The Living and the Dead
in All My Sons

Arvin R. Wells

Looked at superficially, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons may appear to be simply a social thesis play. Such classification—a valid one if severely qualified—is suggested both by the timeliness of the story and by the presence of considerable overt social criticism. The story itself is obviously calculated to engage the so-called social conscience. Stated in the simplest terms, the play dramatizes the process by which Joe Keller, a small manufacturer, is forced to accept individual social responsibility and, consequently, to accept his personal guilt for having sold, on one occasion during World War II, fatally defective airplane parts to the government.

However, while this bare-bone synopsis is essentially accurate, it does, in fact, do violence to the actual complexity of the play. In his well-known essay “Tragedy and the Common Man,” Miller comments,

Our lack of tragedy may be partially accounted for by the turn
which modern literature has taken toward the purely psychiatric,
or purely sociological…. From neither of these views can
tragedy derive, simply because neither represents a balanced con-
cept of life.

What is reflected here is Miller’s own careful avoidance of the “purely” this or that. And it might similarly be said that no satisfactory understanding of Miller’s All My Sons may be derived from a criticism which commits itself to a “purely” or even predominantly sociological or psychiatric view.

-27-

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Arthur Miller's All My Sons
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Modern Critical Interpretations iv
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • The Question of Relatedness 5
  • Thesis and Drama 15
  • Joe Keller and His Sons 19
  • The Living and the Dead in All My Sons 27
  • Miller, Ibsen, and Organic Drama 33
  • The Failure of Social Vision 47
  • All My Sons and the Larger Context 63
  • "The Action and Its Significance- Miller’s Struggle with Dramatic Form 77
  • Two Early Plays 91
  • All My Sons 101
  • Realism and Idealism 107
  • The Dramatic Strategy of All My Sons 113
  • Bad Faith and All My Sons 123
  • Chronology 135
  • Contributors 137
  • Bibliography 139
  • Acknowledgments 141
  • Index 143
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