Thoughts #5 – The conflicting father-son relationship in All My Sons


Post war America saw the irreversible destruction of millions of families. The damage was caused by war as well as the individuals’ choice to fulfil their duty to society or to one’s family.

In ‘ All My Sons’ by Arthur Miller, the father and son relationship is explored through the typical American household after the Second World War. The protagonist Joe Keller, a businessman, wishes for his son Chris to inherit his business. However his crimes have lead to the deterioration of their relationship.

Miller introduces Keller and Chris to be very different people, though physically similar. Keller is characterised as an uneducated businessman “of stolid mind and built’, who has got to where he is using his own hands. His set of values are built on his remaining family. It is stated that Keller was involved in a court case in which his factory produced cracked cylinder heads, leading to the death of twenty one pilots. In contrast, Chris is an idealist, his experiences during the War have significantly changed his perceptions. Millar shows the closeness of their father-son relationship when Chris reveals his love for Annie. Being the girlfriend of Larry the youngest son who died in the war, Keller side with Kate, his wife and argues:

“You marry that girl and your pronouncing him dead. Now what’s going to happen to mother?”

Miller implies a hidden undertone to Keller’s words. He is afraid Kate will reveal his crimes after coming to terms with her son’s death. On the surface he is worried for Kate but his true intentions are the same as during the court case, to protect himself. In doing this he is self deluding in convincing he did not commit the crime, this also shows his resistance to change confirming his unshakable nature.

During the start of Annie’s stay, Chris looks up to Joe, as Miller depicts a scene portraying Keller fending for his innocence to which Chris replies with “Joe McGuts” which showed his admiration for him. The is backed up by Annie’s comment to Chris,

” You are the only one who I know who loves his parents”

This suggests at that moment Chris does not know of Joe’s crimes and lives in the belief of his Father’s innocence. The role of a father has been successfully depicted by Miller. Keller out of his love also for his own benefit Keller has never told Chris the truth about his crimes, hoping Chris will be protected by not knowing.

Conflict is created with the disagreement of Steve’s placement, father of Annie who is in jail for Keller’s crimes. Miller creates a revelation of Chris’ thoughts as he starts to have other ideas as he says

“People misunderstand you”

Chris implies others misinterpret Keller as the guilty one, which is the wrong person in his eyes. Keller’s unusually kind plans regarding Steve, the man he is supposed to hate, this has made Chris change his views. Miller continue this idea to develop further on. George’s arrival brings with his the climax of the play. Chris does not believe Keller is the culprit,

” Dad…you did it?”

Miller use Chris’ idealist nature to believe the good in people especially his father to fully show the utter disbelief and horror in his realisation. His experiences in the war anger him further,

“What the hell are you? You’re not even an animal, no animal kills his own, what are you?

Their relationship has reached an irreversible stage, Chris adds to this climax by reading Larry’s letter. Miller takes advantage of the importance of family to Keller to make him realise what he has done. Following his character, he takes the easy way out and kills himself.


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