Generational Conflict and Social Responsibility in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons


This passage is an extract from the play All My Sons, written by American playwright Arthur Miller and published in 1947. Understanding the play’s context is crucial to grasping its main themes and ideas. All My Sons explores social responsibility in the context of World War II, family dynamics, love, and critiques the American Dream. This passage centers around a heated discussion between Chris and Keller, where Chris confronts his father about knowingly shipping faulty plane cylinders. The ensuing argument highlights Chris’s disappointment and Keller’s persistent denial. This analysis will delve into the themes of the American Dream, interconnectedness, social responsibility, and the clash between generations. It will focus on the characters of Keller, a representation of the American man and the play’s tragic hero, and Chris, symbolizing the younger generation. Additionally, it will examine the stylistic elements employed by Miller, including tone, mood, diction, metaphors, repetitions, punctuation, and stage directions.


Keller: The Old Generation

  • An uneducated man described as possessing “peasant-like common sense.”

Joe Keller, a businessman, is a father of two sons: Chris and Larry, who is missing in action. He embodies the American man and serves as the play’s tragic hero. Blinded by the belief that family reigns supreme, he remains in denial about his role in shipping faulty plane parts, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots. Keller represents the stereotypical American man of the 1950s, a “man among men.”

Family Man and Tragic Hero

Keller is a devoted family man, deeply admired by his sons, particularly Chris. However, his unwavering loyalty to his family leads him to prioritize their well-being over his social responsibility. This internal conflict ultimately makes him a tragic hero. His suicide at the play’s end reveals his belated understanding of his grave errors and his desire to atone for them.

Flaws and Consequences

Keller’s fatal flaw is his hubris, his arrogant belief that he could escape the consequences of his actions. He attempts to conceal his crime and continue his life as if nothing happened. His decision to prioritize his business over the lives of 21 pilots stems from this arrogance. The consequences of his actions are devastating: Larry’s suicide, the deaths of the pilots, his wife’s trauma and denial, his business partner’s imprisonment, and Chris’s profound disappointment.

Anagnorisis and the Limits of Keller’s Worldview

Keller’s anagnorisis, the moment of realization, occurs when he reads Larry’s letter. The letter reveals that Larry, whom Keller believed understood and forgave him, committed suicide due to his father’s actions. This realization shatters Keller’s world and leads to his own tragic end. Keller’s hubris is evident in his words to Chris: “Chris, Chris, I did it for you…when would I have another chance to make something for you?” The repetition of “for you” and his rhetorical questions underscore his strong family values but also expose his blindness to his social responsibility. Keller’s world revolves around his immediate family and business, neglecting the broader society that Chris refers to as “his country” or “the world.” This limited worldview reveals Keller’s social irresponsibility and his inability to grasp the far-reaching consequences of his actions.

Old vs. Young: A Generational Divide

The play highlights a stark contrast between the older and younger generations. Keller embodies the selfishness and closed-mindedness of the older generation, while Chris represents the more caring and socially responsible younger generation. This contrast is evident in Chris’s statement, “you were killing my boys.” The phrase “my boys” suggests a sense of brotherhood and shared humanity that Keller fails to comprehend. This passage showcases an inversion of roles, with Chris displaying greater maturity and open-mindedness than his father.

Motivations and the Price of Success

Keller’s motivations for shipping the faulty parts were purely economic. Driven by fear of the army’s repercussions and a desire for profit and business growth, he prioritizes his financial success over human life. This highlights the play’s theme of war profiteering. Keller, a self-made man who rose from poverty to become a successful factory owner, embodies the image of the American Dream. However, his pursuit of success comes at a terrible cost, ultimately leading to his downfall.

Euphemisms and the Burden of Guilt

Keller’s use of euphemisms when confronted by Chris betrays his guilt and shame. He struggles to confront the magnitude of his actions, clinging to justifications and downplaying his role in the tragedy. His statement, “I was afraid maybe…”, with its use of “maybe” and ellipsis, reveals his reluctance to fully acknowledge the consequences of his choices. It is only later, upon reading Larry’s letter, that he experiences his anagnorisis and confronts the devastating truth of his actions.


Joe Keller, blinded by his love for his family and his ambition for success, fails to grasp the true extent of his responsibility. His tragic end serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of prioritizing personal gain over social responsibility. Through Keller’s downfall, Miller critiques the American Dream’s potential to foster greed and moral compromise, ultimately leading to tragedy.