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 in a battle with Ann Deever because Ann was Larry's fiancée but now wants to marry Chris. Kate can't let her because that would mean admitting that Larry was dead. Kate can't admit this because for her to believe this would be to believe that his death was a punishment of Joe's crime. She informed Chris that "your brother's alive.... Because if he is dead your father killed him. Do you understand me now...? God does not let his son be killed by his father." There is no logic to support this theory: however, it turns out to be correct. Due to this Kate has to persuade herself that Larry still lives. Her husband sees this idea to be ridiculous, but must tolerate it in order to secure Kate's support for his own deception. The breaking of Larry's memorial tree at the start of the play is thus the start of the breaking down of Kate's belief that Larry is alive, although she believes the opposite. She tries extremely hard not to let herself be persuaded into believing that her son is dead, mainly because she does not want to believe that her husband is capable of murder.
Kate started off as a weak character with Joe often having to support her. However, as the play goes on the situation is reversing: Joe becomes weaker at the realisation that he is going to be found out; Kate is forced to become stronger in order to support Joe. By the start of Act 3 Kate's character is beginning to strengthen: "You can't bull yourself through this one, Joe, you better be smart now. This thing - this thing is not over yet." She has to warn Joe to be careful. Joe needs helping. He needs warning as his character is beginning to weaken. Although she has told him to "be smart" before, at the end of Act 1 when they found out that George Deever was coming. She must have suspected early on that her husband's conscience was going to be severely inspected. At the end of Act 3, she attempts to protect him by trying to force Ann not to show him the letter from Larry and standing by him throughout. Kate is similar to Joe in that neither of them are prepared to face up to reality, they would rather keep the truth hidden and pretend to be the typical, happy American Dream family.
The mystery of Larry is another point up for debate at the end of Act 2, as we still don't know whether he is dead or alive. He was reported missing in action three and a half years ago. Kate knows her husband is guilty of the deaths of the twenty-one pilots and has therefore convinced herself that Larry is still alive. She will not believe him to be dead because that would involve her further belief, that Joe caused his own son's death, a thought she is unable to tolerate. She expects Larry to return and keeps his room exactly as it was when he left home. She supports her husband's deception. But in return she demands his support for her hope that Larry will come back. Kate would like to admit hat Larry was dead but can't because that would mean admitting that Joe killed him. Joe would also like to say that Larry is dead but can't because he needs Kate's support, he also seems to avoid making any awkward decisions and so finds it easier just to agree with Kate.
Throughout the play Arthur Miller has used a consistent technique in order to add to his means of keeping the audience interested and curious; they are constantly forced to expect more to come. He does this by gradual revelation. The situation will be quite calm but slowly the tension is built up, generally through some small argument. However just when the audience think something important is about to be revealed, the tension suddenly deflates and often happens by when another character enters to divert the subject under debate. Before Act 3 this is a fairly consistent occurrence. Act 3 is a very short act; there is less time, as the tension has to be added to in order to create an unforeseen and shocking climax. Therefore the addition of another character to the stage no longer diverts the tension as before but only adds to it.
The opening mood of Act3 is falsely relaxed. It first appears to be a casual, comfortable atmosphere but the previous events at the end of Act 2 - the battle between Chris and Joe - stop it being simply that, like the beginning of Act1. This makes the audience feel on edge, waiting expecting something important to happen or some revelation.
The opening of Act 3 reminds us of what the play is about, ideals. Dr Jim Bayliss talks about compromising which also reminds the audience of the battles to come. Jim Bayliss is the character who speaks for Arthur Miller. Jim is a man who when he was younger shared Chris's ideals but has been forced to compromise in order to be fair with his wife, Sue Bayliss, who knows of how frustrated Jim feels. Sue is a very cynical woman. Believing that Joe has "pulled a fast one," she does not seem bothered by his awful crime yet dislikes Chris because of his idealism, which she calls "phoney." This is why she asks Ann, that if she does marry Chris to move away because she doesn't want Chris's idealism to make an impression on Jim. Sue Bayliss is a resentful and rather greedy woman, whose ambitions are only wealth and social acceptance. She unable to understand the moral issues which her husband shares with Chris. Jim Bayliss is a very clever man, not to be deceived; he simply "guessed along time ago" that Chris was guilty of murder. This is another thing that makes him similar to Chris; Chris also guessed his father's guilt but neither of them did anything about it. Chris's and Jim's shared values causes Jim to sympathise with Chris: "...every man does have a star. The star of one's honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it's out it never lights again...He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out." Jim is idealistic, like Chris, but was persuaded by Sue not to live for what he wanted, but for what she wanted: Kate is pining for Chris to come back, Jim objects: "I wish he wouldn't, Kate. One year I simply took off, went to New Orleans; for two months I lived on bananas and milk, and studied a certain disease." This was Jim's ideal world, spoiled by Sue: "...she came and she cried. And I went back home with her." He understands that he made sacrifices and now lives in the "usual darkness," not what he wanted to do and therefore he's not the man he wanted to be. All he's ended up being is a "good husband; Chris is a good son - he'll come back." Jim has not lived the life he wanted to live and could have lived if he hadn't been forced to make compromises. This conversation Jim holds with Kate reminds the audience of what the play is about: the battles of ideals.
