What is the function of the newspaper in the first act of Arthur Miller's play All My Sons?

The function of the newspaper in the first act of All My Sons is to show the families gathered at the Keller home living in denial. They all want to avoid the news section of the paper in favor of the weather, want ads, or book sections. Kate gravitates towards the stories of missing soldiers still being found so she can deny that Larry is dead. Their attitudes toward the news suggest buried secrets.

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The function of the newspaper in the first act of Arthur Miller's play All My Sons is to set the scene with a communal activity that involves minimal actual interaction but also serves to introduce the characters and some of their important character traits. It is Sunday, and much like any other typical American family or group of friends, people are together reading various sections of the Sunday paper. Although they are together physically, their actual interactions are brief, as each person engages with the newspaper individually. However, the dialogue, which revolves around the paper itself, reveals aspects of the characters’ personalities that become important to the general theme of the play and become apparent over the course of the three acts.

For instance, Jim Bayliss, a doctor and a man of science, is skeptical that the newspaper has pegged the weather in an accurate and scientific manner. Importantly, of all the sections Joe Keller might be reading, he is reading the want ads. He is curious to learn about commerce and what people want to purchase. Joe is a businessman, which is critical to the play. He is a hard worker who bootstrapped his way to running a business in partnership with Ann’s father. Joe’s life revolves around running his business and his family. As a result of his endeavors, the Kellers have a comfortable home and lifestyle. His single-minded pursuit of his business activities is a critical element underlying the action and themes in the play.

At the same time, Joe is intrigued by the various types of businesses seeking help via the want ads, suggesting a world that is changing rapidly from an earlier, perhaps steadier period of time preceding the war.

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As the play opens, many of the characters at the Keller's comfortable 1940s suburban home are reading the newspaper, but they avoid the news. Joe reads the "want" (for sale) ads and the weather, while Chris gravitates towards the book review section, and Frank doesn't bother with any of it, because it's all bad news anyway. Jim tries to disparage the newspaper in the following section of dialogue:

Keller: Gonna rain tonight.

Jim: Paper says so?

Keller: Yeah, right here.

Jim: Then it can't rain.

All of this suggest these individuals' basic discomfort with the idea of objective truth. At a time when, despite Jim's joke, the objective news was held in high regard in American society, these people want to tiptoe around it or avoid it.

This introduces from the start the theme of denial. Like many Americans in the post-World War II world, the Kellers, Lubeys, and Baylisses want to bury their collective heads in the sand and forget the traumas of the war that they have recently gone through. The newspaper is considered a threat in that it keeps alive Kate's cherished dream that Larry is still alive by constantly running stories of missing soldiers still being found. The Keller family needs to move on by accepting Larry's death. But beyond this, the avoidance of "real" news suggests that there are secrets that all the families want to keep buried.

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Much of the opening dialogue in Act I of Arthur Miller’s tragedy All My Sons involves the newspaper Joe Keller is perusing as the play opens. There must be some meaning to the newspaper, but it is by no means immediately obvious. Miller was normally pretty meticulous with respect to his stage directions and character and setting descriptions, yet the newspaper is just sort of a prop. As we read further into this opening act, however, we begin to see Joe’s trepidation with respect to the news, as opposed to, say, the “want ads,” which he reads closely, explaining that he likes to see what people want to buy. Joe, and his neighbors Jim Bayliss and Frank Lubey, are relaxing on a Sunday afternoon while discussing, among myriad topics, the felled tree in Joe’s backyard—a tree that had been planted as a memorial to Joe and Kate’s oldest son, Larry, a fighter pilot whose plane crashed during the war and whose remains were apparently never found, thereby allowing Kate the slimmest of hopes that Larry may still be alive.

What does Larry’s fate and Kate’s obsession with it have to do with Joe’s newspaper, a newspaper he and Jim repeatedly express a lack of faith in with respect to the accuracy of the stories it contains? Even Frank, when offered the paper by Joe, responds, “What’s the difference, it’s all bad news. What’s today’s calamity?” To Joe and his friends, the newspaper represents misinformation and recitations of all the ills that befall mankind. The symbolic importance of the newspaper, however, lies in its potential for telling the truth. Joe, as the reader/audience learns, is a troubled man, concealing beneath a veneer of respectability the awful truth that he is responsible for the deaths of 21 pilots during the war, and for the wrongful imprisonment of his former partner, the father of the dead Larry’s girlfriend who is now Chris’s girlfriend. Joe, it could be argued, fears the information that he, and everyone else, may find in the newspaper. Later in Act I, talking to Chris about Kate’s obsession with astrology and the possibility that Larry is still alive, Joe says, “The trouble is the Goddam newspapers. Every month, some boy comes up from nowhere, so the next one is going to be Larry . . .” Newspapers hold out the possibility that Joe’s secret will be revealed, and that he will be held accountable.

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The newspaper helps to demonstrate Keller's detachment and denial of current events, signifying his guilty withdrawal from "the news" and the world. 

While Keller has not become a recluse or withdrawn completely from social life, he has chosen a path of denial. He does not read the actual news oriented news sections of the paper. Instead he reads the sections that relate to entertainment. 

By the end of the play we can see that Keller pursues a line of moral denial as he persists in defending his decision to sell the faulty airplane parts to the military. Keller's choice not to read the news pages of the newspaper symbolize this denial. 

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