All My Sons
Off-Stage but Ever-Present: Larry in All My Sons
In Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Larry is the youngest member of the Keller family who passed away in World War II. Although he does not appear on stage for the duration of the play, he is still considered to be one of the most important roles. His disappearance haunts his family through his mother’s superstitious belief in his return, as well as through his brother’s sudden claim on his childhood sweetheart. Larry is presented in the play, through the symbol of the tree, which highlights the way his presence permeates the surroundings. The destruction of the memorial provides the family with a talking point, and reignites his presence to the family and community around him.
Built as a means of commemorating Larry, who did not survive World War II, the tree ties in significantly to Larry’s character. Additionally, the fallen tree sits in the middle of the backyard, as a symbol of the presence of Larry in the middle of the play. Kate is relieved when lightning strikes it down, thinking that this is a sign that Larry is coming back home. The tree foreshadows the destruction of Larry’s life, which we start to understand towards the end of the play. The tree just so happens to fall down on Larry’s birthday month, causing Kate to become even more desperate to find clues about Larry’s return. “It was too soon to plant a tree for him,” Kate mentions when talking to Chris. The hope and faith that Larry might still be alive remains close to her heart as her superstitions get the best of her. The destruction of the tree impacted Chris and Joe Keller in a similar way to Kate. They would have to face the disturbance in Kate’s life as she deals the the pain of losing her son yet again.
Larry considerably impacts the members of his family and the community, despite the fact he is never on stage. He is constantly compared to Chris throughout the play, allegedly for the purpose of better defining Chris’ character, but in the end, however, we learn that Larry on his own has a bigger effect on the story overall. Chris, who is described as “A man capable of immense affection and loyalty” has fallen in love with Larry’s former fiancée, Ann Deever, and has invited her to his family home in order to propose marriage to her. Unlike his mother Kate, Chris accepts the fact that Larry is no longer alive, and therefore feels comfortable marrying his brothers former partner. Chris is portrayed as a very idealistic character in the play; however, Larry turns out to have been much more idealistic than Chris. When Larry found out about his father’s crime, he was unable to live with the knowledge that his father could do such a thing, and committed suicide. Chris, on the other hand, was able to live with his suspicion about Joe’s crime, as he reveals in Act Three. According to Joe, Larry was the brother with a “head for business”, who therefore took after Joe. However, towards the end of the story, Larry’s death can be blamed by his father’s moral crime. Symbolically, this represents Larry as a sacrifice of the “American dream” symbolized in his father’s financial success. Larry has the greatest impact on his mother, Kate Keller. Her life is dominated by her denial to admit that her son is really dead. Kate has nightmares about Larry and is nervous and suspicious of the people around her. She believes that Chris and Ann are morally wrong to plan a marriage as she still sees Ann as Larry’s fiancée. Kate’s grief drives much of the action throughout the play, especially when Frank Lubey feeds Kate Keller’s delusion that Larry is alive, by creating an astrological chart to show his favourable day.
Ann Deever, Larry’s old girl, is stuck in the past, although not waiting for Larry’s return. Rather, she has been waiting for his brother Chris to step-forward and take a place in her heart. Ann had kept a secret hidden away from Chris, as well as Joe and Kate Keller, about Larry’s death, which he revealed to her in a letter. Larry had committed suicide after hearing about the crime that his father had committed, sacrificing himself for the greater good. Once Ann realized that Kate would not accept a marriage between herself and Chris, she felt the only way to solve the problem would be to finally present the truth about Larry that she had kept away for so long. When Ann revealed the letter to Kate, sadness came over her, but she finally realized why the hope had died away for everyone else. For Joe, his sons and the business were everything. After committing his crimes, he wouldn’t accept the blame, and forced it on to his coworker, and hid the truth from the rest of the world. For years, nothing had crossed his mind, how to resolve the situation. When Larry’s letter had finally been revealed, the solution was obvious. He asks, “Then what is this if it isn’t telling me? Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.” The pain of the letter was unbearable for Joe, and he believed his only solution was to kill himself, so he did.
Arthur Miller creates a powerful ending, with the suicide of Joe Keller. This is ironic, because Joe was the cause of Larry’s suicide, and now the tables have turned. Larry doesn’t once appear on stage, but is still one of the most significant characters from the entire play. The tree, the letter and Joe’s suicide all closely relate to Larry’s absence, and how his death has impacted the characters considerably throughout the duration of the play.
The Ethical Breach of the Business Man
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons explores the relationship between father and son, and the lengths a man will go to for his family and for himself. The main character, Joe Keller, is a father who believed his greatest achievement was his son, and the business he built to provide for his family. In the true spirit of a businessman, Joe had to step on others to reach the top and to create his thriving business that he is desperate for his son, Chris Keller, to accept and be proud of. Joe’s character has experienced trauma with the loss of his other son, Larry Keller, in WWII and the strain that the loss had on the health and well-being of his family that may make him seem worthy of pity. However, Joe’s life contained multiple selfish decisions of fraud and corruption that spilled the blood of innocent young war heroes. Joe Keller is a self-absorbed man with an egocentric disposition to promote his own self-interest; he ruins the lives of others by causing death, insanity, grief, loss of love, and unfair imprisonment, making him a character unworthy of sympathy.
