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All My Sons is a 1947 play by Arthur Miller. The play was twice adapted for film; in 1948, and again in 1987.

The play, which opened on Broadwaymarker at the Coronet Theatre in New York Citymarker on January 29, 1947, closed on November 8, 1947 and ran for 328 performances, was awarded the 1947 Tony Award for Best Authored Play. It was directed by Elia Kazan (to whom it is dedicated) and won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, beating Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. It starred Ed Begley, Beth Miller, Arthur Kennedy, and Karl Malden and won both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.


Miller wrote All My Sons after his first play The Man Who Had All the Luck had been a complete failure on Broadwaymarker lasting only four performances. Miller wrote All My Sons as a final attempt at writing a commercially successful play - if the play failed to find an audience Miller had vowed to "find some other line of work."

All My Sons is based upon a true story, which Arthur Miller's then mother-in-law pointed out in an Ohio newspaper. The story described how a child informed on her father who had sold faulty parts to the U.S. military during World War II. Asked in a TV interview what about the story had inspired him, Arthur Miller said, "I was fascinated by the idea that a child could have this kind of moral courage." When asked why he changed the gender of the character for his play, Miller said, "At the time I didn't understand women very well."

Henrik Ibsen's influence on Miller is evidenced from the Ibsen play The Wild Duck, where Miller took the idea of two partners in a business where one is forced to take moral and legal responsibility for the other. This is mirrored in All My Sons. He also borrowed the idea of a character’s idealism being the source of a problem.

The criticism of the American Dream, which lies at the heart of All My Sons was one reason why Arthur Miller was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s, when America was gripped by anti-communist hysteria. Miller sent a copy of the play to Elia Kazan who directed the original stage version of All My Sons. Kazan was a former member of the Communist Party who shared Miller's left-wing views. However, their relationship was destroyed when Kazan gave names of suspected Communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare.


Joe Keller - Joe Keller was exonerated after being charged with shipping damaged airplane cylinder heads out of his factory during WWII, inadvertently causing the deaths of 21 pilots. For three and a half years he has placed the blame on his partner and former neighbor, Steve Deever. When the truth comes out, Joe justifies his actions by claiming that he did it for his family. At the end of the play he kills himself in a sad attempt to rid his family of the problems he has caused them and perhaps also to stop Kate from hating him.

Kate Keller (Mother) - Kate knows that Joe is guilty but lives in denial while mourning for her elder son Larry, who has been MIA for three years. She refuses to believe that Larry is dead and maintains that Ann Deever - who returns for a visit at the request of Larry's brother Chris - is still "Larry's girl" and also believes that he is coming back.

Chris Keller – Chris, 32, returned home from World War II two years before the play begins, disturbed by the realization that the world was continuing as if nothing had happened. He has summoned Ann Deever to the Keller house in order to ask her hand in marriage, but their obstacle becomes Kate's unreasonable conviction that Larry will someday return. Chris's idolization of his father results in his devastation when he finds out the truth about what Joe did.

Ann Deever - Ann, 26, arrives at the Keller home having shunned her 'guilty' father since his imprisonment. Throughout the play, Ann is often referred to as pretty, beautiful, and intelligent-looking. She had a relationship with Larry Keller before his disappearance, and has since moved on because she knows the truth of his fate. She hopes that the Kellers will consent to her marriage with Larry's brother, Chris, with whom she has corresponded by mail for two years. Ann soon finds out that the neighbors all believe that Joe is guilty, and eventually finds out the truth after a visit from her older brother George. Ann is the knowledge-bearer in the play: finally, unable to convince Kate that Larry is gone forever, Ann reveals a letter from Larry stating his intention to commit suicide having heard of her father’s imprisonment.

George Deever – George, 31, is Ann’s older brother: a successful New York lawyer and WWII veteran, and a childhood friend of Chris. He initially believed in his father’s guilt, but upon visiting Steve in jail, realizes his innocence and becomes enraged at the Kellers for deceiving him. He returns to save his sister from her marriage to Chris, creating the catalyst that destroys the Keller family.

Frank Lubey – Frank, 32, was always one year ahead of the draft, so he never served in World War II, instead staying home to marry George's former sweetheart, Lydia. He draws up Larry's horoscope and tells Kate that Larry must still be alive, because the day he died was meant to be his 'favorable day.' This strengthens Kate's faith and makes it much harder for Ann to reveal the letter to her.

Lydia Lubey - Lydia, 27, was George's love interest before the war; after he went away, she married Frank and they quickly had three children. She is a model of peaceful domesticity and lends a much-needed cheerful air to several moments of the play.

