Arthur Miller said in 1987, “the play is taking place in a cemetery where their [the Keller’s] son is buried, and he is also their buried conscience reaching up to them out of the earth”. This is reflected by the fact that the play is set claustrophobically in one place – the garden, in which is Larry’s tree of remembrance. This is introduced to the audience very early on in the play – both in the prologue “stump of a slender apple-tree whose upper trunk and branches lie toppled beside it”, and in some of the first dialogue by the characters “hey, what happened to your tree? This therefore shows early on that the tree is significant in the play.
As said by Miller, the tree acts as a conscience, in that they cannot escape what the tree represents – their missing son Larry. From very early on the audience are able to see that the breaking of the tree is significant as it is mentioned repeatedly. Tension is built up due to this, because it is also revealed that there is a connection between Larry and the tree – “Larry… he’d been twenty seven this month. And this tree blows down”, but little else is revealed to the audience.
Nevertheless, we are shown a possible area of conflict in the dialogue between Frank and Keller about the tree – “What’d Kate say [about the tree]… I’m just waiting for her to see it”… “What’s Mother going to say? “. Joe’s comment about Kate suggests that Kate will react in a negative way to discovering the tree has broken and therefore as an audience, we can begin to question why this is, and again Miller emphasises the importance of the tree in terms of the effect it may have on certain characters.
However this small revelation forms the basis of the plot in that all the characters will have to face their fears and accept responsibility – as Miller said, listening to their conscience. Therefore the section forms an effective introduction to the play in that it could be said that it ‘sets the scene” for the rest of the play. There is also the suggestion earlier on in the play of the fact that, according to some characters, there could be hope that Larry is still alive. In the narrative, the tree – although broken – is said to have “fruit still clinging to its branches”.
The fact that the word “clinging” is used could be seen as a reference to Kate’s desire to cling onto hope that Larry is still alive. In the same way, we are shown this by the fact that Kate has asked Frank to make a horoscope for Larry – “Kate asked you to make a horoscope”. This also allows for a premonition to a possible conflict in the play, in that it is revealed Joe may not believe Larry is alive – “How can you make him a horoscope? That’s for the future” – this shows that Joe does not believe Larry is alive and therefore cannot have a future.
This could therefore create potential conflict between Joe and Kate, who have differing ideas about whether Larry is alive, and this idea is proved to be correct as later on in the play, Joe and Kate argue about their differing beliefs about Larry. Hence again, this section forms an effective introduction to the rest of the play, as it sets out possible areas of conflict which could occur later on in the play. In the same way, the section acts as a preparation for what will happen later on in the play.
Absent characters are introduced to the audience before they comes on stage, allowing the audience to form an opinion of them – a specific opinion that Miller wants them to form. For example, we are given details about Ann before she appears – “wonderful thing… that was a very happy family used to live in your house, Jim… she’s a knockout”. This therefore allows the audience to have an opinion of what Ann will be like, and as only positive things are said about her, generally a positive opinion of her will be held by the audience.
In the same way, we are also introduced to Kate’s character, however there is a certain amount of tension when we learn about her – for example we only hear of her in terms of Joe’s concern about what she will say about the tree. Thus the audience becomes anxious about what will happen when Kate does appear on stage and therefore tension is built up. The stage directions are also used to reveal ideas about characters in this section – for example Chris is described as being “a man capable of immense affection and loyalty”, and Joe is described in stage directions in detail – “a heavy man of stolid mind… neducated man… a man whose judgements must be dredged out of experience”.
Therefore this section of the play forms an effective introduction by allowing us to learn about characters before they arrive through dialogue and dramatic devices, and the appropriate mood is set for the rest of the play. Similarly, we are prepared for the idea of Chris and Ann’s plans for marriage in the opening section of the play. When Lydia enters she introduces the idea of marriage – “She [Ann] going to get married… Annie’s here and not even married”. This acts as a form of irony, in that one of the reasons Ann is here – at the Keller’s – is because she wants to marry Chris. The section therefore acts as an introduction to events that will happen later on in the play – e. g. the revelation that Ann and Chris want to marry.
Also, this section (the discussion of Ann and marriage) also suggests what will be revealed later to us – that Ann was once the girlfriend of Larry – “Is she [Ann] still unhappy… he can’t mourn a boy forever”. This creates questions in the minds of the audience as to who she is mourning, and why, and therefore the section acts as an effective introduction to the rest of the play by making the audience suspicious of why Ann is at the Keller’s house and why she is not married, and therefore creates a build up of tension. Tension is used repeatedly throughout the play, as small things are revealed – just as in the introduction, nothing sizable is given away.
This is mainly due to interruptions by minor characters, which work as devices to ease tension. For example, when Jim, Frank and Joe are discussing Annie they are interrupted by Sue, when Keller is asking about Mother, he is interrupted by Bert. This works as a way of making sure not too much is revealed too early on in the play. Tension is built up about how Kate will react to the tree, and the audience wonder why this is, but before they can find out, Bert enters.
Therefore the section acts as an effective introduction by revealing only small details about the main plot, and it uses minor characters as a way of reducing tension, which is an idea continues throughout the play – for example when Sue and Frank interrupt tension or revelations, later on in the play. Bert also acts as a way of revealing Joe’s character. For example, when Joe is playing with Bert, he acts in a very fatherly way in that he plays along with Bert – “I made them go away because you [Joe] were sleeping… I’m liable to make you [Bert] a detective”.
Joe is very talkative and lively with Bert, which is a contrast to the way he interacts with his son Chris – “see what happened to the tree… yeah”. Therefore it could be said that this section allows us to see how Joe treats Bert like a son, and perhaps treats Chris less like a son. It could therefore be argued that Joe may have shown love for Larry in the way that he shows love for Bert. This idea is shown later on in the play when Joe suggests Larry is a better son than Chris – “If Larry was alive he wouldn’t act like this… he listened to me… this one, everything bothers him”.
