Discuss the father son relationship to the title of the play, "All my Sons."
The title All My Sons resonates in a few ways with the content and the themes of the play. Although Joe Keller's relationship with his son Chris is central to the action of the play, the final connection between the title and the play’s content may be the most conclusive and encompassing of these connections.
Early on, Joe Keller and his wife insist that their missing son Larry may still be alive because he did not fly a P-40 airplane in the war: it was the P-40 planes that crashed as a direct result of Joe Keller’s decision to ship the cracked cylinder heads to the U.S. military. However, at the end of the play Ann reveals a letter that Larry had written where he outlines his plan to commit suicide after discovering Joe’s crime. This is the moment where Joe finally relents in his denial of guilt.
Even after his admission to being aware of the cracked cylinder heads, Joe had kept up a defiant stance and suggested that he was no more guilty than any other businessman making a profit from the war. But when Ann brings out the letter, Joe gives in:
“Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.”
Here Joe has accepted the idea that he destroyed his family by trying to save them, and in doing so destroyed the lives of dozens of pilots. His rationale for shipping the faulty parts, after all, was that he felt it was the only way to keep his business going. Without the business, Joe Keller would have nothing to pass on to his two sons, Chris and Larry.
When Chris and Larry learn the truth, however, they turn against their father. In compromising his morality to save his business (and save his family), Joe sows the seeds of his own failure. He loses Larry to suicide and loses Chris emotionally. We might wonder, however, if Chris would have yielded at some point later if Joe had not taken his own life at the end of the play.
Joe Keller's family is completely sundered because he could not stand to risk losing them or losing his life's work, which for him are two sides of the same coin. He put his own interests above the interests of the pilots flying the planes in WWII, and betrayed his country to save his legacy.
Joe put his own family above his community and he paid a price for it: this is the moral of the story, according to what Arthur Miller has said in interviews and essays.
Yet, his decisions are driven by a sense of obligation to maintain some stature in a world that offered no such guarantees. When he felt that his life’s work would be forfeited, he took steps to avoid losing everything. He insisted that he would not be robbed of his identity and of his success. Miller has also commented on this as an important element of the tragedy of the story.
Joe Keller was willing to demand his dignity at the cost of his connection to his community. A similar character-line takes place in Miller’s A View from the Bridge.
In the end, Keller is rejected by his family and his community. If he had learned to identify earlier with his community and to take responsibility for the people in it, his realization that those dead pilots were all his sons could have held their social fabric intact. This is the tragedy here: Joe Keller's choices created a tear in the social fabric which led first to the lost lives of American pilots and finally to the loss of his own family. In this, we see Miller's message and warning that the integrity of the community is essential to and reliant on the integrity of the individual.
The relationship between Joe and Chris certainly evolves over the course of the play. At the beginning, Chris still holds the fairly immature position of seeing his father on a pedestal. He believes his father to be virtuous, hard-working, and loving of all (family, neighbors, co-workers). I say immaturely because as children move into young adulthood, they are usually more able to see their parents as three-dimensional people, but Chris has avoided this step. You could argue that he consciously makes this choice to avoid the truth, but it would seem to be more of subconscious decision. As more and more information is revealed about the truth of the shipment of parts and Larry's death, Chris is forced to see the reality of his father. He is hugely disappointed in his father's failings, and he is not moved by his father's justifications that he did for the family. Joe cannot face his son's disapproval; the relationship is not sturdy enough to survive the ugly realities of Joe's actions.
In terms of the title of the play, Chris cannot make clear to his father that it's not about just Joe, Larry and Chris. Joe should have considered all of the soldiers killed his sons; then he would never have made the choice to ship the parts for his family's sake.
The father-son relationship is critical to the theme of the play. At first, Joe Keller rationalizes his wartime crimes because they enabled him to make money to pass on to his sons and for one of his sons to inherit his company. However, as Miller reveals during the action of the play, there is far more to the father-son relationship than money. Taking responsibility for your actions and being a role model were things Joe Keller ignored when he allowed defective parts to sent from his factory. The consequences of the lack of responsibility are tragic. Upon hearing that his father is guilty of war crimes, Joe's older son commits suicide. His wife refuses to believe the death was suicide. Eventually, Chris, Joe's younger son finds the truth and is devastated. Joe sees his only recourse for not being a role model, is to commit suicide to punish himself for his crime. Unfortunately,he is also punishing Chris, his mother and Kate, who are left to pick up the pieces.