Arthur Miller's drama All My Sons asks a tough question: How far should a man go to secure his family's well-being? The play delves into deeply moral issues regarding our obligations to our fellow man. Divided into three acts, the story unfolds in the following manner:
- Act One: The friendly Keller household is introduced.
- Act Two: The truth about Joe Keller is revealed.
- Act Three: After facing the truth, the characters make final choices.
Joe seems like the traditional, amiable 1940s father figure. Throughout the play, Joe presents himself as a man who deeply loves his family, but also has great pride in his business. Joe Keller has been running a successful factory for decades. During World War II, his business partner and neighbor, Steve Deever noticed the faulty parts first. Joe decided to send the parts through because he was afraid that admitting the company's mistake would destroy his business and his family's financial stability. By the play's end, the audience discovers the dark secret he has been concealing: Joe allowed the sale of faulty airplane parts to be shipped to the frontline, resulting in the death of twenty-one pilots. After the cause of the deaths was discovered, both Steve and Joe were arrested. Claiming his innocence, Joe was exonerated and released and the entire blame shifts to Steve who remains in jail. Like many other characters within the play, Joe is capable of living in denial. It is not until the play's conclusion that he ultimately faces his own guilty conscience - and then he chooses to destroy himself rather than deal with the consequences of his actions.
Larry Keller: The audience does not learn too many details about Larry; the character dies during the war, and the audience never meets him - no flashbacks, no dream sequences. However, we do hear his final letter to his girlfriend. In the letter, he reveals his feeling of disgust and disappointment towards his father. The content and tone of the letter suggest that perhaps Larry's death was due to combat. Perhaps life was no longer worth living, because of the shame and anger he felt.
A devoted mother, Kate still holds on to the possibility that her son is alive. She believes that one day they will receive word that Larry was only wounded, perhaps in a coma, unidentified. Basically, she is waiting for a miracle to arrive. But there's something else about her character. She holds onto the belief that her son lives because if he perished during the war, then (she believes) her husband is responsible for her son's death.
In many ways, Chris is the most admirable character in the play. He is a former World War II soldier, so he knows firsthand what it was like to face death. Unlike his brother, and the many men who died (some of them because of Joe Keller's faulty airplane parts), he managed to survive. He plans to marry his late brother's former girlfriend, Ann Deever. Yet, he is very respectful about his brother's memory, as well as the conflicting feelings of his fiancé. He also has come to terms with the death of his brother, and hopes that his mother will be able to peacefully accept the sad truth. Finally, Chris, like so many other young men, idealizes his father. Because of his strong love for his father, it makes the revelation of Joe's all the more heart-wrenching.
As mentioned above, Ann is in an emotionally fragile situation. Her boyfriend Larry was missing in action during the war. For months she hoped that he had survived. Gradually, she came to terms with Larry's death, eventually finding renewal and love in Larry's younger brother, Chris. However, since Kate (Larry's seriously-in-denial Mom) believes that her eldest son is still alive, she is mortified when she discovers that Ann and Chris plan to marry. On top of all this tragedy/romance material, Ann also laments the disgrace of her father (Steve Deever), whom she believes is the sole criminal, guilty of selling faulty parts to the military. (Thus, there's great dramatic tension, as the audience waits to see how Ann will react when she discovers the truth: Steve isn't the only guilty one. Joe Keller is guilty too!)
Like many of the other characters, George (brother of Ann, son of Steve) believed that his father was guilty. However, after finally visiting in father in prison, he now believes that Keller was in fact primarily responsible for the death of the pilots, and that his Steeve Deever should not be the only one in jail. George also served during World War II, thus giving him a greater stake in the drama, for he is not only seeking justice for his family, but for his fellow soldiers.