Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
All My Sons concerns the conflict between a pragmatic father and his idealistic son. Joe Keller, the father, is a “blue-collar” industrialist, a self-made man. Motivated by an extreme sense of loyalty to his family, Joe allowed the defective airline parts to leave his plant, an action that killed twenty-one pilots and led to the arrest and imprisonment of his partner and friend, Steve Deever. Joe seeks to escape the past, to deny the fateful series of events that threatened his business, his family, and his freedom. On the other hand, Chris, his son, finds it impossible to escape the past. During the war, Chris discovered a unique brotherhood among the men who sacrificed their lives for each other: “A kind of—responsibility. Man for man.” On his return home, he finds “no meaning” in the shallow upper middle-class concerns or in the consumerism of post-war America. Chris even thinks the past a liberating agent; he judges the lives of his friends and family and, more important, “truth” against the standard of his combat experience.
This conflict operates on two levels: the human and the social. On the social level, Miller’s play explores the need for the individual to accept social responsibility. On the human level, the play reveals the tragedy of a common man. Joe Keller is not a coward, nor does he act from base self-interest. Chris is relentlessly honest, a loyal son. Yet both are destroyed by their failure to see life...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
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