The biggest historical event that provides a backdrop for the action of this brilliant play is the Second World War, which gives rise to the massive choice facing Joe Keller and his own personal moral failing. However, although of course the War and Joe's involvement in it, and the way that his son is supposedly lost in action as a result impact the characters massively, the biggest focus of this play is on America and the American Dream, and the way in which success has been adopted as such a sought for goal that everything is sacrificed to achieve it. The sense of the American Dream, and the rags-to-riches story that allows a blue-collar worker to work his way up to become a factory owner is the story of Joe, but it is the Second World War that gives him the option of exchanging his integriy for materialism. His overarching desire to gain wealth and success at the expense of all else leads him to send defective parts which will result in the deaths of American soldiers.
Joe Keller's blind focus on success and materialism leads him to believe that financial gain is more important than human life itself and his country's needs. Miller clearly uses this play therefore to profoundly question the basis of consumerism and materialism, which seems to place financial gain over individual morals and responsibility. The Second World War is therefore the backdrop against which this internal conflict rages, as it provides a very real situation which forces Joe Keller to show the true extent of his values and beliefs.