Social Responsibility in All My Sons

Theme of Social Responsibility in All My Sons-Arthur Miller

Social Responsibility in All My Sons : Arthur Miller is regarded as an intellectual dramatist, his play “All My Sons” presents moral, social and political ideas. Arthur Miller has expressed the positive relationship between the individual and society. Miller has artistically exposed and bitterly criticized injustice, exploitation, capitalism, over-competition, and vested private interest in “All My Sons”.

Social Responsibility in All My Sons

The play, “All My Sons” also unveils the post-war disillusionment and horrors of war along with some of the splendid human qualities. Arthur Miller’s three-act play “All My Sons” was staged in 1947; Miller has bitterly attacked the human tendency to put one’s self above all else which causes suffering and confusion.


Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons” deals with the theme of social responsibility of each and every individual towards his society and country. Miller believed that no economic and material progress can bring happiness to man’ life. He felt that no material and economic progress can change the countenance of the world but spiritual and moral strength. Miller always asserted that it is immoral for the man to accumulate wealth in great degree at the expense of his society, country and family.

Every man wants to acquire wealth and social position and he disregards the interest and welfare of society and country. This extreme avarice and selfishness often do great damage not only to his family but also to his country. Miller has refused to accept material wealth as a sign of progress and happiness. The theme of “All My Sons” revolves round this concept and the play is realistic and it bitterly criticizes the attitude of the twentieth century American society towards life.

In the play “All My Sons”, Joe Keller is a businessman who regards his family as his chief interest and he has built and developed his business for his material progress. He has received a contract of supplying cylinder heads to army air force. The crucial events of the play have been described with flashbacks. Joe Keller and his business partner, Steve Deever have started a business which has been given a contract for the production of cylinder heads during the Second World War.

The cylinder heads are supposed to be utilized by American Army Air Force. Unfortunately, a particular batch of cylinder heads got hair-lined cracks. As a business partner, Steve Deever hesitated to dispatch such a defective batch of cylinder heads to the American Army. But Joe Keller insisted and persuade Steve Deever on telephone to dispatch the batch defective cylinder heads by wrapping up the cracks.

Joe Keller did not think of the consequences of dispatching those cylinder heads to Army Air Force during the war-time. He gave assurance to Steve Deever that nothing worst would happen and took all the responsibility on him. Owing to those defective cylinder heads the engines of the airplanes broke down and twenty-one pilots died in an accident who were flying p-40 airplanes.

Joe Keller supplied those defective cylinder heads in order to make money putting aside his country’s welfare. He put the lives of twenty-one pilots in danger for earning huge amount of money. His greed and competitive attitude during the war caused the death of twenty-one young pilots. This made his son Larry to commit suicide and put psychological burden on his wife Kate who is aware of her husband’s guilt. Larry’s suicide is caused by the frustration of his idealistic view of his father, while Chris reacts strongly to his father’s crime.

Chris says: “I know you are no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father. I can’t look at you this way, I can’t look at myself!”

Joe Keller’s reckless attitude and his avarice spoils the happiness of his family and it does great damage to his country. He does not understand the significance of social responsibility.

Both Joe Keller and Steve Deever are prosecuted in the court after the war. Joe Keller passed all blame to Steve Deever. As a result, Joe Keller was acquitted while Deever was sentenced to imprisonment. Steve’s son George becomes a lawyer. When asked about his profession George declares he found the law sensible in the study ‘but outside there doesn’t seem to be much of a law’. These casual comments on the social context of the characters heightens the effect of the play.

Joe Keller’s wife, Kate knew Joe’s guilt and the neighbors were also aware of it. But Kate has no other choice but to defend her husband. She is caught in a trap of dilemma. She doesn’t know whether to give priority to her husband’s safety or think first about her country’s welfare.

Joe Keller has not only spoilt the happiness of Deever’s family but also brought disgrace to his own family. When Chris Keller comes to know about his father’s guilt he is greatly shocked. There is a transition in his thinking from his personal sad state to the nature of society he lives in. Chris is the part of that capitalist society which puts stress on excessive competition, and over co-operation. It is a society in which the profit of the weak is neglected. Chris feels:

This is a land of the great, big dogs, you don’t love a man here, you eat him! That’s the principle, the only one we live by – it just happened to kill a few people this time, that’s all. The world’s that way, how can I take it out on him? what sense does that make? this is a zoo, a zoo!”

Thus, Chris Keller is totally disillusioned and dejected when he learns about his father’s guilt. He sums up the attitude of people in a fewest possible words. He considers his country as a land devoid of love, compassion and sense of honour. Joe Keller has evaded his social responsibility in order to gain profits and run his business. When Chris demands explanation from his father.

Joe Keller defends himself by saying that he has certainly committed the blunder but that was done for the sake of his family. Chris, however, does not agree with his father’s view. He thinks that there is something bigger than a man’s family. He regards a man’s duty to his country and his society of which he is a member as more important than a man’s duty to himself and his family.

At the end of the play, Larry’s letter which he had written to Ann Deever also reveals that Larry had committed suicide because he had not been able to bear the criminal acts of his father who has cheated his motherland and his people.

Joe Keller, finally realizes that the twenty-one pilots who had been flying p-40 airplanes, had died only because of the greed and recklessness of one man-Joe Keller. The twenty-one pilots who were killed in the accident, should have been regarded by Joe as his sons even as Larry was.

It was Joe’s responsibility towards his country and his sons to support them. But things turned unexpectedly opposite. Joe Keller deceived his country and his people in order to make money.

Kate Keller also points out that Joe Keller had been wrong in putting the interest of his family above all things. Chris also feels helpless and dejected says that he has become a practical man – a man having no reverence, honour and love for his country like his father. Chris thinks that even if he sends his to prison, he would not bring back those twenty-one pilots back to life.

This time also Joe Keller tries to defend his case strongly by saying that if he has done wrong, he must go to jail but then half of the population of his country should also go to jail because they have been making money during the war by foul methods.

But Joe’s defense could not placate the anger of Chris. He suspected his father’s crimes but he did not have enough courage to face the fact that he did all that. Chris, in Act III, accuses himself of cowardice: “It’s true. I’m yellow. I was made yellow in this house because I suspected my father and I did nothing about it.” In the end, he decides to leave his house.

George rightly accuses and blames Joe. He tells his sister Ann, “You are not going to marry Chris.” “Because his father destroyed your family.” Joe was responsible for Steve’s suffering, his son’s Larry death and the death of the pilots. George considers Joe a hypocrite who has robbed the happiness of his family and earned money by employing foul method. He tells Ann that whatever Joe has earned is stained with blood. So, she must not marry Chris and stay there. Thus, the characters of Chris, Ann and George become the mouthpiece of Arthur Miller.


In this way, Arthur Miller has depicted the money madness of the contemporary modern society of the period. Joe Keller is a representative of that class of society which accumulates wealth at the expense of social and national welfare. By doing so, he not only spoils the happiness of his family but also affects the harmony of the society. The money madness and capitalism in society has ruined the life ordinary people.

Arthur Miller has artistically described the effects of materialism and capitalism on 20th century American society.  In brief, Miller has tried to convey the idea that though man is a part of a social fabric, he is closely associated with it, and his actions have great impact on his society.

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