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Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

All My Sons was Arthur Miller's first successful play on Broadway. In hindsight, it may seem that the work lacks the great imaginative force of his next play, Death of Salesman (1949), still widely regarded as his masterpiece, but in All My Sons, Miller certainly showed that he could both use dialogue very well and construct a riveting drama in the tradition of social realism.

Miller was fortunate to have as his director Elia Kazan, whose mercurial career was then rapidly rising, and an excellent cast, headed by Ed Begley as Joe Keller, Beth Merrill as Kate, Arthur Kennedy as Chris, Lois Wheeler as Ann Deever, and Karl Malden as her brother, George. In most reviews, the quality of the production was recognized and applauded. The play chalked up a run of 328 performances and garnered the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. It was an impressive achievement for a new and virtually unknown playwright.

The work did not receive uniform raves, but it did win the approval of some influential critics, notably Brooks Atkinson of the The New York Times, the city's most distinguished newspaper. In his autobiography, Timebends, Miller says, ‘‘It was Brooks Atkinson's campaign for All My Sons that was responsible for its long run and my recognition as a playwright.’’

Among other things, Atkinson defended the play against those who took umbrage with Miller's depiction of an American businessman as one who puts material comfort and success above moral responsibility. For Atkinson, the play was ‘‘the most talented work by a new author in some time,’’ and though he recognized the important contribution of Kazan and the cast to the play's power, he credited Miller with devising a ‘‘pitiless analysis of characters that gathers momentum all evening and concludes with both logic and dramatic impact.’’

Most reviewers recognized Miller's great promise even while finding flaws in the work. For Joseph Wood Krutch, the plot of the drama was ‘‘almost too neat.’’ ‘‘The pieces,’’ Krutch argued, ‘‘fit together with the artificial, interlocking perfection of a jigsaw puzzle, and toward the end one begins to feel a little uncomfortable to find all the implicit ironies so patly illustrated and poetic justice working with such mechanical perfection.’’ Moreover, Krutch took issue with Miller's ‘‘warm respect for all the leftist pieties’’ and complained that the playwright's ‘‘intellectual convictions’’ are ‘‘more stereotyped than his dramatic imagination.’’

That Miller imposed a classical structure on a social problem play in the tradition of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov was recognized by...

(The entire section is 642 words.)