Overview: All My Sons by Arthur Miller is the sad Post-World War II story about the Kellers, a seemingly “All American” family. But the father, Joe Keller, has concealed a great sin. During the war, he allowed his factory to ship faulty airplane cylinders to the U.S. Armed Forces. Because of this, over twenty American pilots died.
Backstory: Before the action of All My Sons begins, the following events have taken place:
Joe Keller has been running a successful factory for decades. His business partner and neighbor, Steve Deever noticed the faulty parts first. Joe allowed the parts to be shipped. After the deaths of the pilots, both Steve and Joe are arrested. Joe is exonerated and released and the entire blame shifts to Steve who remains in jail.
Keller’s two sons, Larry and Chris, served during the war. Chris came back home. Larry’s airplane went down in China and the young man was declared MIA.
The entire play takes place in the backyard of the Keller home. The house is located in the outskirts of a town somewhere in America. The year is 1946.
Important Detail: Arthur Miller is very specific about a particular set-piece: “In the left corner, downstage, stands the four-foot high stump of a slender apple tree whose upper trunk and branches lie toppled beside it, fruit still clinging to its branches.” This tree fell during the previous night. It was planted in honor of the missing Larry Keller.
Joe Keller reads the Sunday paper while chatting with his good-natured neighbors:
- Jim the doctor and his wife Sue.
- Frank the amateur astrologist.
- Bert the little kid who pretends that he is a deputy and Joe is the neighborhood jailer.
Kate still believes that Larry is still alive, even though Chris, Joe, and Ann believe that he died during the war. She tells the others how she dreamed of her son, and then she walked downstairs half-asleep, and witnessed the wind rip apart Larry’s memorial tree. She is a woman who can hold onto her beliefs despite the doubts of others.
ANN: Why does your heart tell you he’s alive?
MOTHER: Because he has to be.
ANN: But why, Kate?
MOTHER: Because certain things have to be, and certain things can never be. Like the sun has to rise, it has to be. That’s why there’s God. Otherwise anything could happen. But there’s God, so certain things can never happen.
She believes that Ann is “Larry’s girl” and that she has no right to fall in love, let alone marry, Chris. Throughout the play, Kate urges Ann to leave. She does not want Chris to betray his brother be “stealing” Larry’s fiancé.
However, Ann is ready to move on with her. She wants to end her solitude and build a life with Chris. She also looks to the Keller’s as a symbol of how happy her child and family life was before her father’s conviction. She has cut all ties from Steve. Joe is unnerved by how firmly Ann has severed ties with her father.
Joe urges Ann to be more understanding, stating: “The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him.”
Ann asks to drop the subject of her father. Joe Keller then decides that they should dine out and celebrate Ann’s visit. When Chris finally has a moment alone, he finally confesses his love for her. She responds enthusiastically, “Oh, Chris, I’ve been ready for a long, long time!” But, just when their future seems happy and hopeful, Ann receives a phone call from her brother George.
Like Ann, George moved to New York and felt disgusted with his father’s shameful crime. However, after finally visiting his father, he has changed his mind. He now has doubts about Joe Keller’s supposed innocence. And to prevent Ann from marrying Chris, he plans to arrive at the Keller’s and take her away.
After learning that George is on his way, Joe becomes frightened, angry, and desperate – though he doesn’t admit as to why. Kate asks, “What has Steve suddenly got to tell him that he takes an airplane to see him?” She warns her husband to “Be smart now, Joe. The boy is coming. Be smart.”
Act One ends with the audience anticipating that dark secrets are going to be revealed once George arrives in Act Two.