In All my sons, characters often invoke money as a reason for relinquishing ideals or hopes. Comment on this statement with reference to the play.
All My Sons was Arthur Miller’s first commercially successful play, and opened at the Coronet Theatre in New York on January, 29 1947. It ran for 328 performances and garnered important critical acclaim for the dramatist, winning him the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.”
Through All my Sons, the playwright suggests the ethnical failings of the ‘American dream’. He indicates the flaw with a merely economic interpretation of the American Dream as business success alone.
Miller’s play also represents the failings of a capitalist society, who are willing to sacrifice idealism for economic stability. Miller not only critiques the inability of humans to make moral decisions, but a system that would encourage profit and greed at the expense of human life and happiness.
Joe Keller, the protagonist of the play, is a character that has strived to achieve the American dream, and the material comforts offered by modern American life. He interprets the American Dream as merely business success alone, and in his pursuit of it, relinquishes other parts of the so-called Dream. He sacrifices his human decency and a successful family life when he issues the order for the sale of sub-standard cylinder heads. However Keller can live with his actions because he believes through the selling of the faulty plane parts, he has maintained economic stability (by keeping the business alive) and secured a successful future for his son Chris, ‘I did it for you Chris, the whole dam shooting match was for you’. He has, In short, sacrificed his lifelong hopes of achieving the American dream purely for monetary success.
It could also be argued that Keller sacrificed Steve, his business partner in order for the business to stay afloat. By blaming Steve for the issuing of the cylinder heads, the business was not shut down, which would have cost Joe and his family, everything. Similarly, Larry’s suicide was as a result of Keller selling the faulty parts, so indirectly, he has sacrificed his son for simple economic stability.
Chris Keller is described by other characters through out the play as an idealist, although we do not see this trait in action aside from his angry response to the wartime profiteering. Yet the others define him by his idealism, setting him apart as a man of scruples. However, like many of the characters he sacrifices these principles and ideals, in his case not for money, but for the cause of practicality when he is faced with the prospect of sending his father to jail, ‘I can’t send that animal away’. He also sacrifices his marital prospects with Annie, because he believes that his father’s crime will ruin their relationship, ‘I’m sorry Annie…but it will always be there.’ This abandonment of his hopes makes us question if idealism is sustainable in a fallen, complex world? If ideals must be sacrificed, is there any supervening principle to help us decide which ideals should be sacrificed in which circumstances?
George Deever is the son of Steve, Joe Keller’s imprisoned business partner. George lived next door to the Keller’s as a child and also represents a character that sacrificed his ideals for money. His abandonment of his hometown for big city success to become a lawyer prevented him from marrying Lydia, ‘She’s a genius! You should’ve married her.’ Lydia is now married to Frank, and has three children by him, and is no longer available to George as a result of his monetary pursuits.
Dr. Jim Bayliss is the next door neighbour of Joe Keller. Jim has also succumbed to the pressures of financial success, though only through the influence of his wife, Sue. There is a rift in their marriage over Dr. Bayliss’s desire to do unprofitable research in the Caribbean, because his wife wants him to make more money instead of do what he enjoys and what will help others. ‘Research pays twenty-five dollars a week minus laundering the hair shirt. You’ve got to give up your life to go into it.’ This further illustrates the attitude towards money that Miller’s characters possess.
In conclusion, Miller’s depiction of modern day America demonstrates his belief that people no longer understand the obligation to society as a whole. The American dream has become a pursuit of material prosperity, and the inability of people to sacrifice monetary success to follow their dreams is as a result of a society which encourages selfishness. Miller utilizes Keller as the medium to represent the sector of working class citizens set on financial accomplishment. However, Keller’s sacrifice at the end of the play might symbolise Miller’s determination to believe that society as a whole can re-evaluate our principles, and understand there are more important things than money.