Bad Faith and All My Sons

Steven R. Centola

The broad social implications of an individual’s bad faith are examined in All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s first critically and commercially successful full-length play. According to Miller, All My Sons “is designed to bring a man into the direct path of the consequences he has wrought … [to show] that consequences of actions are as real as the actions themselves” (introduction, Collected Plays). One of the first characters in Miller’s canon to bring about his own destruction by succumbing to a life of bad faith—that is, a life based on lies and self-deception, Joe Keller futilely tries to deny his freedom and responsibility for the consequences of his actions. In Miller’s view, Keller makes himself “a threat to society” by choosing to live in bad faith. Miller explains that Keller endangers society not only because he sells defective airplane parts to a nation at war, but also because “his cast of mind cannot admit that he, personally, has any viable connection with his world, his universe, or his society.” Such “unrelatedness” as Keller’s is dangerous, adds Miller, because it can ultimately lead to “a jungle existence for all of us,” an existence that represents not just the end of civilization but perhaps the end of humanity as well. In this respect, then, All My Sons broaches a subject that will be explored again and again in Miller’s later drama—a subject which transcends the play’s obvious social considerations. As C. W. E. Bigsby points out, in All My Sons Miller’s “concern with identity, guilt and the need to reaffirm innocence indicates that for him the social and psychological could ultimately be traced to their source in the metaphysical.”

© 1988 by Steven R. Centola. Published for the first time in this volume.

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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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