Analysis

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All My Sons is an exploration of the way that family love can be a destructive force during terrible times. Joe Keller made the decision to let the defective parts ship out because he wanted to keep the reputation of his business strong. His reason was that he wanted to keep making money for his family and keep the business profitable so that he could pass it along to Chris. As he tells Kate, “you wanted money, so I made money.” Joe saw himself as responsible for supporting his family, making sure that his wife and boys had the resources they needed. When confronted with the decision of what to do about the problem with the airplane parts, he took the selfish way out and decided to let the parts ship out. His goal was to protect his family. He feared that the parts’ defective nature would reflect badly on his business and potentially affect his family’s well-being. Yet this decision tore his family apart.

He first lost Larry, who the Kellers initially thought had been killed in the war, though Kate never accepted this. At the end of the play, the Kellers read Larry’s letter to Annie from just before he died. Larry is revealed to have killed himself because he could not stand existing in a world where his father was guilty of such a thing. 

In turn, the death of Larry destroyed Kate’s sanity, particularly in combination with the knowledge of her husband’s guilt in shipping out the defective parts. Alongside the horrifying grief of anyone losing a child, and the suffering of living through wartime, Kate is constantly confronting these two painful truths. The conflict between them is the source of her continual troubled nature and distraction throughout the play. Chris and Joe are both deeply worried about Kate, as well as frustrated that she cannot accept Larry’s death. This barrier to reality is particularly frustrating for Chris, as he desperately wants to marry Annie while knowing that his mother will not believe Annie can be his until she accepts that Larry is dead. Chris, however, does not realize the underlying tension between the knowledge of his father’s guilt and the acceptance of Larry’s death that drives his mother’s behavior throughout the play. When he realizes the truth of what happened at the factory, he is heartbroken, and Joe loses his final family member.

Chris does come back, but he comes back a different man, shattered by the knowledge of his father’s guilt and the realization that he himself does not have the courage to make sure his father goes to prison for it. As he says, his father made him “practical,” and a practical man will not take an action that could get in the way of his living the life he wants. Instead, he will move away, removing himself from his father’s life.

With the loss of his last family member, Joe’s life becomes unbearable. It is at this point that he first declares he will turn himself in, then goes into the house and (presumably) shoots himself. The play does not make it clear whether the initial statement that he would go to prison was a feint to keep his family from knowing what he was really going to do. However, either way, the culmination of Joe’s story is the realization that in trying to preserve his family through the horrors of wartime, he has utterly destroyed his family instead.

The play’s title, All My Sons, is a phrase quoted from Joe’s realization that his idea of family is so limited that it has corrupted his nature. He considered only Kate, Larry, and Chris to be important in the world. Everyone else was secondary to his need to protect and care for his family members. This led him to make choices that destroyed first the pilots’ lives and then those of his family, including his own. If he had, instead, viewed all of humanity as family, he would have seen the pilots as “all my sons,” and he would have made the courageous choice that would have saved their lives. This might have come at the expense of his family’s well-being in a financial sense, but it would have kept them together. His crime would not have destroyed the three of them, one by one, as it does in the world of the play.

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