How does Arthur Miller illustrate the complex situation in ACT 1 in “All My Sons”? “All My Sons” was written in 1947 by the American Jewish writer, Arthur Miller. It is a tragedy about the manufacturer, Joe Keller, who sells defected cylinder heads to the military in order to save his business. It talks about morality in the context of desperation, and appealed greatly to the American people who had just gone through a war and a depression.
Arthur Miller uses several techniques in Act 1 to illustrate the complex situation he himself has created. We are introduced to a neighbourhood consisting of the Kellers, the Baylisses and the Lubeys. Joe Keller is put forward as a father figure, and his home is a welcoming place where neighbours come to chat and spend time with each other. On the outside, Keller seems like a nice old man with a clean record, but Miller weakens this impression by making the characters so different. Chris and Joe share many of the same qualities, but Chris has other moral values – to him, there is a more significant world out there than just his own family. The characters are also separated by age and profession, which helps making the glamorous mood vague.
The use of dialogues, in the sense of ‘double handers’, is also an important tool in Miller’s illustration. Mostly, only two characters are talking with each other. This shows that secrets are being held between the characters, the idyll in this neighbourhood isn’t what it looked like in the beginning. Chris, for example, says to his father: “I’m going to ask her to marry me.”1 Later, Mother says to Joe: “He’s not going to marry her.”2 There are conflicts between the characters, and they all lead back to the war, when the defected parts were shipped and a Larry disappeared. Arthur Miller introduces several different conflicts; a) Larry is gone, but Mother is still mourning.
b) Chris wants to marry Ann, but won’t get Mother’s blessing – the typical ‘forbidden love’ conflict. c) Is there something supernatural going on since the tree blew down when Ann returned? d) Ann’s father has committed a terrible crime. e) George Deever is coming and the Kellers are nervous. All these conflicts has somewhat of the same origin, which strengthens them, and they are discussed only between a few characters at a time. This technique underlines the complex situation in the play. As a reader, you understand that something is being hidden, something that happened three and a half years ago.
One of the most significant techniques Arthur Miller uses to illustrate the complex situation, is the use of stage directions. Through these, we see how the characters feel, and what kind of conflicts they are facing. One good example is Frank and Ann’s conversation on page 114:KELLER, in hopeless fury, looks at her, turns around, goes up to porch and into house, slamming screen door violently behind him. MOTHER sits in chair downstage, stiffly, staring, seeing.]” We see how nervous the two characters get, and we understand that they are hiding something. Miller uses this dialogue to make the reader want to continue reading.
Arthur Miller illustrates the complex situation by introducing several conflicts, all with the same origin. He strengthens them using stage directions and by introducing a variety of different characters – like a big melting pot. The use of ‘in medias res’ gives the reader only a clue about what has happened in the past, makes the situation more tense, and gives the reader an eager lust for answers.