Therefore the section is an effective introduction in that it sets ideas of what characters are like in the minds of the audience, which will be revisited later on in the play. The idea of contrast is also introduced in this section, for example as the sudden change from Joe and Chris’ ‘serious’ conversation, to Joe joking and playing with Bert – “what’s mother going to say… Ha! Bert’s here” This is shown repeatedly throughout the play for example when Mother changes her moods very rapidly from joking and chatty, to serious. Therefore the section acts as a very effective introduction as it sets the mood for the rest of the play.
The section also introduces the idea of war – which is key to the whole play in that it causes all the problems which leads to the downfall of Joe. The section establishes the idea that war can change everything – including families – “that’s what a war does. I had two sons, now I got one. It changed all the tallies”. Therefore the section is effective in introducing a background to what will happen later on in the play – for instance, this point links to/acts as a prologue to when the family is falling apart due to war. In the same way, certain things the characters say suggest that there will be a conflict later on in the play.
Joe says – “Gonna rain tonight”. Although this may appear as a simple statement of the weather, it could act as a metaphor – the storm being an upheaval of emotions in a conflict. Therefore this section is an effective introduction as it establishes ideas that will be shown later on in the play. The introduction also provides an effective opening in that it displays numerous themes that will be continued throughout the play. For example, as one critic said, “the play looks at the conflict between the pressure to make money, and ethics or personal responsibility”, which is shown by the continuing idea in the play of the American Dream.
This theme is introduced in the opening section by Jim – “I would love to help humanity on a Warner Brothers salary”. This supports the comment made by the critic that there is a conflict between making money, and personal responsibility. This is a key theme in the play, as it links to Joe’s flaw which will lead to his downfall, in that he shipped out cracked cylinder heads because otherwise he would lose money and Joe would be out of business. Later on in the play, Joe attempts to excuses what he did with the claim that – “you wanted money, so I made money”.
Therefore the section forms a very effective introduction to the play in that it establishes one of the main themes in the opening pages over the play, which will repeatedly reoccur, hence sets the idea in the audiences’ mind that money could be a cause of problems later on in the play. It also gives the first idea of Miller’s criticism of the American Dream, in that Jim would prefer to research into to diseases to find cures, but needs to support his wife and so cannot, which goes against the idea of the American Dream that you can do anything you want to do, because in real life, money is more important.
The idea of money over personal responsibility, shown in the introduction by Jim’s inability to “help humanity” because of the lack of pay he would receive for it, links to what Joe says later on that “a man can’t be a Jesus in this world”. Therefore in terms of setting the scene, the section forms a very effective introduction to the play. Barbara Klien (a critic) commented that “Although Miller’s dramas take place in familial settings; he has made a reputation for dealing with contemporary political and moral issues”.
This point is shown in the section by the idea of realism – a repeated theme throughout the play, which, at points, is contradicted, as said by Klien. In the beginning of the play, numerous neighbours come round to the Keller household to do ‘normal things’, and the play is set in one familiar place – the garden. For example, Jim comes to smoke his pipe by borrowing Joe’s tobacco – “where’s your [Joe] tobacco? ” This point is reflected by the fact that Joe is reading the paper – a normal activity for a Sunday, and all the characters who visit have no dramatic reason for coming to visit.
This hence demonstrates realism, in that Miller opens with a familiar family setting which helps the audience to connect with the characters in the play, and the play itself, because they may carry out similar tasks themselves. However, as said by Klien, the play itself has elements of the un-real – the extraordinary – in that Keller results in shooting himself because he causes twenty one pilots to die. Conversely, it could be said that this even though Miller tackles contemporary moral issues, this does not distract from the realism of the play.
For example, Keller explains his reasons for shipping the faulty cylinder heads as being that he had to make money – “did they ship a gun or a truck… before they got their price?… its dollars and cents”. This is a realistic view, in that due to the Depression, families had to work to make all the money that they could, and many people profited out of the war, so in a sense, what Joe did had been done by numerous other people and hence is a reality. Therefore, the section provides an effective introduction to the rest of the play in that it sets a realistic tone which will be continued through the play.
Although political and moral issues are addressed, they are issues real to the time in which the play was written, and so would be familiar to the audience. The idea of Depression is also used to convey the idea that Joe did not suffer from it, and therefore could have taken part in war profiteering. The narrative at the beginning of the play describes the Keller house as being “two storeys high… seven rooms… looks tight and comfortable”. This suggests that the Keller family cannot have suffered too greatly from the Depression.
A contemporary audience would question the reasons for this and perhaps make conclusions as to how Joe managed to keep the house even during very hard times. The section is therefore an effective introduction to “All My Sons” as it includes points that an audience can begin to question from very early on in the play, which link to later events. For instance, the fact that the Keller’s have a nice house, links to the fact that Joe shipped out faulty cylinder heads in order to keep the business running and make money.
Therefore, this section forms a very effective introduction to the play, as it introduces absent characters to the audience, and plants questions in their minds which helps to build up tension when details are to be revealed later on in the play. Miller uses this section to introduce ideas and themes for example realism and war profiteering, and other key ideas for instance the significance of the tree, which will link to the unfolding of the plot throughout the rest of the play.
Miller sets the scene in this section and prepares the audience for the rest of the play, and in some ways he is able to cause the audience to form a particular view of events or characters, and hence shape the way they react to the revelation of the plot. For example, the fact that all the neighbours at some point come to Joe’s house in this section, to simply talk to him about even simple things, shows that they must generally, genuinely like him. This therefore makes the finale of the play much worse in that he has lied to all his friends, who, on the whole, believe that he is innocent.