In this essay I will be writing a character analysis of the three members of the Keller family- Joe Keller, Chris Keller and Kate Keller. I will explore their different characteristics. I will be assessing each characters emotions, beliefs, and reactions to different situations.
Joe Keller Middle aged and prosperous. He is a family man, who adores his beloved wife, and wants the best for Chris, his only son sadly his other son had been a victim in the war. Joe loves Kate and feels in order to protect her he has to lie to her, to prevent her from feeling hurt and alone. When the tree planted in the Keller garden as a memorial for Larry, breaks Joe is concerned and worried how Kate will react; “we ought to tell her before she see’s it.”(pg 12) Also when Chris announces to his dad about wanting to marry Ann he listens sympathetically to his plans, yet he warns Chris to hold back because of mother’s feelings; “From mothers point of view.. You have no right to take Larry’s girl” (pg 14) However he’s not just protecting mother but he’s also protecting Chris, because he doesn’t want him to get upset if Kate doesn’t agree, and give them her blessing. He cares about Chris a great deal, and Joe and Chris have a great father and son relationship. Through-out the book there is a lot of emotional caring, for example; “the whole shooting match is for you”(pg 16) here Joe is telling Chris about how he’s, over the years built up the business for him. Also Joe offers to; “build, you a house, with a driveway from the road” (pg 36) this shows hoe Joe cares for Chris with material goods.
Joe comes across as a typical business man, always mentioning; “money”(pg 34) and his: “business”(pg 15). He cares about money a great deal and values everything by it’s monetary value: “You mean he‘ll make a living out of that?”(pg 5) and: “I want you to use what I made for you.”(pg 36)
He tries to keep everyone happy, and wants everyone to get along. He agrees with Chris about how it is bad to allow Kate to keep believing Larry is alive, but he also doesn’t want to destroy her fantasy: “we can’t say that to her” (pg 13.) This could also be a mild form of lying, which links in with Joe not telling the truth about the Airplane parts, and the deaths of 21 pilots due to faulty cylinder heads. Joe makes up a phoney excuse about being ill, whilst one of his labourers Steve Deeveer fixes together some faulty cracked cylinder heads for the army planes. In Steve’s mind he believes they be able to hold up, and none of it was intentional yet it was preventable: “I could have gone in that day I’d a told him- junk ‘em, Steve, we an afford it”(pg 31) He told a lie to the court and luckily Joe got off, however Steve was sentenced. This makes us wonder if he’s lied about anything else, keeping a big secret like this makes the audience wonder what else is he capable of?
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Again linking on to him having a guilty conscience. There are numerous occasions that Joe acts guilty. He defends Steve Deeveer against Annie, Steve’s own daughter: “Annie, I never believed in crucifying people” (pg 29) and: “The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him” (pg 30) His response to Georges phone call - he seemed anxious and distressed. He asks Chris: “You think you know her pretty good?” about Ann, suggesting he suspects Ann’s visit is undercover, and is there with an ulterior motive: “I mean if they want to open up the case again, for the nuisance value, to hurt us?” (pg 36) Finally he seems guilty when he goes on about: “I want a clean start for you Chris”(pg 36)
Joe is an uneducated man we know this from the stage directions at the beginning of act one: “..terrible concentration of the uneducated man”(page 3.) He asks Dr Bayliss if Frank is: “Talking sense”(pg 6) this suggests he don’t understand him, and maybe he uses to many intelligent words for Joe. Also he is amazed that books are published everyday: “What is that, every week a new book comes out?” (pg 10)
Joe is presented initially as a man worthy of respect. Ann says to Chris: “your father put hundreds of planes in the air, you should be proud” (pg 34). The love between Joe and Chris is fairly obvious Chris thinks he’s a “Great Guy” (pg 31) and clearly admires him.
