Joe Keller's character is a mass of contradictions. He is thoughtful one moment and conniving the next; he's willing to sacrifice for his family, but he's also willing sacrifice someone else's family for the benefit of his own, and he is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions.
This play is about living the American Dream. Joe seems to live that dream but does he? He has the house in the suburbs (popular status symbol) after WWII, has the perfect children, lives in the perfect neighborhood, and shares his life with the perfect neighbors. His life is perfect, a little too perfect.
What Joe perceives as perfection was bought on lies and deceit. His feeling of family loyalty is based on disloyalty to others. To achieve this dream Joe has given up all sense of morality; his deceit is so natural that at times you almost believe him. That's what make him practical; he'll do anything to insure that the illusion is untouched by the lies, but in the end he can't pull it off.
Joe lied in court and sent a friend to jail for his own crime; he sacrificed any morals he may have had to send another man to jail so his own wouldn't suffer; he builds a life of luxury on another man's innocence, sacrificing a friend and that man's family, and his initial decision to send those faulty parts cost 21 men their lives in the war. Everyone knows what he's done, but they don't turn him in. Deevers never had a chance.
As the play progresses Joe will learn what he's done, or maybe I should say understand it. He will see that all twenty-one of those men were in a sense his sons, thus the title "All My Sons." When his daughter learns the truth she turns him in; he still lies, even to her. When left with nowhere to turn, Joe simply kills himself; suicide being his practical answer to the "truth" he could no longer hide.
Celebrating the Arthur Miller centennial year, an eye-catching new Penguin Plays edition of the work that established him as a leading voice in the American theater
In 1947, Arthur Miller exploded onto Broadway with his first major work, All My Sons, winning both the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play and the Tony for Best Author. The play introduced themes that would preoccupy Miller throughout his career: the relationships between fathers and sons and the conflict between business and personal ethics. This striking new edition adds All My Sons to the elegant Penguin Plays series—now in beautifully redesigned covers.
Joe Keller and Steve Deever, partners in a machine shop during World War II, turned out defective airplane parts, causing the deaths of many men. Deever was sent to prison while Keller escaped punishment and went back to business, making himself very wealthy in the ensuing years. A love affair between Keller’s son, Chris, and Ann Deever, Steve’s daughter; the bitterness of George Deever, who returns from the war to find his father in prison and his father’s partner free; and the reaction of Chris Keller to his father’s guilt escalate toward a climax of electrifying intensity.