Arthur Miller's All My Sons

Arthur Miller's All My Sons

Arthur Miller's All My Sons

Arthur Miller's All My Sons


"Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were." With this, Joe, Keller, the American Everyman, assumes the guilt that his son as ascribed to him - the acknowledgment of a moral obligation that transcends familial ties and encompasses all people.

Arthur Miller's All My Sons exposes wartime profiteering through an intimate examination of the Keller family. Joe Keller is a manufacturer whose approval for use of defective airplane parts causes the deaths of many American aviators, including his own son. Through the antagonism of Joe Keller and his surviving son Chris, Miller addresses issues of familial loyalty and societal responsibility.

Among the critics represented in this volume, Samuel A. Yorks and Arvin R. Wells each offer their readings of All My Sons as a division between Miller's intellect and emotion as represented in the major characters; Sheila Huftel analyzes the influence of Ibsen upon All My Sons; and, in a previously unpublished essay, Steven R. Centrola examines All My Sons as a study in bad faith.


Rather like Eugene O’Neill before him, Arthur Miller raises, at least for me, the difficult critical question as to whether there is not an element in drama that is other than literary, even contrary in value (supposed or real) to literary values, perhaps even to aesthetic values. O’Neill, a very nearly great dramatist, particularly in The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night, is not a good writer, except perhaps in his stage directions. Miller is by no means a bad writer, but he is scarcely an eloquent master of the language. I have just reread All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible, and am compelled to reflect how poorly they reread, though all of them, properly staged, are very effective dramas, and Death of a Salesman is considerably more than that. It ranks with Iceman, Long Day’s Journey, Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth and Albee’s The Zoo Story as one of the half-dozen crucial American plays. Yet its literary status seems to me somewhat questionable, which returns me to the issue of what there is in drama that can survive indifferent or even poor writing.

Defending Death of a Salesman, despite what he admits is a sentimental glibness in its prose, Kenneth Tynan memorably observed: “But the theater is an impure craft, and Death of a Salesman organizes its impurities with an emotional effect unrivalled in postwar drama.” The observation still seems true, a quarter-century after Tynan made it, yet how unlikely a similar statement would seem if ventured about Ibsen, Miller’s prime precursor. Do we speak of Hedda Gabler organizing its impurities with an unrivalled emotional effect? Why is the American drama, except for Thornton Wilder (its one great sport), addicted to an organization of impurities, a critical phrase perhaps applicable only to Theodore Dreiser, among the major American novelists? Why is it that we have brought forth The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Portrait of a Lady, The Sun . . .

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