Jim Bayliss – Jim is a successful doctor, but is frustrated with the stifling domesticity of his life. He wants to become a medical researcher, but continues in his job as it pays the bills. He is a close friend to the Keller family and spends a lot of time in their backyard.

Sue Bayliss - Sue is Jim's wife: needling and dangerous but affectionate, she too is a friend of the Keller family, but is secretly resentful of what she sees as Chris's bad idealistic influence on Jim. Sue confronts Ann about her resentment of Chris in a particularly volatile scene, revealing to Ann that the neighbors all think Joe is guilty.

Bert – Bert is a little boy who lives in the neighborhood; he is friends with the Bayliss' son Tommy and frequently visits the Kellers' yard to play "jail" with Joe. He only appears twice in the play. The first time he appears, his part seems pretty unimportant , but the second time he appears his character gets more important as he sparks a verbal attack from mother when mentioning "jail," which highlights Joe's secret.

Unseen characters

Larry Keller - Larry has been MIA for some years at the start of the play, however he has an effect in the play through his mother's insistence that he is still alive and his brother's love for his childhood sweetheart. Comparisons are made in the story between Larry and Chris with their father describing Larry as the more sensible one with a "head" for business. At the end of the play, Ann reveals a letter written by Larry pronouncing him committing suicide out of shame for what his father did.

Steve Deever - ("Peter Smell" in the 1947 movie) George and Ann's father. Steve is sent to prison for the shipping of faulty parts - a crime which he and the successfully exonerated Keller committed.


Act I

The Penguin edition of All My Sons
The play begins on a Sunday in late August 1946. Joe Keller is reading the Sunday paper and talking to his neighbors, Dr. Jim Bayliss and Frank Lubey. Frank talks about a horoscope for Joe's son Larry that he is compiling for Kate Keller, Joe’s wife. Jim's wife, Sue, and Frank's wife, Lydia, each make brief appearances.

Ann Deever, the Kellers' former next-door-neighbor, has come to visit the family and is asleep upstairs. While waiting for her, Joe and Chris talk about Larry's memorial tree, which has blown down during the night. Larry was reported missing during World War II and is presumed MIA, as there has been no contact with him for more than three years. Kate clings to the hope that he will come back, but Chris feels that it is wrong to keep up such a pretence for her. Bert comes by to play jail with Joe and runs off to patrol the neighborhood.

Chris admits to his father that he wants to marry Ann; however, Ann was Larry’s girlfriend before he served in World War II, and since Kate does not believe Larry to be dead, Ann is still technically "Larry's girl." By marrying Ann, Chris is effectively pronouncing Larry dead, so Joe fears that Kate will object to the proposal of marriage.

Kate emerges and describes her nightmare from the evening before; it is about Larry falling from his plane and crying her name. She objects when Chris tells her that the family should try to forget Larry. Kate admits to Joe that she is suspicious about why Ann has come to visit; she tells him that she knows that Ann believes with her that Larry is still alive, and tells Joe that he must keep believing also. Bert reappears, but is harshly banished by Kate.

When Ann finally comes down, everyone talks about how beautiful and mature she looks, and the family engages in smalltalk until Kate asks Ann if she is still waiting for Larry. Ann says that she is not, and realizes for the first time how deeply Kate's hope runs.

It is revealed that Steve Deever, Ann’s father, is serving time for the deaths of 21 pilots who crashed over Australia due to the faulty cylinder heads shipped out by the Keller/Deever factory in 1943. Keller insists that it was Steve's crime and recalls how he successfully appealed against his conviction for the crime while Steve remained in prison. Keller reacts strongly to Ann's conviction that her father is guilty. Ann has refused all contact with her father since Larry was reported missing, and insists that her father's actions may have related to Larry's death.

When Chris and Ann are left alone in the yard, they reveal their love for each other; however, Ann senses that Chris seems somehow ashamed, and asks him to tell her about it so their relationship can be an honest one. Chris recounts his experience of losing his company during a battle in the War. He is still angry that at home, life has continued as normal, and this affects his ability to accept the gift of having Ann.

Joe emerges and tells Ann that her brother George is on the phone from Columbus. Joe tells Chris that he mustn't feel ashamed of the family money; then Ann comes out and reveals that George is coming back to the house after visiting his father in prison for the first time, and Joe is clearly worried.

Act II

As they come out, Chris is removing Larry's fallen tree and the family is inside getting ready for dinner. Kate confides in Chris Keller's concern that George may bring up the case again, and says she won't live through it if he does.

