“All My Sons”: Examine the Dramatic Power of Act 3.

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Susan Martin 10KR 16th July 2001

"All My Sons": Examine the Dramatic Power of Act 3.

"All My Sons" explores ideals. It argues the rights and wrongs of the American Dream. Arthur Miller plays a series of battles between the characters and in the audience's minds. The play considers trust, truth and blame and where the limits of a person's responsibility lie. As the play develops, so does the conflict over where to place the blame for the death of twenty-one service men. Once the truth is known Arthur Miller attacks the problem of responsibility. He delays revealing important information, keeping the audience interested, expecting more to come and forcing them to be more involved with the play. The play is made up of two parts. One is Chris's and Ann's attempt to persuade Kate that Larry is dead so that they can marry. Joe would like to support their wishes but recognises that he can not. The other part is the attempt by George and then by Chris to find out the truth about what happened in Joe's factory during the autumn of 1943. By the end of Act 3 both these narratives and all the conflicts have come together to reveal the mystery and create a climax. The focus is on the morality of Joe Keller, who places his narrow responsibility to his family above his wider responsibility to the men who rely on the integrity of his work.

The most prominent dispute by the end of Act 2 is between Chris Keller and his father, Joe Keller. The battle between these two is the battle between the American Dream and wider responsibility. Joe Keller believes in the American Dream. He cares for nothing except his family; he can't see any further than the end of his backyard, which is why the play is set on his porch throughout. He first appears to be a very ordinary man, decent, hard working and charitable, a man that no one could dislike; according to Chris he is "Joe McGuts." Unfortunately this great character has flaws, weaknesses, causing him to act wrongly. He appears to love his family and wants to do his best for them but does not know he is not helping them in the least. He claims he has only lived for his family and done it all for them: "...what the hell did I work for? That's only for you Chris, the whole shootin' match is for you." This is no consolation to Chris just the cause of the problem. Money isn't what he wanted, not "dirty money" anyway. Chris is the exact opposite of his father but by the end of Act 2 it is clear that he feels as guilty as his father should be. This is Chris's internal battle with himself. When arguing with his son Joe brings out Chris's guilt, he is defeated. Chris is guilty because for many years he has suspected his father of murder and done nothing about it; Chris is unable to do what he would have otherwise have liked to have done to his father. By the end of Act 2 Chris and Joe are having a very heated argument about Joe's crime, but Chris is unable to hit his father or be in any way violent due to Chris's guilt over using the money his father obtained in a dishonest way.

Chris and Joe Keller both have very different versions of the ideal lifestyle, which causes their two very opposing personalities to clash. Joe lives for nothing except his family: "There's nothin' he could do that I wouldn't forgive. Because he's my son." It's a shame for him that Chris doesn't feel the same way in reverse. " ...I'm his father and he's my son and if there's something bigger than that then I'll put a bullet through my head." Little does he know that there is something bigger than that. Chris says he wants a good, happy life and presumably wants to be well off like his father. He just wants to make his money in an honest way, unlike his father, who doesn't seem to care how he makes his money just so long as he makes it.

The dramatic power at the end of Act 2 is added to by the audience's internal battle and confusion over whether or not to like Joe Keller. He first appears to be a fairly normal man with a loveable character, as Chris points out he is a man among men, although in my view, he has a slight smugness to his character and this becomes more evident as the play progresses. It is awkward to decide whether Joe Keller should be loved or hated. He should be hated because it eventually becomes clear that he killed 21 servicemen but he claims he did it for his family so in some people's view this makes it understandable. You could say that he did not do it, he just told someone else to do it, so it isn't really his fault, he was only trying to help his family. He loved them, and wanted to do the best he could for them, like any other reasonable father would have. But I don't believe any of this.
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Another battle well underway by the end of Act 2, which also keeps the audience included is between Kate Keller and Ann Deever over Chris Keller. Joe finds it difficult to understand the limits of a person's responsibility. He believes he got away with his crime but is still troubled by the thought of it. He trusts his wife, Kate, not to betray his guilt. Kate Keller is a woman of enormous maternal love, even to her neighbour's children, especially George Deever. Despite this warmth, Kate is still capable of supporting Joe in his deceit. She is involved ...

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