In the play, Joe represents a corruption of the popular Horatio Alger myth. It is this idea of the "rags-to-riches" story that has perpetuated in American culture and American literature, such as Miller's Death of a Salesman and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. True to the idea of starting from the bottom, Joe is a self-made businessman who started out as a semiskilled laborer and worked his way up in the business world to become a successful manufacturer. On the surface, Joe is incredibly likable. He gets along well with the neighbors and their children, but tends to put himself down, claiming not to be as smart or well-educated as those around him.
Yet there is another side to Joe. He actually takes great pride in his business sense, & cares for his business almost as much as his family. It is this sense of pride which led to his downfall. During the war, he ordered his partner, Steve Deever, to cover cracks in some airplane engine parts, disguise the welds, and send them on to be used in fighter planes, causing the death of twenty-one pilots. Although convicted, Joe put the blame on Steve and got out of prison.
He did not intend for anyone to get hurt, certainly for no one to die. Yet after it happens, he lies and lets his partner take the blame. Some might argue that this makes him evil. Yet he did not act without a conscience, and everything he did was for his family. He wanted to protect his sons and save them from a life of disgrace, and despite what happened, his intentions were good, at least in his mind.