Finally Joe can be seen as self-deluded. We know Joe is guilty, and that he was exonerated yet he role-plays as a detective with local kids this might be an attempt to convince himself he’s on the right side of the law: “what have I got to hide?” (pg 21.) he speech (pg 28) where he describes how he came out of prison and braved the prejudice of neighbours. He described himself as a: “beast” this shows he thought people were scared of him, and that he was a strong, wild free man. He also tries to convince himself that his neighbours have forgotten about his past when he tells of his: “Saturday night the whole gang is playin’ poker in the arbour. All the one’s who yelled murder’ taking my money now” (pg 28)
Chris Keller is portrayed as a caring, JIM; “in the battalion he was known as mother Mckeller” (pg 23) In the war this was his nick-name, it was given to him because of his kindness and consideration to his soldiers. He acted like a ‘mother’ He is also a honest man. Since Larry died, Chris is the one son Kate and Joe have left, because of this he feels he owes it to them, to be a good son, to protect them, and always be there for his parents. He thinks of himself as a martyr: “I’ve been a good son for too long, a good sucker” Chris said this in a discussion with his father about marrying Ann. He feels: “..every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull back because other people will suffer. My whole bloody life, time after time, after time.” (pg 14) After Larry’s disappearance or ‘death’3 years ago they family especially Kate cant move on, and get along with their lives. Chris feels it holds him back from life he wants to marry Ann but because Ann was: “Larry’s girl” (pg 14) Joe and Kate wouldn’t agree, and they would see Chris’s proposal as a sign of betrayal towards Larry. Chris is dissatisfied with life. Kate honestly, deep in her heart still believes Larry is alive, and thinks he will return one day in result of this she will not let the family get on, and continue with their lives; “..we never took up our lives again. We’re like at a railroad station waitin’ for a train that never comes in.” (pg 19)
Chris is disillusioned he feels due to his experiences in the war (his men’s heroism in battle, and their loyalty towards each other) that people’s attitudes towards life, and to a more peaceful caring world should have changed dramatically: “it came out of love a man can have for a man“ (pg 34). He believes people should have learned to care for each other more than material things: “I felt.. what you said ..somehow ashamed, because nobody was changed at all it seems to make suckers out of a lot of guys” (pg 34) Also:
“it felt wrong to be alive, to open a bank-book,
to drive a new car, to see the new refrigerator.
I mean you can take those things out of a war,
but when you drive that car you’ve got to know that..”(pg 34)
This links in with Chris feeling ashamed of the materialism he see’s around him, even the money from his father’s business. JOE: ”..because sometimes I think you’re ashamed of the money” (pg 36) Chris is an idealistic man, and feels that people have made money and benefited through the sacrifices of soldiers, he thinks the money is: “loot” or “blood money” (pg 34).
He also feels guilty about his new happiness with Ann as he could be seen as betraying his dead brother, Ann: “..Even in your letters, there was something ashamed.” (pg 23). He is suffering from ‘survivors guilt’, and the loss of his soldiers: “..for instance it had been raining for several days and this kid came to me, and gave me his last pair of dry socks” also: “they didn’t die they killed themselves for each other.”(pg 33) Chris was a kind, caring man and even though the war has ended and he s home safe. He still feels for all the solders that risked their lives in the war. This proves Chris is a magnanimous man.
Chris can sometimes be inconsistent. He say’s he isn’t: “inspired” by his father’s business and he describes his work as a: “rat-race” and says he doesn’t want to: “grub for money all day long” (pg 15) Yet he contradicts himself when he tells Ann he is: “going to make a fortune” (pg 34) for her.
He admires and loves his father. He looks up to him for guidance and is able to confide in him. Chris tells his father of his plans for him and Ann: “..when I think of someone for my wife, I think of Annie..” (pg 15). He tells people: “isn’t he a great guy?”(pg 28) this shows Chris has a lot of respect for Joe.