Joe Keller's false innocence begins to weaken at he start of Act 3. His confusion turns to panic as he realises he is losing his family; "I thought I had a family here. What happened to my family?" he realises he is losing his life and his family. The one thing he has lived for is falling through his fingers. He is struggling to grasp the beliefs of Chris, panicking, because he is unable to feel guilt.
The latest clash between Joe Keller and Kate Keller acts as a rehearsal for what is about to happen when Chris enters, adding to the tension. Joe is still claiming that his family means the world to him but he is still unable to see that murdering 21 servicemen can't be accounted for by the love he has for his family. Kate puts up an argument, which proves her growing strength. Kate has taken on the role of Chris, while he is absent, as she battles with Joe, arguing his conflict for him, almost changing sides.
The entrance of Ann Deever adds to the tension as she sends Joe inside the house, conceiving a sense of her own dramatic importance. It also conveniently means that Joe is not present to learn the truth about Larry until almost the very end, adding to the dramatic tension and power, keeping the audience wondering. Ann has a powerful insistence and speaks very definitely, certain of what she is saying and of what she wants: "I know what I'm asking Kate. You had two sons. But you have only got one now ... Joe go in the house." She is very determined and won't give in to Joe's questions or pleads. This keeps the audience intrigued as to what she is going to tell Kate.
It also keeps Kate intrigued because she needs to know how Ann is going to prove to her that Larry is dead. Kate grows increasingly panic stricken as Ann begins to reveal things to her bit by bit: "Your lying to me. If you know, how did he die? ... What's enough for me? What are you talking about?" She is very edgy and easily upset. This slow revelation from Ann and the panicky Kate keep the audience absorbed and involved waiting for information over Larry.
Ann's showing Larry's letter to her convinces Kate that Larry is dead. Ann was reluctant to show her the letter afraid of the result: "I'm not trying to hurt you, Kate. You're making me do this ... I have been so lonely, Kate ... You wouldn't believe me." They both grow increasingly upset, especially Kate: "Oh, my god..." Leaving the audience to wonder and only guess about what is in the letter.
When Chris enters there is no pause in the tension, as before, only an increase, adding to Arthur Miller's technique of keeping the audience interested. This entrance of Chris also reminds the audience of his internal battle. Chris is guilty. He suspected his father all along yet did nothing about it except live off the money Joe produced from his crime. As the truth is coming out Chris is now becoming conscious of his guilt and doesn't know what to do about it. Because Chris is angry at his father for committing his crime he should be just as angry with himself which he does seem to be because he now realise he has committed a crime almost as bad as his father's. Chris has been changed by his experience of war, where he has seen men laying down their lives for their friends. He is angry the selflessness of his fellow soldiers counts for nothing. But he feels guilty to make money out of a business that does not value the men on whose labour it relies. He now believes he has turned out to be like his parents: "practical," he understands his guilt and realises there is no longer anything he can do about his father's crime because of his own guilt: "I could jail him! I could jail him, if I were human any more. But I'm like everybody else now. I'm practical now. You made me practical." He blames his mother for this but she doesn't understand, claiming that he has to be practical. Chris's ideals have been spoilt by his and his father's guilt. Joe has a very different version of ideals, which could not compromise with Chris's. Joe believes entirely in the American Dream, implying that he does not care for much outside his family. Chris on the other hand claims to believe the contrary. He is angry to discover his father's guilt but then he new about it all along and therefore can't do much about it. Joe does not feel any guilt even when his crime is found out; he offers to go to jail knowing that Chris won't make him, trying to appear guilty and willing to pay for his crime. Chris would very much like to force Joe to go to jail but can't and Joe knows exactly why: "I'll tell you why you can't say it . . .. Who worked for nothin' in that war? When they work for nothin' I'll work for nothin'. Did they ship a gun or a truck outa Detroit before they got their price? Is that clean? It's dollars and cents, nickels and dimes; war and peace, it's nickels and dimes, what's clean? Half the goddam country is gotta go if I go! That's why you can't tell me." Chris admits this is the reason he can't tell his father to go to prison. And Joe can't see any reason as to why he should feel guilty saying he did what anyone else would have done implying that if you send him to jail you have to send everyone to jail because everyone is as guilty as he is, even Chris. Chris believes that even if other people would have done the same as his father it doesn't make it right: "I know you're no worse than most men but I thought you were better." Chris thought his father would have had more sense than to do what most people would do. Joe Keller seems to be winning this battle with his son because of Chris's guilt. Chris can't fight back because he realise he is just as guilty as his father is.