Joe Keller’s selfishness stained his hands red as his actions led young military men to die. Joe owned and operated a mass production factory that during wartime made airplane parts with his partner Herbert Deever. One night the machines produced over one hundred defective engine heads, and the next morning the army began to demand more airplane parts, but the only ones available were those with cracks. Under the direction of Joe, Herbert illegally welded over the cracks and shipped the parts to the army. The defective engine parts caused the death of twenty-one pilots in the war. When Chris finally learned the truth after three years of his father deceiving him, Joe tells Chris, “I’m in a business, a man is in business; a hundred and twenty cracked, you’re out of business; you got a process, the process don’t work you’re out of business; you don’t know how to operate, your stuff is no good; they close you up,… what could I do, let them take away forty years, let them take my life away?” (69) Joe selfishly felt that the business he built for his family and his son, which he considered his life, was more valuable than the innocent lives of those American soldiers whom he had a duty to through supplying them with quality aircraft parts.
Moreover, Joe’s greedy disposition to operate a successful business not only murdered men, but he also sent his business partner, neighbor, and friend to prison for his own crime. When the process was producing the defective parts, Herbert called Joe from the factory to tell him of the trouble, and he asked Joe what he should do. Joe refused to come down to the factory, but he told him over the phone to weld over the cracks and ship out the parts. Joe knew a phone call would never be enough to indict him in court, because “on the telephone you can’t have any responsibility.” (54) When the law came knocking Joe denied any connection to Herbert’s actions and allowed his partner to take the fall. Joe was a free man while Herbert served a sentence of years in prison. Joe spent years trying to justify to himself that his decisions were right because his business was his life and legacy to his son Chris. However, his actions were purely selfish and devastating to those around him because Joe’s self-interest killed men, ruined his friend’s life, and allowed him to avoid the criminal punishment.
Some may argue that Joe Keller deserves sympathy from the audience because of the pain and suffering that the war brought to his family. Joe’s son, Larry Keller, was reported dead soon after Joe was arrested and tried for the defective parts. Larry’s death led to mental insanity of Joe’s wife, Kate, as she struggled to grasp the reality of her grief through ongoing hope and denial. She continued to believe Larry would come home alive because his body was never found and she insisted for years that, “…everybody has got to wait,” (68) for his return. Joe struggled with the internal guilt that he may have caused his son’s death through his faulty engine parts, but he tried to reassure himself that Larry never flew a P-40 aircraft which are the planes his parts caused to crash. Joe’s family endured serious hardship through the stress of keeping Joe out of jail and the grief of losing one of their two sons while Chris continued to be at risk in the war too. However, it is Joe’s own fault that his family experienced those traumas. Near the end of the play, it is revealed to the family through a letter written by Larry that when he heard the news of the twenty-one young men in the military, like him, who were killed by his father’s action, Larry killed himself. Larry committed suicide at the grief he experienced from discovering his father’s selfish murderous actions, which he expressed in the letter saying, “I can’t bear to live anymore.” (83) Joe brought on the pain and suffering of his family’s grief through his egotistical disposition and self-absorbed mindset to promote his business above all else, making him a character undeserving of pity.
Joe Keller’s character proved to be driven by selfishness to the very end when he committed suicide, adding to the ruin of the lives of others around him. This final selfish act of cowardice shows that Joe is a character unworthy of the audience’s sympathy. Joe’s suicide was his selfish way of avoiding the consequences and shame once the community and the law learned the truth about him and Deever. His selfish action of allowing those military men to die caused Larry’s suicide and caused Chris to view Joe as more of an animal than human, unworthy of forgiveness simply because of their father and son relationship. Joe says, “For you, Kate, for both of you, that’s all I ever lived for…,” (78) and once he realizes that he has lost the love and loyalty of his family, especially all of his sons, he ends his life. Joe made decisions whose consequences caused deaths, insanity, prison terms and heartbreak as Joe hurt his friends, wife, innocent men, and all of his sons.
The central figure of All My Sons, ultimately, is a self-absorbed man unworthy of sympathy because of his character’s egocentric disposition and selfish actions that ruin the lives of others. Joe Keller considers his business and his family his greatest achievements, and does not allow morals or values to stand in his way of producing a successful legacy to leave behind to his son Chris Keller. Joe’s narrow-minded drive to promote only his own self-interest led to the death of innocent military heroes, the unfair imprisonment of his business partner, the insanity of his wife, the loss of love and respect from his only living son Chris, and the suicide of his son Larry. In a final display of selfishness, Joe Keller takes his own life, adding more suffering to his already broken family, and this final cowardly act proves his character is too narcissistic and self-absorbed to be worthy of audience sympathy, empathy or pity, regardless of the suffering he himself may have endured.
