In Arthur Miller's All My Sons, how is Chris affected by the information of his father's guilt?
Chris Keller has been living in a state of denial. He is his father's son, and that involves a certain amount--actually, a considerable amount--of self-deception regarding the Keller family's history. Joe Keller is a successful businessman whose former employee languishes in prison for a crime for which Joe was at least equally, if not more, culpable--a crime that led to the death of Chris's brother Larry.
Arthur Miller's play All My Sons is a tragedy that traces the downfall not just of Joe Keller, Chris's father, but of the entire family. Suspicions or rumors regarding Joe's complicity in the deaths of American pilots during World War II have hung over the family, casting a pall over their otherwise normal middle-class existence. As the facade of normality crumbles, however, the previously loyal and dutiful Chris turns on his father, pretending to an idealistic vision of the older man that may or may not have actually existed:
Chris: I know you're no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father. (Almost breaking) I can't look at you this way, I can't look at myself!
How does Chris respond to the revelation of Joe's guilt? By denying any culpability on his own part with the perpetuation of the myth of Joe's innocence, all the while dating the daughter of the aforementioned incarcerated employee. Chris Keller is no paragon of virtue. His attributes--he is there for his parents, remaining loyal to Joe while adopting as his own paramour the girlfriend of his dead brother. He is quick, however, to indict his father for all those deaths, including Larry's, and his anger towards Joe drives Chris to kill himself. Chris responds to the information by turning on the father he had heretofore idolized. As he pushes home the point of Joe's guilt, the now-broken father laments his possible fate while placing himself squarely within the context of the morally ambivalent times, prompting the above retort, as well as the one below:
Mother: What more can we be!
Chris: You can be better! Once and for all you can know there's a universe of people outside and you're responsible to it, and unless you know that, you threw away your son because that's why he died.
Chris's holier-than-thou accusations, while fair with respect to Joe's complicity in the deaths and in allowing Steve Deever to take the fall and rot in prison while he continued to live comfortably, drive Joe over the edge.
Chris is a bit of an idealist in this play. He is insulated from financial hardship because his father owns a profitable business. He believes that his father is innocent. Chris is unwilling to acknowledge that his father could be guilty because he does not imagine that he, himself, could be so moral himself, if his father is not.
When he discovers that his father is guilty, he is emotionally crushed, but his sense of honor requires him to assert that Joe Keller should go back to prison for his crime. Although he has a very difficult time admitting it out loud that Joe should return to prison, and he won't be the one to make sure he goes to prison, instead, Chris just wants to run away.
"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."