All My Sons

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Kate Keller Character Analysis

Joe’s devoted wife, Kate knows of Joe’s malfeasance during the war and seeks to “sweep under the rug” her husband’s moral failings. Kate also waits, day in, day out, for her son Larry’s return, and curses her other son, Chris, for wanting to move on, and for desiring to marry Annie, whom Larry had dated before the war. At the play’s end, however, after Joe’s death, Kate tells Annie and Chris to move away from the small town and start a new family on their own.

Kate Keller Quotes in All My Sons

The All My Sons quotes below are all either spoken by Kate Keller or refer to Kate Keller. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin edition of All My Sons published in 2000.
Act 1 Quotes

She was out here when it broke.
When?
About four this morning. I heart it cracking and I woke up and looked out. She was standing right here when it cracked.

Related Characters: Joe Keller (speaker), Chris Keller (speaker), Kate Keller
Related Symbols: Larry’s Tree
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Kate has trouble sleeping, and when she this is the case, she tends to go out into the front yard to observe Larry's tree. The tree is a complex symbol for Kate. On the one hand, it represents Larry, her beloved son who was lost at war. It is a memorial to him. On the other hand, Kate wants to believe that Larry needs no memorial at all—that he is still alive, waiting to be found somewhere in the Pacific.

Thus it is unclear what it means, for Kate and the other characters, when the tree is hit by lightning. Does this mean that Larry himself is dead, destroyed? Or does it mean that the idea of a memorial for Larry is no longer necessary—that Larry is still alive? Larry is in fact dead, but Kate still holds out hope for his return. Later in the play, Kate will learn more information about what has happened to her son—but at that point, Kate is not sure she wants to know that information. 

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But I’ll always love that girl. She’s one that didn’t jump into bed with somebody else as soon as it happened with her fella.

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Ann Deever
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Kate praises Ann in a manner that is actually chastising her. Kate pretends not to know why Ann would want to visit the Keller family now, since Larry is still missing. Both Kate and Joe seem to acknowledge that there is a friendship between Chris and Ann, but neither is willing to accept the possibility that Chris and Ann might wish to be married. This suspension of belief is similar to the suppression of other difficult truths in the play—namely, that Larry is still alive, or that Joe might have been responsible for the faulty parts just as much as, or more than, Steve was. 

Thus Kate's praise is actually a veiled criticism. Kate wants to make sure that Ann knows she is not really permitted to move beyond Larry. For, if Ann does so, this would imply that other members of the family would have to, too. And Kate and Joe are not ready to do this—not ready to accept the reality that Larry really did perish during the Second World War. 

See? We should have never planted that tree. I said so in the first place; it was too soon to plan a tree for him.
Too soon!
We rushed into it . . . .

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Chris Keller (speaker), Larry Keller
Related Symbols: Larry’s Tree
Page Number: 20-1
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an even more explicit reference, on Kate's part, to the idea that Larry might still in fact be alive. Chris understands that this really cannot be the case. Furthermore, Chris knows that Kate and Joe's unwillingness to accept Larry's death is a way for the family both to deal with the trauma of the war and to refuse to move beyond it.

Chris, however, does want to leave the war behind. He does not want to remain in Larry's shadow, and he does not want to be compared to his brother anymore. Larry is no longer alive, and so he can no longer marry Ann, or raise a family with her, or return to the town and take over the family business. For Chris, life really begins with the acknowledgement that Larry truly is gone. 

As in the quotation above, the tree is a complex, "overdetermined" symbol. On the one hand, it is a celebration of Larry's life. On the other, it marks the fact that he is truly gone, and thus requires a memorial. Thus as much as Kate is drawn to the tree, walking to it in the night, she also knows that the tree itself "replaces" Larry—just as Chris has "replaced" Larry as Ann's lover. 

Act 2 Quotes

And now you’re going to listen to me, George. You had big principles, Eagle Scouts the three of you [Larry, George, Chris] . . . Stop being a philosopher, and look after yourself. Like Joe was just saying—you move back here, he’ll help you get set, and I’ll find you a girl and put a smile on your face.

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Joe Keller, Chris Keller, George Deever, Larry Keller
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Kate more explicitly addresses what she perceives to be George's "problem." Kate believes that everything can be solved by the creation of an intact family unit. This is perhaps why she is most haunted by Larry's loss—because Larry was not able to return, marry Ann, and begin his own family. Although Kate also wants Chris to have a family, she is cooler on the prospect of Chris's marrying Ann, who is "Larry's girl," and who belongs therefore to a different family unit.