Mother Knows Worst: Kate’s Role in All My Sons
In the play All My Sons by Arthur Miller, Kate Keller – Joe’s wife, and Chris’ as well as Larry’s mother – shows the audience that, at the end of the day, she is still mainly concerned about her own family instead of about paying the rightful tribute to the wider world. Kate opens up her true nature to the audience, just as Joe does. Subsequently, and despite such revelations, the audience does not completely sympathize with her or her set of values.
During the play’s action, Kate tries to undermine the one character she thinks weakest – Ann. Whenever Ann tries to talk some sense into Kate, she refuses to listen. Her mind is too congested to squeeze any more reason into it, and perhaps a reason for this mentality is that she has been trying too hard for too long to stop the light of reason and morality from entering. In this play, one of the most redeeming lights is Ann. She carries the letter, acting as the deliverer of truth, her arrival essentially breaking everything down. In the opposite direction, Kate clings on with all her might to the one conviction she holds to be “true”: Joe is not guilty, in defiance to Ann and all that she symbolizes. Starting with a slightly casual “You gained a little weight, didn’t you, darling?”, Kate continues to bombard Ann with requests to pack up and leave, then an explicitly spiteful “You’re going in the morning, and you’re going alone. That’s your life, that’s your lonely life.” In these two sentences, there is a clear pattern of repeating the first part of the sentence, then adding something else to it at the second sentence (“going”, “going alone”; “life”, “lonely life”), both related to loneliness. That repetition in turn emphasizes Kate’s own self and her own patterns of unhealthy repetition, since she has long since sensed that revelation is not too far away, perhaps ever since she said “You above all have got to believe, you….” She knew loneliness will get to her somehow, but she tries to put this quality on Ann instead. The audience should sense this unpleasant situation somewhat, causing pity for Kate to arise. However, Kate presses on: “How did he die? You’re lying to me. If you know, how did he die?” The more persistent she is, the less sympathy from both her companions and the audience will she get, and that in itself would lead to loneliness. The loneliness will increase as the audience begins to realize that Ann symbolizes the community, not the family, the truth, not the lies, and the love, the “un-loneliness” when she sympathizes with Joe, as she chooses to spare him from reading the letter. “[Kate] grasps Ann’s wrists” with the clear intention of putting pressure on her; here Miller intends to make the audience lose affection toward her as she resorts to violence, right after the war, in a family in which past deeds are intimately connected with the war.
In terms of personality, Kate is a sly, clever and manipulative woman. She is the one who represents capitalism the most: she knows what she wants, she gets what she wants, and she knows how to exert control. When there is trouble and her subject of manipulation – namely, Joe – panics, she evades conversation, saying “Don’t ask me, Joe,” an imperative which shows who she is – a person who controls. Next, she says “whenever there’s trouble you yell at me”: this statement turns him into a victim in the flash of a second. The audience picks up this hint and notices her power. In fact, Kate does whatever it takes to reach her goal – a sign of practicality, and the emblem of capitalism – without caring a bit about the outer community. Arthur Miller shows this side of Kate in subtle dialogues, as when Kate tells Joe: “it don’t excuse it that you did it for the family”, making Joe feel guilty. Then, she says “There’s something bigger than the family to him,” not forgetting to repeat “there is to him.” The audience should be aware of the fact that the “to him” part is especially important here. Kate scolds Joe, all the while feeding him the reasons that get him into trouble. After that, she comforts him (“I know, darling, I know…”), acting like nothing ever happened. Pity is usually reserved for the weaker ones – the underdogs – so naturally, Kate would not get a lot of it after Miller chooses to show her for who she really is.
It eventually becomes clear that Kate’s point of view has not changed throughout the play. At the start, she was the one who was the most devastated, knowing that the apple tree fell down. The apple tree was a symbolic protection against the truth; with it gone, Ann arrived at the Kellers’ and started to reveal the whole incident. Kate’s aversion to Ann means that she is on the capitalists’ side, the selfish side, the evil side. That is in Act 1. In Act 2, Kate still wants to convince the whole family to “never let [Larry] go”. In the height of her argument, she slipped and told Chris that “if [Larry’s] dead, [Joe] killed him,” causing a major outburst between Chris and Joe, leading to Chris’ leaving the house to watch his own star of honesty go dull. However, Miller shows Joe’s inclinations most clearly in Act 3, when Joe says “Nothin’s bigger than [the family].” The audience should have an indication or two that he is under heavy influence from Kate, so this professed idealism of his also stems from her. This influence is what chains him and pulls towards his demise, since similar impulses pushed him to ship the defective cylinder heads.