Ann emerges and is met with Chris's assurance that they will tell her of their marriage plans tonight. Sue Bayliss interrupts Ann's solo reverie by searching for Jim, and they share a drink of juice. Sue asks Ann to move away from the area if she and Chris marry because Chris’ idealism is negatively affecting her husband Jim. Jim had always wanted to become a medical researcher but Sue did not want him to because of the unreliability compared to his current stable job. Sue implies Joe's guilt and insists that Chris and everyone else know something about it. Ann defends Chris, saying that he wouldn’t take money out of the plant if there was anything wrong with it, but she becomes disturbed because Chris told her that the case was all forgotten.

Chris reassures Ann by telling her he wouldn’t be able to forgive his father if he had murdered the pilots. Ann's faith in Chris is restored, and they and Joe share conversation in the yard. Joe offers Steve a job for when he gets out of jail, but Ann insists that Joe owes Steve nothing and Chris refuses to have him at the plant.

Jim enters, having gone to pick George up from the train. He warns Chris and Ann that George is angry and should be driven somewhere to talk, a proposition which Chris promptly refuses. A loud argument ensues, in which George tries to convince Ann that Chris knows Joe is guilty, having allowed his father to take the blame for shipping the damaged parts, and Ann is caught between the two men that she loves, unable to make them reconcile with each other. Kate enters, causing Chris and George to halt their argument; she is extraordinarily happy about seeing "Georgie" and pacifies him enough to settle everyone down for a time. Keller then enters; George reluctantly greets him. Then Lydia emerges and her past relationship with George is then revealed. Lydia has had three children and shows George the life on which he missed out while he was serving in World War II.

Ann goes inside to call a cab for George, having insisted that he must leave on the next train and not start a fight. Keller asks George about Steve and then argues that throughout Steve’s life he never took responsibility for his own actions, so he must be guilty now. Just when it seems that George is convinced and he agrees to stay for dinner, Kate tells him that Keller has never been sick in fifteen years, thereby disproving Keller's earlier alibi that he had the flu on the day that Steve allowed the cracked heads to be shipped, and was not able to come to the office. George latches on to this slip of the tongue and begins to interrogate Joe.

Frank rushes in with Larry's finished horoscope and asserts that the day Larry was supposed to have died was his "favorable day" and he must therefore be alive somewhere in the world. Kate believes him unhesitatingly and tells Ann that she packed her bag and that Ann must leave with George. Ann insists that she will stay until Chris tells her to go, and reluctantly tells George to leave, running after him to try to make amends.

Chris tries to insist that he will marry Ann, but Kate finally tells him that if Larry is dead, Joe killed him. Chris understands this to mean that Joe was guilty of shipping the faulty parts. Which means that Joe would have been responsible for Larry's death. Keller at last admits his guilt, but justifies his actions saying that if he had done it for his family. And if he went that day the factory would have been shut down and he would have lost money needed to support his family. Chris rejects this explanation, telling Joe that his responsibility to his country sometimes outweighs that to his business and family. Chris storms off, leaving Joe worn out and heart brokenly guilty.


Kate waits on the back porch for Chris- he took the car six hours before and has not come back yet. Jim enters and consoles Kate before the entrance of Joe. Ann has stayed in her room for those six hours: having seen Chris storm out of the house, she now knows the truth about Keller’s guilt. Joe insists that Chris just doesn't understand what responsibility for family means, and that Larry knew better what the business was all about. Joe tells Kate that he did it all for her and their two sons.

When Ann emerges, she asks Kate to tell Chris that she knows Larry is dead, so that Chris will no longer feel ashamed about his love for Ann. Kate still insists that Larry is alive; Ann insists that she loved him and wouldn't have even considered marrying anyone else if she weren't sure he'd died. Finally, Ann asks Joe to go into the house and produces a letter that Larry wrote her the day he died; she tells Kate that she didn't bring the letter to hurt the family, but both are devastated by the final destruction of Kate's hope.

