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6 Cards in this Set

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Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons' is a play that explores the secrets and hidden guilt that surrounds an average American family after the Second World War. The conflict in the text lies between the two main characters, Joe (the father) and Chris (the son). The conflict arises because of Joe's actions and the difference between Joe's isolationist personality and ideals and Chris's idealistic personality and ideals. This conflict results in a drastic change to the personalities by the end of the play. This essay shall explore how Miller uses characterisation, stage direction and props to develop his characters and highlight his theme of responsibility.

Part one: underlying conflict (Joe)

The conflict us established from the beginning of act 1 as it is made clear that Joe and Chris are two very different characters. This can be seen in the conversation between Joe and Chris as they talk about Joe inheriting the family business. Joes comments to Chris emphasise his ignorance and isolation, he wants Chris to take on the family business and doesn't seem to understand that Chris doesn't necessarily want to do this:

Keller: You've got a business here, what the hell is this?

Joe: The business! The business don't inspire me.

Keller: Must you he inspired?

Joes language to Chris highlight his views of money being important, he finds it difficult to believe that Chris doesn't view the business in the same way that he does and that money isn't important for Chris when improving himself to become a better person is what's actually important to Chris. Joes isolation and ignorance is made clear from the start of the test which highlights Millers theme of responsibility. Despite Joe saying that the business is only there for Chris to inherit, "This whole shooting match is for you", it is clear that the business is important to Joe to prove his success and wealth and that money is more valuable to him which results in the conflict later in the text.

Part 2: Underlying conflict (Chris)

Chris, of course is the opposite of his father: idealistic, selfless and morally responsible; a man who believes that most people "can be better". This I'd apparant in Chris' feelings towards the business, he doesn't necessarily want to inherit the business as money isn't important to him, he doesn't view the money as 'good money' because it was made off of the hardship of his father's actions during the Second World War:

Keller: Must you be inspired?

Chris: Yes. I like it an hour a day. If I have to grub for money all day long at least at evening I want it beautiful.

This shows that Chris wants to make something for himself that's free from the guilt of his father's business. His own inspiration is more important to him than financial gain. Chris obviously loves his father as he negates his own happiness to support his family, making Chris's dilemma at the end of the play all the more believable, he is stuck between doing the morally right thing and protecting his own father. Joe and Chris clearly have conflicting ideals which results in the conflict at the end of the play.

Part 3: building tension (key scene)

As the action of the play develops so does the conflict between the two characters; coming to a head at the key scene where the truth about Joe is revealed, which in turn, brings the conflict into the open. Joe tries to justify his actions by saying he did what he did for Chris.

Keller: I'm in business, a man in business... what could I do? Let them take 40 years, let them take my life away... for you, a business for you.

Joe claims he shipped off the damaged parts for his family however, the repetition of the word 'business' suggests he had his own wealth and success in mind rather than for the benefit of anyone else. Chris also sees through this facade:

Chris: what the hell do you mean you did this for me? Is that as far as your mind can see, the business... don't you live in this word... you're not even an animal, no animal kills his own! (He stumbles away covering his face)

Joes response suggests he doesn't believe his father's errors can be seen as human and they are worse than 'animal', "no animal kills his own" which links back and dismisses comments made earlier in the text about the error being 'human'. He also calls his father up on being an isolationist, "don't you even live in this world". The key scene dramatically brings the conflict to a head as it is here that the underlying conflict and tension that has been building up is released which results in this explosive confrontation between father and son.

Part 4: change in characters (Chris)

Following the key scene it is clear to the audience that the conflict has created a seismic shift to Chris' character. Chris is no longer the idealist he once was, he now believes he has become practical as he has to keep his father's secret to protect his family:

Chris: I could jail him! I could jail him! If I were human anymore. But I'm like everybody else now. I'm practical now. You made me practical.

Chris believes his parents dehumanised him ("if I were human anymore"). In a way his father has metaphorically killed his idealism which only emphasises the fact the that he is now 'practical' highlighting the change to Chris and his personality. This relates to Millers theme of responsibility and family versus morality as the conflict has changed Chris' opinion of himself because of his love and closeness to his father he abandoned his idealism as he could not turn his father in.

Part 5: change in characters (Joe)

However, the same cannot be said for Joe, as his conflict with Chris only strengthens his self resolve and he goes deeper into self denial. However when Larry's (Joes other son who died in the war) suicide note is revealed to Joe he changes:

Keller: Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were. I guess they were.

Joe finally accepted his error as he now sees the pilots that he failed were metaphorically "all (his) sons". The reason that Larry took his own life was that he couldn't handle the guilt of what his father was involved in so in a way Joe metaphorically killed Larry, by destroying Chris' idealism you could also say that Joe metaphorically killed Chris. Following Joe reading Larry's letter he also takes his own life. This could be seen as taking responsibility as he is saving his family from the backlash of his actions if they were ever to be made public. So, in a sense he was protecting his family and his suicide was a form of attornment for his sins. However, in a sense Joe still remains fairly selfish as he kills himself rather than going to jail and owning up to what he did. Either way, no real responsibility is taken which leads to Millers idea of the country being selfish.