At a Glance

  • The Keller's tree symbolizes their connection to Larry. When a storm blows the tree over, the connection breaks, and the Kellers are forced to face the truth about Larry's death. Joe's suicide finally destroys the family, which has been falling apart for years. In this light, the tree foreshadows Joe's death and the destruction of his family.
  • All My Sons is a play driven by conflict. Chris comes into conflict with his mother Kate, who believes that Ann should be waiting for Larry. Ann's brother George comes into conflict with Joe, whom he accuses of having framed his father. And, in the end, Joe comes into conflict with everyone as his treacherous behavior comes to light. Joe's suicide is the resolution of this conflict.
  • Unlike Miller's Death of a Salesman, All My Sons is a strictly realist play that does not indulge in reverie or flashback. Events unfold chronologically, following a single day in the lives of the Kellers. Characters are given natural action and dialogue and are depicted as real people, even though the central conflict of the play seems artificially accelerated for dramatic effect.

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(Drama for Students)

Literary Devices

All My Sons has a very traditional dramatic structure, with carefully orchestrated action that reaches a climax. Although it may be argued that each act has its own climax, with a particularly powerful one in the second act, the final climax occurs in the last act, when Joe finally realizes that he was responsible for the deaths of the American fighter pilots, his ‘‘sons.’’

Tension in drama evolves from conflict. In fact, conflict is virtually mandatory in what is termed the dramatic moment, whether in a play or in fiction. A good play generally evinces a sense of a deepening conflict that heightens the emotional tension as the play works towards its climactic moment. Conflict arises as a character strives toward a goal and is met by an obstacle to that goal.

The key conflict in All My Sons develops as a result of Chris's desire to marry Ann Deever. Standing in the way of his desire is his mother's ability to block the marriage; she opposes the union because she cannot accept the death of her son, Larry. If she accepts his death, then she must also face Joe's role in it.

Ironically, Chris tries to enlist his father's help in this matter. On account of his love for Ann, Chris pushes his family into facing truths that have tragic and destructive consequences.

Exposition in drama is often more of a problem than it is for writers of fiction. Somehow, information about past events and relationships must be conveyed to an audience so that the action in the present can be fully understood. Because All My Sons is a realistic play in which all the action occurs on the day in which the family crisis is met and tragically resolved, Miller has few options for revealing Joe's fraudulent past. The action strictly adheres to a normal chronological order, allowing nothing like a flashback or the hallucinatory reveries of the main character so brilliantly used by Miller in his next play, Death of Salesman.

Miller's chief device is the reunion, the introduction of a character who needs to be told what has transpired since that character's former estrangement. That character is Ann Deever; inadvertently, she opens old wounds because of her familial relationship with Joe's former partner, Larry. She also bears the truth of Larry's death in a letter that he had written to her. In this way she is like the messenger of Greek tragedy whose task it is to bear in the pain of truth that will force the tragic recognition in the main character.

Foreshadowings of an impending disaster appear in the first act of All My Sons. The memorial apple tree planted for Larry is destroyed during a storm in the early morning hours, suggesting a dark force that has the power to destroy the Keller family.

Kate's response to the tree's felling at first seems odd. She says that it should never have been planted in the first place....

(The entire section is 5,170 words.)