Chris returns and tells Ann and Kate that he is going away to Cleveland to start over; he rejects Ann when she begs to go with him, saying that he can no longer bear to look at his father but can also not bring himself to send him to prison as he deserves and therefore is not a moral and strong enough man for her. When Joe enters, he confronts Chris and they argue about Joe's guilt. Ann rushes forward and gives Larry's letter to Chris; Kate tries to take it away from him and to prevent Joe from hearing it, but it is too late. Chris reads the letter aloud: it describes how, upon learning about the investigation into the incident and his realization of his father's guilt, Larry couldn't bear to live anymore; he told Ann that he knew he'd be reported missing and that she mustn't wait for him. All realize that Joe was responsible for Larry's death: Although Larry's plane did not have a cracked cylinder head in it, Larry found out that his father was not the kind of man he thought he'd been. He took his own life by crashing his plane during a mission rather than face the disillusionment he could now see through. On hearing this news, Keller goes inside the house to get his jacket and turn himself in; but while Chris and Kate argue about sending him to prison and Ann watches the results of the letter unfold, a shot is heard. Joe has committed suicide. Ann runs off to find Dr. Bayliss, and Chris and Kate are left alone in a final tableau of their grief.

Timeline of events in the play

The precise date of events in the play are unclear, however it is possible to construct a timeline of the back-story to All My Sons using the dialogue of the play. The play is set in August 1946, in the mid-west of the USA with the main story set between Sunday morning and a little after two o'clock the following morning.

  • Autumn 1943: Joe allows Steve to supply the USAAF with faulty cylinder heads which cause the planes to crash.
  • Autumn 1943: Twenty-one planes crash and Joe and Steve are arrested
  • November 25 1943: Larry crashes his plane off the coast of China having read about his father's imprisonment.
  • 1944: Joe is released from prison
  • Friday in August 1946: Ann visits Chris
  • Saturday in August, 1946: Larry's memorial blown down
  • Sunday morning in August 1946: George visits Steve
  • Sunday morning in August 1946: Opening of the play

Links to Greek tragedy

Arthur Miller’s writing in All My Sons often shows great respect for the great Greek tragedies of the likes of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. In these plays the tragic hero or protagonist will commit an offence, often unknowingly, which will return to haunt him, sometimes many years later. The play encapsulates all the fallout from the offense into a 24 hour time span. During that day, the protagonist must learn his fault and suffer as a result, and perhaps even die. In this way the gods are shown to be just and moral order is restored.In All My Sons, these elements are all present; it takes place within a 24 hour period, has a protagonist suffering from a previous offense, and punishment for that offense. Additionally, it explores the father-son relationship, also a common theme in Grecian tragedies. Ann Deever could also be seen to parallel a messenger as her letter is proof of Larry's death.

The Greek plays, and those of Shakespeare two thousand years later, are about kings, dukes or great generals, because at that time these individuals were thought to embody or represent the whole people. Nowadays, we do not perceive the upper classes as most representational. When writers want to show a person who represents a nation or class, they typically invent a fictional “ordinary” person, the Man in the Street or Joe Public.

In Joe Keller, Arthur Miller creates just such a representative type. Joe is a very ordinary man, decent, hard-working and charitable, a man no-one could dislike. But, like the protagonist of the ancient drama, he has a flaw or weakness. This, in turn, causes him to act wrongly. He is forced to accept responsibility - his suicide is necessary to restore the moral order of the universe, and allows his son, Chris, to live free from guilt and persecution. Arthur Miller later uses the everyman in a criticism of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman, which is in many ways similar to All My Sons.


American Dream

All My Sons is a criticism of the American Dream. Joe Keller, a representative type who would be considered an ordinary American, has lived through the Depression and despite a lack of education he has been able to own a factory, which he hopes his son will inherit. However, Keller’s quest for money leads to his responsibility for the deaths of 21 American pilots.

Keller has apparently achieved the 'American Dream' - he lives in a 'comfortable' house despite being an 'uneducated man.' Miller is emphasizing the hollowness of the American Dream and that one should 'think about the consequences of our actions.' However, this material comfort which Keller has worked to provide his family with the very best is of little consequence. His strong family unit is an illusion - his wife is ill, Chris is discontent and Larry has committed suicide as a result of his father's narrow-minded and reprehensible decision. It is through the letter from Larry that Keller realizes that he has not only killed one son but all of his sons, a theme which is reiterated by the title of the play. In conclusion, the American Dream has become more like an American Nightmare. Chris shows moral responsibility while his father Joe shows intense family responsibility.

Wartime Profiteering

Another theme of All My Sons is wartime profiteering. As there were large contracts when America entered the war on two fronts, the conditions were created for what Arthur Miller described as profiteering on a vast scale. Chris Keller is particularly angry that his selflessness in fighting in the war is contrasted by the selfishness of those making money off the war.


Death is another key theme in All My Sons. Kate Keller refuses to accept her son’s death. She denies the possibility of this death for a long time. Recognizing the death of her son would mean that she recognizes that her husband was responsible. This is an issue that constantly weighs on Kate throughout the work. The tree is a symbol that represents that Larry is still alive, and when the tree gets knocked down Kate still refuses to believe that her son is in danger.

