Consider and evaluate the different ways in which the writers of A Doll's House and All My Sons depict the role of men in family life.
Consider and evaluate the different ways in which the writers of A Doll's House and All My Sons depict the role of men in family life. (800 words)
In All My Sons Joe Keller, the play’s protagonist, seems like the traditional, amiable 1940s father figure. Throughout the play, Joe is presented by Miller as a man who loves his family above all else. He has sacrificed everything, including his honour and duty to society, in his struggle to make the family prosperous. He has lost one son in the war, and is keen to see his remaining son, Chris, be successful. It is for his family that he excuses his crime to himself and later in the play, to his family members. “Chris…Chris, I did it for you… to make something for you?” The irony being that in his role of ensuring his success is passed on to his son, Joe brings about the destruction of his family. His fatal mistake is his failure to recognise that he has a larger duty beyond his own family. It is only in the play’s conclusion that he ultimately faces his own guilty conscience and realises his actions have causes him to lose both of his sons, one literally, through Larry’s suicide and the other, Chris, figuratively. This leads to him taking his own life in order of not having to deal with the consequences of his actions. However, this is also seen as him allowing Chris to live, free from guilt, which confirms his primary concern: his family.
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In contrast to Miller’s depiction of Joe as a provider, Ibsen embraces the belief that a man’s role in marriage is to provide but goes one step further and emphasises the man’s role of protecting and guiding his wife and presents this in Torvald’s character. Torvald clearly enjoys the idea that his wife, Nora, needs his guidance, and he interacts with her as a father would. Ibsen shows how Torvald instructs her with trite, moralistic sayings, such as: “A home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free.” He is also eager to teach Nora the dance she performs at the costume party. Torvald likes to envision himself as Nora’s savior, asking her after the party, “Do you know that I’ve often wished you were facing some terrible dangers so that I could risk life and limb, risk everything, for your sake?” Another difference made between Miller’s depiction of Joe’s role in the family and Ibsen’s Torvald is that the latter doesn’t seem to even acknowledge his children. This emphasises the biological idea that a man isn’t supposed to be the child bearer or carer and is seen when Ibsen uses “ the children” or “you’re (Nora’s) children” to show Torvald referring to his children, as opposed to the typical ‘my’.
However, in both All My Sons and A Doll’s House, the main male characters, Joe Keller and Torvald Helmer, are shown by the play’s authors to not be the strong, powerful member of the family as suggested at the beginning of both plays. For instance, in Act Three of All My Sons, Miller uses interrogatives to convey Keller’s desperation for his wife’s direction and help. For example, “Then what do I do? Tell me, talk to me, what do I do?” Similarly, in A Doll’s House, Nora gains power over Torvald in Act Three when she tells him that she is leaving him. This leaves him demanding her through Ibsen’s use of exclamatives, such as “I won’t let you!”, “I forbid you!” to stay with him, but his beg-like plea doesn’t work, reaffirming his desperation and loss in power.
In contrast, Chris Keller, the son of Joe Keller in All My Sons, is without a family of his own which is why he is so keen on marrying Ann, his brother, Larry’s former fiancée. Chris accepts that Larry is dead, so he feels comfortable with the idea of marrying Ann, despite it being seen as morally wrong to most people in the play, including his mother Kate. He is described in Miller’s stage directions as “A man of immense affection and loyalty.” Furthermore, Miller conveys how Chris has been changed by his experience of war, where he has witnessed first-hand the selflessness of his fellow soldiers, laying down their lives for their friends. This causes him to feel guilty in taking on his father’s business, one that did not value the men on whose labour it relied, and thus somewhat reduces the strength of the link between father (Joe) and son (himself).
Contrastingly, Krogstad’s character in A Doll’s House is already a father but is without a wife. Though he did break the law, Krogstad’s crime was relatively minor, but society has saddled him with the stigma of being a criminal and prohibited him from moving beyond his past. For this reason he wants to keep his job in the bank in order to spare his children the hardship that comes with a spoiled reputation. His determination to “fight to keep my little post at the Bank as I’d fight for my life” comes from a sense of responsibility to his children. As he tells Nora in Act One, “My sons are growing up, and in fairness to them I must try to win back as much respect as I can in the town.”