Kate ignores, then, what George is really saying—that Joe is a criminal and a liar, and that he has been living his lie for some years. That is a fact Kate cannot approach—just as she cannot tell herself that Larry is really gone. It is much easier for Kate to believe, instead, that the problem is George's—that George has not recovered from the war, and that he just needs a wife and family to set him straight. 

You, Joe . . . you’re amazingly the same.
Say, I ain’t got time to get sick.
He hasn’t been laid up in fifteen years.
Except my flu during the war.

Related Characters: Joe Keller (speaker), Kate Keller (speaker), George Deever (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a turning point in the play—a juncture wherein it becomes clear that Joe is, in fact, lying about what he did, or didn't do, during the production of the faulty airplane parts. Joe has previously claimed that he was not at the plant that day because he was sick with the flu. But his inveterate pride also causes him to proclaim, here, that he is never, ever sick—thus essentially contradicting his own alibi. Joe's bluster, his desire to be the alpha male in all situations, here gets him into trouble—and George, ever astute, seems to pick up on this.

Joe has had to manage his lie carefully ever since the war. A great deal of his life, indeed, has been consumed by the maintenance of the lie—the argument that Steve is solely responsible for the faulty parts, and that he, Joe, has maintained his integrity. Joe has even gone so far as to offer Steve a job (though not his co-ownership) after his prison sentence. But even Joe seems to realize, at this point in the play, that the lie is fraying—that his own guilt is becoming more and more clear.

Act 3 Quotes

What’d Joe do, tell him?
Tell him what?
Don’t be afraid, Kate, I know. I’ve always known.
How?
It occurred to me a long time ago.

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Dr. Jim Bayliss (speaker), Joe Keller
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an immensely important moment in the play. Jim reveals that he has known all along that Joe must have been guilty—that Joe's alibi has never stood up to scrutiny. But Jim also states that this is okay—that sometimes, in the course of a person's life, a man has to lie in order to put himself in a better position to succeed. The world is composed of people who have done this, and Jim does not except himself from this company. He talks, later in this passage, of a time he briefly left his wife, and says that the two swept this behavior under the rug as if it never occurred.

Thus Chris learns here that it is not so important that the town has to actually forget all that has happened during the war. The problem is not total suppression of the truth—the problem is Chris's concern with finding that truth out. Jim states that one does not need the truth—what one needs, instead, is a willingness to plow on regardless, to maintain the status quo and avoid causing trouble. 

You have no strength. The minute there’s trouble you have no strength.
Joe, you’re doing the same thing again; all your life whenever there’s trouble you yell at me and you think that settles it.

Related Characters: Joe Keller (speaker), Kate Keller (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Joe blames Kate for not having strength. This is ironic at best, and at worst cruel of Joe, who has asked Kate to keep many of the family's secrets for years, including his own guilt in the case of the faulty parts (a guilt that Kate has always understood). Joe's bursts of anger punctuate the play. They are as much a fact of life in the town as other, more pleasant interactions between families. 

Kate stands up to Joe here, however. She implies, as she has not before, that she has stood by Joe during the terrible trials their family has endured. And she has placed her faith in Joe—she has not wavered in her support, even as their neighbors more or less acknowledge that Joe is probably culpable, at least in part, for the faulty plane components. Kate thus argues that Joe only knows how to oppose, how to get angry—he will do anything to defend his name. What Joe cannot do, however, is justify his behavior during the war, as it was Joe's negligence that caused the parts to be shipped.

Joe, Joe . . . it don’t excuse it that you did it for the family.
It’s got to excuse it!
There’s something bigger than the family to him.

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Joe Keller
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation Joe offers the central justification for his behavior during the war. He admits that it was wrong, or at least implies it—he knows that his actions resulted in the deaths of American servicemen. But he argues that there is an even greater obligation for the patriarch of a family—and that is the obligation to his wife and children. Joe believes that he did what he could to protect his company during war, and that this resulted in a better life for those who depend upon him.