When Chris finds out his father is responsible for killing the 21 pilots, he replies "I was dying every day and you were killing my boys" - and it is very notable Chris refers to the pilots as 'his boys' and says 'I was dying every day'; making them closer to himself and trying to indicate to the audience the extent of which he feels he has moral obligation to society.

Arthur Miller quotation on All My Sons

At the start of Arthur Miller's Collected Plays he commented on his feelings on watching an audience's reaction to a performance of his first play:
The success of a play, especially one's first success, is somewhat like pushing against a door which is suddenly opened from the other side. One may fall on one's face or not, but certainly a new room is opened that was always securely shut until then. For myself, the experience was invigorating. It made it possible to dream of daring more and risking more. The audience sat in silence before the unwinding of All My Sons and gasped when they should have, and I tasted that power which is reserved, I imagine, for playwrights, which is to know that by one's invention a mass of strangers has been publicly transfixed.

- Arthur Miller describing an audience's reaction to All My Sons

1948 film

In 1948, All My Sons was turned into a film. The major roles were played by Edward G. Robinson playing Joe Keller, Burt Lancaster as Chris Keller, Mady Christians as Kate Keller and Louisa Horton as Ann Deever. The supporting cast included Howard Duff playing George Deever, Lloyd Gough playing Jim Bayliss, Arlene Francis playing Sue Bayliss, Harry Morgan playing Frank Lubey and Elisabeth Fraser as Lydia Lubey. This version was directed by Irving Reis and gained two award nominations, Best Written American Dramaand The Robert Meltzer Award for the film's co-writer Chester Erskine.

In the film version of All My Sons, Steve Deever is renamed Herbert Deever, and actually makes an onscreen appearance, played by actor Frank Conroy.

1987 film

All My Sons
In 1987, All My Sons was made into a made-for-TV film. This version is more faithful to Arthur Miller's original play than the 1948 film version. The main roles are James Whitmore who plays Joe Keller, Aidan Quinn is Chris Keller, Michael Learned as Kate Keller and Joan Allen who plays Ann Deever. This version was directed by Jack O'Brien. Unlike the 1948 version, this version refers to George's father as Steve as in the play rather than Herb or Herbert.

Other adaptations

In 1950, Lux Radio Theater broadcast a radio play of All My Sons with Burt Lancaster as Joe. The play was adapted by S. H. Barnett and, in an interesting twist, featured the character of Steve Deever in a speaking role.

In 1958 the play was adapted for television by Stanley Mann and directed by Cliff Owen. This production starred Albert Dekker as Joe Keller, Megs Jenkins as Kate Keller, Patrick McGoohan as Chris Keller and Betta St. John as Ann Deever.

In 1998, L.A. Theatre Works put on an unabridged radio production for broadcast on Voice of America and NPR. This recording is widely available on CD and as a pay-per download.

2008 Broadway production

A Broadway revival began previews at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on September 18, 2008 and officially opened on October 16, 2008. The limited engagement ran through until January 4, 2009. Official site

The production stars Tony Award winner John Lithgow, Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest, Tony Award nominee Patrick Wilson, and Katie Holmes, who is making her Broadway debut. The other featured actors are Becky Ann Baker, Christian Camargo, Jordan Gelber, Danielle Ferland, Damian Young, and Michael D'Addario. It is directed by Simon McBurney. According to his biography, McBurney's "work on this production of All My Sons grew out of a meeting with Arthur Miller in 2001, shortly after the playwright saw the New York premiere of Mnemonic."

The creative team consists of scenic and costume design by Tony Award nominee Tom Pye, lighting design by Paul Anderson, sound design by Christopher Shutt and Carolyn Downing, projection design by Finn Ross, and wig and hair design by Paul Huntley.

Some controversy surrounded the production, as the internet group Anonymous staged an anti-Scientology protest at the first night of preview performances in New York City (due to cast member Katie Holmes).

The cast dedicated their performance on September 27 to the legendary actor, Paul Newman, who died the day before.

See also


External links

1947 play

1948 film
Trivia:In 1950, the stock units from the "Kellar home" sound stage sets were reconstructed on the new Colonial Street.In 1964, Universal studios tour guides called the sets the "house used in the movie Desperate Hours (1955)" (Kellar home).The home was used in the TV Series "Delta House" (1979).Today the sets are located on Wisteria Lane - 4347 Wisteria Lane.

1987 film

2008 play

2009 play

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