The fact that Kate is an adamant person who would defend her point to the very last moment is shown through the last few lines, in which she comforts Chris. After all that they went through, even after the crime has been admitted and retribution has been paid, she still insists on defending the last of her family members. Kate has yet to learn her lesson, that she has to let go sometimes, that there is a bigger world out there. She has to grow up, to mature, like Chris, Larry, and Joe have. Before, Joe has described Larry thus: “To him the world had a forty-foot front, it ended at the building line.” Now he has matured and decided to do what he thought was right for the world he is living in. As for Chris, he has also matured, but in the other direction: he became “practical,” and now he is one of the selfish people, but he spits at himself. On the other hand, Joe followed Larry’s footsteps. All of them made good impressions on the audience because at least they knew that they had to change sooner or later. Kate does not. She does not want to, and it is natural that few people would want to talk to a person who does not possess an open-minded view on life. Therefore, it is hard to sympathize with Kate, whose point of view is already antithetical to what is “morally responsible” as it is; now, she is not even willing to change. Thus, it would be difficult to imagine a lot of people wanting to pity her at the end.
By the time the play has run its course, Kate from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is still the person she has always been: mulish, manipulative, and mercenary. She is prepared to protect the family that she has at all costs, even sacrificing the truth and maintaining the darkness she thought would always be sufficient to cover the decaying bones behind the closet’s closed doors. She is prepared to shut the light out with her intransigent mind. She is prepared to stop dead at the road, not taking any turn, any move, any action. She begins to pay the price, though, when the audience leaves, shedding on her little of the sympathy that illuminates the other characters.
Ordinary People Create Drama: A Comparison of All My Sons and The Importance of Being Earnest
Traditionally, drama has been an outlet for the extraordinary; only fairly recently with more modernist plays have the focus been shifted onto more ordinary lives. Greek tragedy follows the fall of a noble protagonist; by comparison, domestic tragedy as in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons revolves around ordinary people who are tested by crisis. Meanwhile, comedy often centres around an ‘everyman’ character, or otherwise an extraordinary parody. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest takes the latter approach, and the characters that appear within it are bold and subversive. In Miller’s tragedy, the Kellers are presented in every regard as normal, whereas both the male and female characters in The Importance of Being Earnest are outlandish, abnormal. Each of these character moulds is ideal for the drama the playwrights wish to create, as shaped by the conventions of the tragic or comic genre.
In the opening stage directions of All My Sons, the Keller household is described in great detail to establish a sense of normality. The house is ‘two stories high’ and ‘nicely painted’, and there is garden furniture in the backyard, which creates a representative, unexemplary first impression of a typical American family. However, this sense of the ordinary is offset by a sense somewhat like dread. There are some details in the set design which add a pervading discomfort to the overall atmosphere; the yard is ‘hedged in’ and claustrophobic, and the plants are ‘out of season’. By enclosing the space in this way, Miller can convey the feeling of ennui and displacement so characteristic of modernist writers. These themes make the Kellers appear more accessible to the audience, and thus, despite the subtle departure from flawless normality, more ordinary. These elements of the set design also hint as to Joe Keller’s inescapable moral predicament – he feels trapped by his own past mistakes and both covets and resents his seclusion, as is conveyed by the ‘cut off’ yard. What Joe Keller is revealed to have done – sending off faulty plane parts which resulted in the deaths of twenty one pilots – is explicitly decreed morally repugnant by those around him. Yet the audience is not allowed to distance themselves from Joe, despite his proclamations that ‘a man is in business’, which should set him apart. The set and the sense of normality it conveys is ever present in the background as a constant visual reminder of how typical the Kellers are. Thus, Joe’s mistakes are borne onto the audience, who are forced to question their own contribution to an exploitative economic system. The utter ordinariness of Miller’s main cast is integral in his pursuit to raise these questions, as the audience can substitute in any other suburban, middle-class family in their place, and in this way realize the responsibility we ought to have for one another.
Joe and Kate Keller have the onus of familial responsibility placed upon them, characterized as they are by their role as parents. These labels are ordinary and identifiable, and lie at the core of the emotional drama of the play. Kate and her conflicts are centered around her maternal role, and in her can be seen the neurotic need of the mother. She is fixated on the fate of her son Larry, believing him missing, and her mental abstraction drives her to physical disrepair; she must ask for ‘aspirin’, and she is kept from peaceful sleep by dreams of him ‘flying overhead’. When George visits, she responds by bringing him ‘grape juice’ and fussing over his weight, falling into the role of his parent quickly and easily. As she coddles each of those on stage, including herself and her own delusion (“Why can’t it be?”, she cries despite all evidence to the contrary), the ordinary role she fills is twisted into something almost sinister, and generates a sense of stifling unease. Miller uses his ordinary people to create unordinary feelings in his audience, by showcasing how these natural needs – familial belonging, money, reputation – can be perverted in a similar way as Kate does with her maternal role. Although she teeters on the brink of what seems to be imminent mental collapse, it is in fact Joe who ultimately crumbles under the pressure, which is something that is shocking. Joe Keller, as a physically ‘stolid’ character and father figure, should be strong but emerges as the weakest of the cast through his escape route of suicide. As well as characterising himself as a ‘man of business’, he also places himself firmly into the paternal role, and declares that if there’s anything greater than family, “I’ll put a bullet in my head.” By strongly associating himself with the duties of a father, his lack of moral principle when it came to the shipment of faulty engine parts is made all the more distressing. At the climax of the play, he utters the line “I guess they [the pilots] were all my sons”, and then retreats inside to shoot himself. He has failed in the responsibility of the father by leading to the deaths of both his firstborn son Larry and his other figurative children, those in wider society who rely on his support and protection most. Miller, by having his ordinary characters fail in their ordinary roles, inspires a further sense of pathos and moral righteousness in his audience.