This reasoning (essentially, that the ends justify the means) will prove to be wishful thinking as the play goes on, however. For Ann and Chris realize that Larry really did die because of the faulty parts—he decided to kill himself in his shame and guilt over his father's sins. That is, Larry was essentially killed by Joe's negligence, his willingness to cut corners. But even if this weren't the case—even if Joe had only killed other people's children—his behavior still would have been wrong. Joe finally believes this and acknowledges it when he says that all the servicemen were "his sons," toward the end of Act 3.

My dear, if the boy was dead, it wouldn’t depend on my words to make Chris know it . . . .The night he gets into your bed, his heart will dry up. Because he knows and you know. To his dying day he’ll wait for his brother!

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Chris Keller, Ann Deever
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Kate's bitterness over the loss of Larry knows no bounds. She is even willing to compromise Chris's happiness in order to "prove" that Ann ought to wait for Larry, and that Chris is merely moving in on "his brother's girl." Kate appears to need this illusion—that of Larry's safe return—in order to keep living. But she does not seem to realize, or does not care, that her insistence on Larry's lingering presence is ruining the happiness of those around her, even her own son.

Kate's argument here, too, echoes what she and Joe feel all the time: a deep-down, half-conscious guilt. Each character in the Keller family—those who have survived—nurses a different form of guilt. Joe knows that he has negligently killed Americans. Kate knows that Joe is guilty, and that she has helped him to cover up his guilt. And Chris feels, rightly or wrongly, that perhaps he is achieving happiness at Larry's expense—a happiness Larry did not survive to feel.

What are you talking about? What else can you do?
I could jail him! I could jail him, if I were human any more. But I’m like everybody else now. I’m practical now. You made me practical.
But you have to be.

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Chris Keller (speaker), Joe Keller
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

"Practicality" is an important concept for all those in the Keller family, as well as for George and Ann. Joe believes it was "practical" to cover up his guilt and let Steve take the fall for the parts. After all, Joe thought, Steve was guilty of not standing up to Joe—and someone had to keep going and keep the firm alive. Kate is "practical" in her belief that Larry will return—even though this "practicality" is actually an irrational unwillingness to accept the overwhelmingly likely scenario that Larry is really gone.

And Chris's "practicality" takes on many forms. He knows that it is "practical" to get married and start a family. But love is also not a practical consideration in its fullest form—and Chris really does love Ann. He is not marrying her because he is just "standing in for" Larry—he is doing so because he loves Ann and wishes to start a family of his own. The only practical consideration for turning Joe in, then, would be to expiate the family's guilt, and to atone for their sins. 

The war is over! Didn’t you hear? It’s over!
Then what was Larry to you? A stone that fell into the water? It’s not enough for him [Joe] to be sorry. Larry didn’t kill himself to make you and Dad sorry.
What more can we be!

Related Characters: Kate Keller (speaker), Chris Keller (speaker), Joe Keller, Larry Keller
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Kate's statement—The war is over!—means that the past is really in the past, that there is nothing anyone can do to change it. Kate believes that, whatever crimes Joe committed, whatever guilt the family bears, they must be ignored if the family is to continue on into the future. This is why the Kellers remained in the neighborhood and lived their lives as though nothing had happened.

But Larry also remains the reason why the Kellers cannot fully let go of the war. Because Kate holds out hope that Larry will, in fact, return, the war is never truly relegated to the past in the Keller household. Instead, Larry's continual "possibility" of reappearance, though it really is no possibility, forces Kate to relive the war each day. She cannot, and will not, move beyond it.

Chris points out that Larry did not die to hurt anyone. Indeed, Larry was a victim of Joe's sins, and Joe must acknowledge this in order for everyone's lives to continue. The past must be addressed. Joe finally does this, quickly and summarily, before killing himself, and only then does Kate tell Ann and Chris to move away, to begin new lives apart from the Keller family.

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Kate Keller Character Timeline in All My Sons

