expected, Kate refuses to enter into this new bargain and banishes Joe from the yard, presumably so that she can settle the matter with Ann once and for all, without interference from anyone else. Yet Ann reveals a surprising piece of evidence that derails Kate: a letter written by Larry on the day of his disappearance. Kate becomes visibly distressed while reading the letter.
Before the contents of the letter can be shared, however, Chris rejoins the group and proposes yet another plan of action. He will depart immediately and leave his current life behind him, even Ann, whom he claims would surely grow to hate him over time for his association with the man and business that destroyed her family. He will neither open the case again nor jail his father. It seems that Chris has become, in his own words, too “practical” to enforce his own ideals. His claims are put to an immediate test as Joe reenters and engages his son in a final confrontation.
A tragic chain of events now commences that no one can halt, despite...
(The entire section is 1244 words.)