By comparison, Jack and Algernon from the Importance of Being Earnest defy convention, and appear as extraordinary and farcical figures. Though arguably in some degree ‘ordinary’ due to the theatergoers of the era being predominantly being upper class as the two heroes are, Wilde makes no attempt to make the pair relatable or normal. They take upper class frivolity to the extreme, as both are dedicated ‘bunburyists’ – men who fabricate intricate lies in order to be able to lead two separate existences and escape their duties. Jack’s backstory is furthermore a pastiche of the Victorian appetite for melodrama, as he follows the classic trope of the disadvantaged orphan, exemplified through the prop of the ‘handbag’ found in the ‘cloakroom at Victoria station’. Algernon, on the other hand, appears as a stereotypical dandy, defined through his love of fine indulgences such as music, clothing, and, most notably, food. Algernon’s extraordinary appetite is the source of a recurring joke, first as he eats an entire platter of cucumber sandwiches and then pretends there were never any to begin with, and later devouring a stack of muffins in a ‘perfectly heartless manner’. The two men behave in almost every way exceptionally, and almost on impulse as they are pushed to steadily more extreme behaviours in order to cover for their previous deceptions, such as being rechristened under a different name. The extraordinary nature of the protagonists lies at the crux of The Importance of Being Earnest’s drama, and of its comedy. Their farcical behaviours push the envelope of the narrative, and create opportunities for Wilde’s satirical sense of humour.
The female characters in Oscar Wilde’s play are even more out of the ordinary, particularly for their time. In an age where the female sex was supposed to be submissive and compliant, Wilde’s women dominate. Lady Bracknell is a strong, authoritarian presence, who delivers her condemnatory views on a variety of topics, such as social rank, and the education system – she believes innocence to be a ‘delicate fruit’ that should not be tampered with. The manner in which she speaks, as well as being decisive, is often superfluous: “please rise from this semi-recumbent position”. She presents a barrier for resolution at both the play’s opening and close due to her beliefs in eligibility and propriety. She will not allow Gwendolen to ‘form an alliance with a parcel’ and has curated a list of acceptable alternative partners, while later she is a temporary obstacle to Algernon and Cecily’s union. It is because of the unwavering will of this extraordinary female character that the play progresses in the way it does. The other women, Gwendolen and Cecily, have a similar stubbornness of mind atypical of the setting. Both take charge of their lovers, dictating exactly how they should be proposed to – for example, Cecily orders Algernon “Please don’t cough”, while Gwendolen refuses to accept Jack because “You haven’t got down on one knee yet.” When these two women meet, an immediate power battle is established. The proxemics in this scene is revealing, as both ‘remain standing’, as they attempt to physically create a sense of command over the other. Gwendolen mentions her rank to show the authority she holds, and Cecily deliberately blunders while serving Gwendolen her tea by dropping in ‘four sugar cubes’. The way these women exercise their power provides a source of comedy, and yet it is satisfying for the audience when they revert to the expectations of their archetype; even though they announce “we will not be the first to speak”, they then immediately initiate a conversation with the two men and thus display their feminine weakness. The prior course of the play is far from smooth, and so the return to the ordinary and the expected is intrinsically tied into the resolution, with the men’s previous lies resolved, and the women made acquiescent.
Though the use of ordinary people is not strictly tied into either genre of tragedy or comedy, it can define and shape the nature in which the genre progresses. In Miller’s case, ordinary characters and setting are key to shaping his themes of responsibility, and to push the audience to deeply consider the conflicts presented in a very human tragedy. On the other hand, for Wilde’s comedy of manners, farce is necessary to satirize the flamboyant upper class, and therefore he must elevate his characters beyond the ordinary. However, some degree of normality is necessary in drama in order for it to truly resonate with the audience. The domestic setting in All My Sons creates sympathy and relatability, while the return to a semblance of normality at the denouement of The Importance of Being Earnest settles the dramatic structure and provides a final moment of catharsis following the hectic action of the previous three acts.
