All My Sons by Arthur Miller. Link Between Joe Keller and Chris.
Discuss the relationship between Joe Keller and his son Chris in Act 1 of All My Sons. To what extent is their relationship dysfunctional?
When we first see Chris and Joe Keller, the first signs of Chris being irritated with anything related to Larry are shown when Keller asks about the broken tree. Chris’ response “Yeah” with the accompanying stage directions, ‘without looking up’, signals his disinterest at his father’s mention of his missing brother Larry. From this, the audience can see that there is a clear tension between the father and son concerning Chris’ brother as emphasised even more so further on in the Act when Chris says to Keller “You have such a talent for ignoring things”. This suggests that their relationship is dysfunctional as Keller has ignored his living son’s feelings in favour of putting his missing son first, leading to built-up tension between the two as they have therefore not been able to have a typical father-son relationship.
There is also a clear shared sense of irritation over the family’s business. Keller is persistent on Chris taking control of the business, as shown when he exclaims “…what the hell did I work for? That’s only for you, Chris, the whole shootin’ match is for you!” Keller’s use of emotive language shows his desperation for his son to take over the business and steer it away from its reputation as the creation of the two people linked to the death of twenty one pilots. His desire to hand over the business can also be a sign that Keller is trying to build a stronger relationship between him and his son as it will give them more time to bond. However Chris doesn’t want to be part of the war profiteering business, saying “J. O. Keller is good enough”. This connotes that for him, affection in the form of material wealth is not important to him as returning from the war, this became unimportant compared to what he experienced on the battlefield. Thus their relationship is arguably dysfunctional, as best shown by Keller himself when he says “I don’t understand you, do I?” For a father and son to not understand each other, shows that their relationship is not a strong one, but rather a confused and strained one as they both are not willing to understand how the other one feels, instead putting their own opinions first.
Although Joe and Chris have several disagreements, they have been able to bond over their mutual feelings for Kate Keller’s wellbeing, as they have allowed her to hold onto the thought that Larry is alive somewhere and will return. By doing this, they clearly have a common protective instinct concerning Kate as being an emotional person, knowing Larry is not coming back would send her into a state of distraught. However, Chris’s opinion on the matter changes, as because they both believe Larry is dead, he believes it is dishonest to not confront her over Larry’s disappearance, telling Keller “We’ve made a terrible mistake with Mother”. By not wanting to cause tension between the two of them and Kate, Chris ironically creates tension between him and his father as Keller argues against him, with stage directions such as ‘frightened at the thought’ signalling his discomfort of Mother perhaps suffering from a breakdown induced by her husband and son’s disbelief of her missing son’s return. Arguably, Mother is both a factor in Chris and Joe Keller having a ‘normal’ relationship as they want to ensure her happiness remains intact, although Kate’s wellbeing also indicates that they have a dysfunctional relationship as they cannot agree on how to cope with her feelings.
Keller and Chris share a typical father-son relationship when it comes to Chris’s dating life. Although initially not completely comfortable knowing that Chris wants to propose to ‘Larry’s girl’, Keller later warms up to his son finding love. Saying to Chris whilst pointing at Ann, “I like that girl. Wrap her up”, Keller grants his approval for his son to propose to Ann, knowing how much Chris admires her and seeing for himself the kind of person that she is. By being supportive of their relationship, Joe is subverted into the typical father role, looking out for his son and ensuring his happiness. Thus Joe and his son’s relationship can be seen as normal here as it is representative of what would been seen as a father being accommodating of his son’s needs.
Throughout Act 1, Chris and Joe Keller have various moments in which they represent a typical father-son relationship, for example as they are both very proud of each other. However, for the most part of the Act, the audience feels tension between the two as they present conflict through their separate ideals, especially when concerning Mother. Therefore, as it is not constantly stable, their relationship is dysfunctional, with both parties each not able to understand each other, due to events such as Larry’s disappearance secluding Chris from his parents.
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