The timeline below shows where the character Kate Keller appears in All My Sons. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
...Keller home, with Joe Keller, head of the family, father of two boys, husband to Katie Keller, sitting outside reading the paper alongside his friend and neighbor Dr. Jim Bayliss. Keller... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...at the shorn tree that once memorialized Larry. Chris tells Joe, to Joe’s surprise, that Kate, Joe’s wife and Chris’s mother, has already seen the tree in its broken state; she... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...to his father, saying that they (he and his father) have “made a mistake” with Kate because they have kept her under the false impression that Larry might still be alive,... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...marry him, even though he knows that Annie was once “Larry’s girl,” and even though Kate will not approve of the union—since it will mean, symbolically, that Larry is truly dead,... (full context)
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Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
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Joe is nervous about how this news will affect Kate, and he refuses to tell Chris, in a straightforward manner, how he feels about Chris... (full context)
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...to build up and hand over, eventually, to his son. Without their argument being resolved, Kate walks outside and sees them talking; interrupting, she asks Joe if he threw out a... (full context)
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Joe grumbles about needing a maid around the house to help his wife, and Kate reminds Joe that they have a maid, and that today is her day off. Joe... (full context)
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Loss and Memory Theme Icon
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...longer mourning Larry, and that she has waited to get married for other reasons. But Kate will have none of that. She instead tells Chris about her dream of the previous... (full context)
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Loss and Memory Theme Icon
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Chris is shocked to hear that Kate believes it is “too soon” to be mourning Larry. Chris says that the tree’s being... (full context)
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Kate reminds Joe of the other Americans presumed lost in the war who have returned home,... (full context)
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Just then, Annie comes out with Chris to say hello to Joe and Kate. Joe is happy to see Annie and tells her how beautiful she is, but Kate... (full context)
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Annie tells Chris, in front of Joe and Kate, that she’s surprised he has so many clothes, but Chris reveals that Annie is staying... (full context)
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Joe and Kate also ask after Annie’s father, Steve, and mother—there seems to have been some trouble in... (full context)
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Frank comes over and says hello; Annie remarks that Frank is growing bald, and Kate tells Annie that Frank has three kids with Lydia now. Annie and Frank appear uncomfortable... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
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...father’s negligence didn’t kill Larry, who happened to go missing in a plane crash. But Kate begs Annie never to say again that her father’s negligent act was responsible for Larry’s... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
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...Chris she wants to go for a drive, and the two exit to do so. Kate comes outside and warns Joe that George’s arrival can’t bode well—George, now a lawyer living... (full context)
Act 2
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
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Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...outside, in dress pants but no shirt, clearing away the brush from Larry’s sheared tree. Kate comes out, not yet dressed for dinner, to see what Chris is doing. Kate tells... (full context)
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Chris forcefully but still politely objects, to Kate, to the idea that Annie has anything to do with George’s visit. Annie comes outside,... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
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...anger, which Jim believes to have to do with the Joe-Steve affair, will only cause Kate grief, and Jim is worried about Kate’s fragile state of mind. But Chris says George... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
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...George says he liked the house better before. George drinks some of the grape beverage Kate has set out for him—an old favorite—but announces sourly to Ann and Chris that he’s... (full context)
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Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
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But Kate comes outside and, sensing there is trouble, tries to soothe George, talking about his favorite... (full context)
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Kate comes outside again and finally convinces George to stay for dinner and get on the... (full context)
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Kate goes inside for a moment, and comes back out to announce that she’s packed Annie’s... (full context)
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Kate then screams to Joe and Chris that Chris has to understand something: if Larry is... (full context)
Act 3
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At the beginning of this short, final Act, Jim finds Kate outside, rocking on the porch by the backyard, at two in the morning. Kate tells... (full context)
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Jim alludes to the possibility of an argument between Chris and Joe over Annie, but Kate tells him, flat-out, that the argument was about George and Steve. Jim reveals that he... (full context)
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Joe comes outside to see how Kate is doing, and Jim goes offstage, saying he will take his car and drive around... (full context)
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...Annie comes out to the porch, and sits silently for a moment with Joe and Kate. They find they have difficulty saying anything to one another—they all know what has transpired... (full context)
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...trauma, and so he does not learn of the letter immediately. Chris asks Annie and Kate, who is in morbid shock, to sit down: he announces to both that he is... (full context)
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...truly punish the deed that his father has done. Joe comes outside to join Annie, Kate, and Chris, and tells Chris that, if Chris wants, he will go to jail (he... (full context)
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Annie takes the letter and, though Kate tries to intercept her, shoves it in Chris’s hands, telling Chris it was the last... (full context)
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...for the deaths of some pilots, he was not responsible for Larry’s. Joe tells Annie, Kate, and Chris that, although he always thought he didn’t kill his own son, he has... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
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...themselves—that their responsibilities lies outside the immediate Keller family. Upstairs, a gunshot is heard, and Kate screams again, calling for Jim; Joe has shot himself out of grief. Chris is now... (full context)