Society, Family, Catharsis: Male Protagonists in ‘All My Sons’ and ‘The Cement Garden’
Ian McEwan’s controversial, macabre bildungsroman, ‘The Cement Garden’, and Arthur Miller’s Ibsen-inspired domestic tragedy, “All My Sons”, both profoundly explore societal and familial demands and expectations laid upon men in these epochs-1946 and 1978 respectively. Aristotle’s definition of an ideal protagonist is “a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty… [and] is highly renowned and prosperous- a personage like Oedipus”. Subsequently, corrupt businessman Joe Keller in ‘All My Sons’ and confused adolescent, Jack in ‘The Cement Garden’ are identified as the protagonists rather than the other male leads (Joe’s son Chris and Jack’s estranged brother, Tom). They fulfill these criteria as a result of their shared hamartia- a hubristic nature, defining themselves by their fundamental masculine desires for financial power and success, sexuality and status- which is the catalyst to their downfalls and has a cathartic purging effect on the audience. Ultimately, in both these pieces of notable, postmodern literature, the characters’ protracted struggle with their own identities comes to a cataclysmic ending following the denouements. Joe and Jack’s identities teeter precariously on the fact that they are top of their familial hierarchies. Like other men of his era, Joe is not only expected to support his family as breadwinner, but also his country while at war; as said by Miller himself, “All my Sons is a realistic play illustrating the theme that a man must recognise his ethical responsibility to the world outside his home as well as in his own home”. Despite this overwhelming pressure for wealth and security being self-inflicted, he refuses to take responsibility for the consequences and blames his wife, Kate, for his own actions. In act three, he says “You wanted money, so I made money. What must I be forgive? You wanted money, didn’t you?”. Repetition of the word “money” highlights his primary focus, but the cacophonous sound foreshadows the effect his obsession will have and, although perhaps subconsciously, he is aware of this. Furthermore, his poor grammar not only implies that he is rushing amidst the height of emotional intensity, but also that he is uneducated both intellectually and socially, broadening the explanation for his desperate attempts for validation. This is reiterated by his rhetorical question and inability to appreciate that Kate is covering for him- he lacks the intelligence to recognise the error of his crimes. In his eyes, not achieving the goals he has set himself inevitably means failure as a man; so blaming her is a form of protection, preservation and a way to keep the possibility of the broken American dream alive. Although his actions may initially appear narcissistic and selfish, it could be argued that his aspirations for him and his family are his primary motives. He is willing to tarnish his reputation and live with guilt for his family’s benefit. Bosley Crowther expressed his agreement with this opinion in response to Edward G. Robinson’s portrayal of Joe Keller in the 1948 movie adaptation, stating he presented “a little tough guy who has a softer side… [who is] tender and considerate in the presence of those he loves”. However, it wasn’t these values that were passed on to his son, but rather his greed. Chris says earlier in act one “If I have to grub for money all day long at least at evening I want it beautiful. I want a family, I want some kids, I want to build something I can give myself to.” The repetition of ‘I want’ indicates his self-righteous nature, developed from an expectation to be the leader and thus most important and it is evident from the mistakes in sentence form that he too is equally uninformed. Ultimately, Arthur Miller is describing two very similar men and the fact that Chris is in many ways a reflection of his father, suggests that the way Chris is portrayed reveals Joe’s often well-hidden true character. The pastiche nuclear family wistfully constructed by the four siblings in ‘The Cement Garden’, is an insight into the perception of what was considered to be a desired family unit and the responsibility of men within it in the 1970s. Despite being set approximately three decades after ‘All My Sons’ and during a fundamental stage in social progression, the characters strive to assume stereotypical roles, naively emulating the unrealistic families in movies and television shows such as ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Seventeen-year-old Julie takes on the position of housewife while fourteen-year-old Jack becomes the surrogate father who protects his younger siblings, thirteen-year-old Sue and six-year-old Tom, who act as their children. It is this role that comes to be his main focus for development; reflecting the social psychological structures suggested by Erik Erikson, Jack is at the stage of his maturation where he is questioning who he is and the position he wants to have in society. Because of his patriarchal mentality, he expects that as the father figure, he will be head of the family, however Julie, whose age gives her clout, initially proves him wrong. Evidently, unlike in ‘All My Son’s’, there is a power struggle between the male and female lead, but Jack’s determination and need to be the ‘alpha male’ leads to him ultimately having power over his three siblings, which they resent- as indicated by Julie who says “he wants to be one of the family, you know, big smart daddy. He’s getting on my nerves”. He strives solely for this outcome from the opening of the book, highlighted first by the pride he experiences to walk “in front followed by… [his] father” rather than following like before”, and it is seemingly this aim that defines Jack’s identity. However, the end of the novel sees his willingness to coalesce his newfound power with infantilization as he takes the submissive role while consummating his incestuous relationship with his sister. As Jeannette Baxter points out “this act of filial desire is couched in vertiginous