Ann Deever has observed this battle between father and son and has watched how Joe has wounded his son and so now fights back on Chris's behalf. She has said she won't do any thing about Joe's crime as long as she can marry Chris whose high ideals she shares, she has disowned her father because she believes he is guilty, she also believes Chris should not be ashamed of his wealth. Ann did not want to hurt Kate but had to show her Larry's letter in order for her to be able to marry Chris which Kate had remained opposed to so that she could support Joe. Miller has kept the content of the letter hidden from the audience until now in order to keep them in suspense, to keep them interested, wondering what is going to happen because the tension level is kept high. The rising tension is added to by Kate's desperate pleads to stop the letter being read by either Chris or Joe. Her stronger character comes out further in this part of the play she has to protect both her husband and her son. She tries to prevent either of them from reading Larry's letter: "Chris, it's not for you. Joe ... go away..." She can't let Joe read the letter because he will then discover that she was right and that he had killed his owned son when all he was trying to do was to make money for him and the rest of the family. She can't let Chris read it because it will give him something else to blame his father for and make himself feel even more guilty once he knows the truth about his brother. Once Joe knows that the letter is from Larry he becomes mystified but also frightened, he may have his suspicions as to what is in the letter, again adding to the rising tension. Unfortunately Kate's desperate pleas don't pay off and the contents of the letter are revealed to Joe as well as the audience by Chris who reads the letter aloud and the mystery of Larry is exposed. Chris has won the battle of ideals: "I can't sleep here. I'll feel better if I go." Joe claims it would be best if he went to prison; he is trying to show some of his guilt to his family, trying to make them believe that he actually feels guilty: "he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were." Chris is pleased that his father has eventually seen sense, fighting back Kate's pleads not to make him go to prison: "I'm taking him." He is very determined and Joe for once claims to agree with Chris that he should go to prison. Chris is proud of himself and thinks that he has won the battle against his father. Kate is still trying to protect Joe: "The war is over! Didn't you hear? It's over!" so Chris has to try and persuade her that it would be best for Joe to go to prison and pay for his crime: "Then what was Larry to you? A stone that fell into the water? It's not enough for him to be sorry. Larry didn't kill himself to make you and Dad sorry." Chris feels that everything will now be settled, his father will go and pay for his crime and he can marry his brother's fiancée.
"A shot is heard in the house. They stand frozen for a brief second." All the characters and the audience feel the surprise of Joe Keller's act. No one had suspected Joe to do this everyone just presumed that he had gone inside to collect his jacket. He had appeared to be feeling guilty so had gone to get his coat for on the way to the police station. It has now become clear that this was either just an excuse he made or he changed his mind in the process and was really going to kill himself.
Joe's suicide means that the battle is no longer a simple victory for Chris and his ideals. Before, Chris felt guilty because he had suspected his father of murder and had done nothing about it. Now Chris is distraught because he has forced his guilty father to suicide, not helping any of the family or himself in any way, just making himself feel more guilty than he already did: "Mother, I didn't mean to -." Kate now has to turn from supporting her husband to supporting her troubled son, she has to protect him he is now blaming himself for his father committing suicide: "Don't dear. Don't take it on yourself. Forget now. Live." This is Kate's message just to "live," similar to Joe's view on life that is to not worry about anything else and just live for what you want and your family; the whole point of the play: the American Dream. His parents have turned Chris into one of them, he has been made "practical" by the crime of his father.
There is doubt over whether or not the audience admires Joe Keller for committing suicide; in my pinion he has just chosen the easy option, the easy way out. He is as usual not prepared to face up to the truth. On the day Steve Dever phoned hin about he faulty cylinder parts he claimed to ill, not wishing to face up to the truth. I don't respect him for killing himself, he is simply avoiding going to prison. Joe was proud of the fact that he killed 21 servicemen for his family, but has now later realised that both his sons especially Larry would rather go without he money and have the satisfaction of a clear conscience. He says he is guilty for this but I don't believe he is. He is yet again lying, averting the truth, just making the one son he has left feel even guiltier because of his father's crime, which the reason Chris felt guilty in the first place, Joe is just helping to add to this guilt. I don't believe that Joe Keller was a decent man but just an evader of the truth and his suicide leaves us with proof of this. The query over whether or not to admire Joe Keller for killing himself could leave the audience very undecided. It keeps them intrigued and responsive with regard to what they have just seen. The audience would also be asking the question which Joe's death and Chris's guilt brings up concerning the limits to a person's responsibility.