All My Sons is a play by Arthur Miller, first performed in 1947. Based on a true story, All My Sons tells the story of a munitions factory owner who is accused of producing defective engines for aircraft. The play received many awards, ran for 328 shows on Broadway, and has been twice adapted as a film.
This guide is based on the 2015 Penguin Classics edition of Miller’s Collected Plays.
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Joe Keller is an American businessman who lives on the outskirts of an unnamed American town, where he owns a munitions factory. As the play opens, in August 1946, he is reading a newspaper in his backyard. The previous night, strong winds blew down an apple tree that was planted to honor the memory of Larry Keller, Joe’s son. Frank Lubey lives next door to the Keller family. He arrives in the yard, having been asked by Joe’s wife Kate to make a horoscope for Larry, who vanished in 1943 while flying aboard a military airplane in World War II. Frank plans to determine whether November 25, the day Larry disappeared, was a fortunate day. Kate believes that the blown-down tree could signify that Larry will return. She holds out hope that he is not dead. Joe does not agree with her, and neither does their surviving son, Chris.
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Another neighbor, a doctor named Jim Bayliss, joins in the conversation between Frank, Joe, and Kate. Frank’s wife Lydia and Jim’s wife Sue arrive in the backyard and join the conversation. The previous night, a young woman named Ann Deever arrived at the Keller house. She is asleep in Larry’s old bedroom. In 1943, she was Larry’s girlfriend, and she still mourns his loss. Chris is now in love with Ann and wishes to propose to her after two years of correspondence. Chris speaks to his father, mentioning that he saw his mother running into the house the previous evening. She had seen the tree fall and then burst into tears. Joe and Chris both believe that Larry’s return is impossible. Chris confesses to his father that he would like to marry Ann. Their conversation is interrupted by Kate, who tells them that she had a vision of Larry in an airplane above their home. He was calling out for his mother. Kate admits that she still has not come to terms with her son’s death. Joe and Chris plan to tell Kate about Chris’s proposal to Ann during dinner, though they know she will not be pleased.
Ann joins the conversation in the backyard. Jim begins to ask about her father, Steve Deever, who was once Joe’s business partner. Their relationship ended when an investigation found that their factory knowingly produced broken engines that caused the deaths of 21 pilots. Though Steve was sent to jail, Joe escaped punishment because he was not at work on the day when the engines left the factory. Chris makes his proposal to Ann. She accepts and listens to Chris describe his experiences in World War II. Ann’s brother George telephones his sister to tell her that he has visited their father in prison. He tells Ann that he is coming to see her but will not say why.
Chris begins clearing the fallen tree. Ann and Sue talk about marriage. Sue believes that Chris is too idealistic. She insists that everyone believes that Joe was just as guilty as Steve. Jim collects George from the station. He warns the other characters that George is angry; he plans to confront Joe and to take his sister home. George talks to Chris about work, then to Ann about their father. He is concerned that he and Ann have mistreated their father. According to Steve, Joe issued an order to ship the broken engines but escaped punishment by feigning a sickness on the fateful day. Ann convinces George to delay his confrontation with Joe. Lydia, who previously dated George, is pleased to see him.
Joe enters, inquiring about Steve and assuring George that Steve can work in the factory after he is released. George evidently detests Joe, viewing him as a war profiteer. He deduces that Joe lied about his illness, and Joe realizes that he has been caught. Frank enters with the completed horoscope. He believes that Larry may have survived, bolstering Kate’s delusions, much to Chris’s chagrin. Kate confesses to Chris that she knows Joe was involved in the broken engines matter. Chris becomes furious, directing his anger at his father.
That night, Kate sits alone on the porch. The idealistic Chris has left the house and, to settle the dispute, Kate has advised her husband to accept his legal punishment. Joe insists that he acted for the good of the family, which he believes is more important than any law. Ann enters, explaining that she plans to go with Chris. She does not care about Kate’s disapproval. Asking Joe to give her a moment alone with Kate, she gives Kate a letter from Larry. Chris returns, still conflicted about whether to report his father to the authorities. Joe makes more excuses about his actions. Ann shows Larry’s letter to Chris, who reads it aloud despite his mother’s protests. In the letter, Larry hints that he plans to die by suicide because of Joe’s guilt. Shocked, Joe agrees to turn himself in to the authorities. He enters the house, whereupon a gunshot sound implies that he has taken his life. Kate consoles a distraught Chris, assuring him that Joe’s death is not his fault.
By Arthur Miller