terms” which suggest his “uncertainty of knowing how to negotiate trauma”; Jack’s description of feeling “weightless, tumbling through space with no sense of up or down” supports this. Furthermore, the sibilance in this section, such as “soft shudder” juxtaposes sensuality with an unsettling ambiance. Combined, these two linguistic features identify Jack as a confused individual who is merely forceful and dominant on the surface. With his “lips around Julie’s nipple”, he makes himself vulnerable and reverts to sexually twisted infantile behavior and childlike lack of conscientiousness, whilst emancipating him of the pressures of male gender stereotypes. Due to their familial status, both protagonists are derogatory and repressive in their actions towards women. Joe is described as “a man among men”- he sees men only as his equals and his subjugation of women limits them to the domestic arena and community. This treatment was, for the most part, universal as indicated by the surfacing of works such as Betty Friedan’s ‘Feminine Mystique’. It was, therefore, something the audience would have related to, which is necessary as tragedy is defined partly as “an imitation of an action that is serious”, therefore it must be something in existence. Maltreatment is made abundantly clear by the fact that Kate continuously refers to Joe by name but he does not reciprocate this respect, and Kate being titled “mother” in the stage directions. They also describe her as “a woman of uncontrollable inspirations and an overwhelming capacity for love”- using a word in the semantic field of hysteria, “uncontrollable” not only plays into the Antediluvian opinion that women are unstable and inferior, but also suggests that as a women she should be controlled by her significant other, Joe. The emotive aposiopesis in Keller’s “commanding outburst” ending in the threatening phrase “I better –” highlights his masculine authority and the way it silences those he disparages. The depictions of females in the play and in ‘The Cement Garden’ are vital to understand the males, as male identities only exist when compared to women. Kate’s weaknesses make Joe appear both physically and emotionally stronger. He is a “heavy man of stolid mind and build”, who has come to terms with the death of his son (unlike his wife). Furthermore, comments Kate makes throughout the play provide insight into the misogynistic and judgmental views of Joe, who has likely seeded the ideas. For instance, the way she speaks about Ann’s appearance, such as “I think her nose got longer” and “You gained a little weight, didn’t you, darling?” suggests that Joe has potentially said these things about her own appearance and she is in fact mirroring them, hence implying Joe’s manipulative and subtly abusive temperament. Applying the same theory would, however, suggest that he too has a nurturing and affectionate side, implied by the typical term of endearment- “darling”, but he is ostensibly depicted otherwise as a proudly oppressive tyrant. Jack’s attitude towards female ‘inferiority’ is similar to that of Joe, he expects them to be subservient; demonstrated by his disgust towards his brother dressing as a girl. This is recognised by Julie who tells him, “girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short and wear shirts and boots because it’s okay to be a boy; for girls it’s like promotion. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, according to you, because secretly you believe that being a girl is degrading.” Furthermore, his sexual objectification of his sisters and disregard for anything but their physical attributes is, assumedly, the way he would view women in general. Only five paragraphs into the book Jack is uncomfortably describing the “skin clung tightly to her [Sue’s] rib cage”, “muscular ridge of her buttocks” and “little flower of flesh” and soon “the soft line” of Julie’s mouth. “Little”, “flower” and “soft” conspicuously confirm Jack’s supposition for women to be innocent and pure yet weak. Defining his sisters using a series of synecdoches gives a sense of depersonalisation and divulges his newfound hyperfocus on the female body; manifestly, his burgeoning sexuality is a defining feature of his character. Ultimately, ‘The Cement Garden’ is an odyssey that revolves around Jack’s developing identity throughout his arduous ascent into manhood and subsequent discovery of his sexuality. Lacking a male role model, Jack fails to pass the phallic stages of development as described by Freud and Kohlberg, and consequently he has a dangerously radical Oedipus complex. The small impact his despotic father has on him was the abuse and manipulation of women: Jack describes how he “knew how to use his pipe against her”. His lack of guidance, combined with the resent he feels towards his father (stressed by the plosives surrounding his description) is what fuels his need for superiority and thus degradation of women. The dogged desires of the protagonists to emulate what they perceive as masculine values lead them to make mistakes (essentially murder and incest) and become anti-heroes. Like the majority of Miller’s protagonists, following Aristotelian principles, Joe’s hamartia and hubristic nature causes his demise but unlike John Proctor, Eddie Carbone or even Willy Loman, his suicide is selfish, rather than altruistic martyrdom. It is true to his character that he would sooner capitulate to his sins than atone and reach redemption. Cynically, Joe believes the masculine values he strives for to be unobtainable. He will never fulfill the moral responsibilities thrust upon him as identified by the biblical reference “a man can’t be Jesus in this world’; which is his justification for abandoning his cause. How can one be something that does not exist? Comparing himself to “Jesus” shows he seeks solace in a higher power and is somewhat vulnerable, a characteristic he believes to be undesirable due to its feminine connotations. His name, Keller is a pun for ‘killer’, marking him as guilty from the outset, despite his continuous attempts to conceal this. The