He is also very straightforward and direct. Whilst talking to Ann he is straight to the point and say’s: “.. I love you.. I have no imagination.. that’s all I know to tell you” (pg 32) he was very brave and outright to tell Ann this. He is very honest when he tells his dad that they should have told mother from the beginning that they don’t believe Larry’s coming home: “We made a terrible mistake with mother” (pg 12).
Finally Chris can be very judgemental, and opinionated about his views. Whilst talking about Ann’s dad joe is defending Steve by saying: “The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him” (pg 30) But Chris already has his mind made up: “he murdered twenty-one pilots” (pg 29). This suggests he is bold and unforgiving.
Kate is a woman of great maternal love, who lives in hope, and is a ‘typical’ mother/wife role model. She is a kind friendly woman that all the neighbours talk to. Joe talks about her and says: “with-in five minuets you got thirty-nine strange people sitting at the table telling her their life story” (pg 24) This suggests she’s warm, friendly and easy to talk to. She’s very popular and a good listener. She is domestic and house proud. Kate likes to play the role of a mother/wife. She cooks and cleans: “where’s my potatoes?” even though they have a maid, JOE: “ I worked 40 years, and got a maid” (pg 10). This proves even though Joe can afford a maid Kate still likes to do a little housework, this could take her mind off her grieving still for Larry. Kate is the most self-disillusioned out of the three, as she still believes Larry will return. She lives in hope, and clasps and holds on to Larry’s belongings, and people’s feeling about Larry, for example: “she thinks of him, you see!”(pg 23) and (to Ann) “Deep, deep in your heart you’ve always been waiting for him” (pg 25) she tries so desperately to tell Ann her own feelings, when quite obviously Ann would know her own feelings and thoughts towards Larry. Also in a conversation with Joe about Ann’s business at the Keller home she insists; “he’s not going to marry her” referring to Chris (pg 20). Kate still cannot let go of Larry she cannot face that her son is dead, and she dreams of him: “That’s the way I saw him. Only high up. Way, way up where the clouds are. H e was so real I could reach out and touch him.”(pg 18)
Here she describes last nights dream of Larry flying past in his aeroplane. She likes to keep Larry’s shoes shined and his belongings neatly folded, waiting for him if he comes back. Finally Joe and Chris believe one of the reasons she’s finding it so difficult to hold on is: “because the papers are full of it.. There were half a page about a man missing even longer than Larry.” (pg 25) the media isn’t helping Kate get on with life.
At times Kate can be melodramatic and self destructive, in one quotes she makes a quite serious suicidal statement: “Because, if he’s not coming back, then I’ll kill myself” (pg 20) This proves how much she loves and misses Larry. She cant admit his death to herself, this is unhealthy behaviour. Kate is very emotional, rather than logical: “listen to your heart” (pg 26)
Kate is very superstitious. She has asked Frank to help her look into Larry’s horoscope hoping she’d find an answer to weather he still alive, or where he is? (Frank to Joe:) “well she wants to find out if November 25th was his favourable day?”(pg 6) Also she thinks it’s a coincidence that: “This month is his birthday, his tree blows down, Annie comes”(pg 17) To believe Larry is dead would (for her) be to believe that his death was a punishment for Joe’s crime ( an intolerable thought), so she must persuade herself that Larry is still alive. If not in her eyes it would be like God was punishing her for Joe’s crime by taking her son Larry away. Finally she secretly knows in her mind, that Joe was responsible for the faulty cracked cylinder heads. At the end of act one, she tries to warn Joe that George might be out to make trouble “be smart Joe..” (pg 38). She uses the phrase “he was exonerated” (pg 28) rather than ’he was innocent’ By using the word exonerated she is basically saying, the courts believes he was innocent, this implies that she is unsure herself that he is innocent. Again she say’s “you above all, have got to believe..” (pg 21) suggesting her husband must believe Larry is alive or else he will have to face up to that fact that he is guilty of killing 21 pilots. She warns Joe “I want you to stop that Joe, the whole jail business” (pg 21) suggests irony and that she vaguely feels guilty for his actions.