All My Sons Study Guide
Introduction to All My Sons
All My Sons is a play by Arthur Miller. It debuted on Broadway in 1946, running for 328 performances. It was Miller’s first commercially successful play, winning both the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Tony Awards for Best Author and Best Director. The play has been adapted for film twice and has been produced on numerous prominent stages across the world. Its scathing critique of the American dream and its politically leftist slant brought Miller under scrutiny from the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s for harboring suspected communist sympathies.
The play itself revolves around a family that has been torn apart by World War II. Oldest son Larry never returned home from the war and is generally presumed dead, though his mother will not accept that; patriarch Joe harbors dark secrets about how he obtained his wealth; remaining son Chris also served during the war, and his sense of personal responsibility and morality provide the thematic center of the play. All of the characters experience some form of guilt, and the revelation that Joe’s actions led to Larry’s death reinforces the destructive potential of greed, war profiteering, and capitalist ambitions.
A Brief Biography of Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller (1915–2005) defined American theater in the 1950s with seminal plays such as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. But he was not simply a literary phenomenon; he became a pop-culture sensation when he married Marilyn Monroe in 1956. On the whole, his works are about an individual’s struggle with an oftentimes indifferent, harsh, or irrational society—something he learned about firsthand when he stood against Senator Eugene McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Before his death in 1996, Miller had also written screenplays, novels, short stories, nonfiction, and an autobiography. He based his works on his family, his friends, and his own life, and he filled them with the rage, love, and self-doubt that Miller himself felt.