moment “a shot is heard in the house”, marks Joe’s disillusionment and is in fact him coming to terms with his identity in an exceedingly sinister manner. This anagnorisis moment would have shocked the audience and been a moment of manipulated tension- Miller said, “the audience sat in silence… and gasped when they should have, and I tasted that power… which is to know that by one’s invention a mass of strangers has been publicly transfixed”. However, being a tragedy of the common man and the subtle championing of the underdog makes it difficult to look so negatively upon Joe. Both works evoke a catharsis in the audience and reader, intensified by the somewhat relatable situations the protagonists are in, making their demises all the more disturbing and painful to watch. The falsehood of the concept of masculinity is portrayed- striving to become a strong and respected man has detached Joe from reality and leads to a lack of morality; accordingly his identity within society is ironically demeaned despite this being the opposite of his intentions. As ‘All My Sons’ created controversy among a 1950s audience with the honest depiction of the futility of the American dream, ‘The Cement Garden’ did with incest and sexual self-discovery- “the novel skillfully inverts the traditional maturation narratives”- and Jack’s hastened rites of passage prove immensely destructive- in this way it is an urbanised adaptation of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. Like most young adults, Jack has long aspired to be independent and virile. However, “given that instant adulthood they all crave” too quickly proves traumatizing and harmful. He develops such a degree of hegemonic masculinity in the space of days that he loses sense of his own identity, in fact it bifurcates- symbolized in the line, “I stared at my own image till it began to disassociate itself and paralyse me with its look”. The pronoun “it” underlines his dissatisfaction with himself and longing to be different. Additionally, his distressed questioning of his own character leads him into a spiral of immoral choices, culminating in his sexual relationship with his sister, and a constant feeling of unrecognised shame. The repeating nightmares of his mother reprimanding him for his serial masturbating, is a clear indication of this, in a sense it is him punishing himself. The taboo emotions and experiences described, although often hyperbolic, are relatable; as argued by William Sutcliffe who stated that the novel elicits “a degree of self-excavation that exposes seams one did not expect to find when the digging began”. However, the unwillingness of many to admit to these ideas to themselves, let alone others, led the book to initially be banned in many schools and receive equally negative responses as positive. Jack is on the cusp of manhood but “torn between the impulses to progress and regress” he makes mistakes and, much to the repulsion of the reader, sexually objectifies his sister, henceforth poignantly imprisoning him in a state of immaturity. In spite of the fact that Jack and Joe have internalized idealisms of the perfect family and American dream, they are driven by their innate instincts and pseudo masculinity, which is the catalyst for their downfalls and termination of their ceaseless desires. Evidently, both Ian McEwan and Arthur Miller focus predominantly on character analysis and development rather than plot in ‘The Cement Garden’ and ‘All My Sons’. The identity of each male protagonist, Jack and Joe, is explored and deconstructed; at the core they are defined by a primitive desire for sexual dominance, a definitive God complex and inability to accept that they are not all powerful. However, the pursuit of these ‘masculine’ attributes leads to their ultimate demise; Joe is taken from a guiltless state of innocence to intense remorse, by nature of his sentient being, pushing him to commit suicide, whereas Jack’s inability to see the indecorousness of his relationship with his sister leads Derek to call the police. Characterising the two by their flaws rather than strengths could be intended to encourage self-reflection in the audience and reader, thus bettering oneself by breaking the shell of superficiality so many rely on to create a favourable identity rather than a real one. The final note is “you can be better!”
Bibliography 1. Aristotle translated by S.H. Butcher, Poetics (Martino Fine Books, 2011) 2. Arthur Miller, Collected Plays “Introduction” (Allied Publishers, 1972) 3. Bosley Crowther, Film Review (The New York Times,1948) 4. Jeannette Baxter, Ian McEwan: Contemporary Critical Perspective, 2nd Edition (Bloomsbury, 2013), page. 24 5. Linda Napikoski, The Feminine Mystique (About Education, 2016) The Book That Sparked Women’s Liberation 6. Sunday Times, The Cement Garden, blurb 7. William Sutcliffe, Cracking Up (The Guardian, 2005) 8. Sam Mills, Sam Mills’s top 10 books about the darker side of adolescence (The Guardian, 2006) 9. Šárka Smejkalová supervised by Mgr. Lucie Podroužková, PhD, Characters’ Transformations in Ian Mcewan’s Works (Brno 2007) 10. Wikipedia (2016) The Cement Garden [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cement_Garden] 11. Wikipedia (2016) All My Sons [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_My_Sons]  Aristotle translated by S.H. Butcher, Poetics (Martino Fine Books, 2011), section 2 Part XIII  Arthur Miller, Collected Plays “Introduction” (Allied Publishers, 1972), page 11  Bosley Crowther, Film Review (The New York Times,1948)  Jeannette Baxter, Ian McEwan: Contemporary Critical Perspective, 2nd Edition (Bloomsbury, 2013), page. 24  Jeannette Baxter, Ian McEwan: Contemporary Critical Perspective, 2nd Edition (Bloomsbury, 2013), page. 24  Aristotle translated by S.H. Butcher, Poetics (Martino Fine Books, 2011), section 1 Part VI  Arthur Miller, Collected Plays “Introduction” (Allied Publishers, 1972)  Sunday Times, The Cement Garden, blurb  William Sutcliffe, Cracking Up (The Guardian, 2005)  Sam Mills, Sam Mills’s top 10 books about the darker side of adolescence (The Guardian, 2006)