All My Sons

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Larry’s Tree Symbol Analysis

Larry’s Tree Symbol Icon
Larry’s disappearance in the war is one of the Keller family’s great traumas. After the war and Chris’s return to work for Joe, the family planted a tree to memorialize Larry, in the backyard, although Kate never gave up hope that Larry might return alive. In the beginning of the play, the tree is found shorn in half by the wind, in August, the same month Larry was born. Kate views this as a sign that the Kellers have forgotten Larry and abandoned the thought of his return. In this way, the tree serves a complex symbolic purpose: it is planted to symbolize Larry’s life, but in fact it underscores, to Kate, the idea that many believe Larry to be already dead and gone. When the tree is destroyed, Kate chooses to interpret this not as evidence of Larry’s actual death, but of the “falsity” of any memorial tribute to Larry, since one can’t memorialize a person who is still alive. Only at the play’s end, when Annie reveals Larry’s suicide letter to the Kellers, does Kate understand that Larry is never coming home, and that, tree or no tree, she must come to terms with Larry’s death, and Joe’s guilt in the manufacturing fiasco, without the supernatural aid of symbols like the tree.

Larry’s Tree Quotes in All My Sons

The All My Sons quotes below all refer to the symbol of Larry’s Tree. 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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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. 

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Larry’s Tree Symbol Timeline in All My Sons

The timeline below shows where the symbol Larry’s Tree 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
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
Frank asks Joe what’s happened to a tree in the backyard, a tree Joe reveals was planted as a memorial to Larry, his... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
Chris and Joe look at the shorn tree that once memorialized Larry. Chris tells Joe, to Joe’s surprise, that Kate, Joe’s wife and... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
...falling rapidly toward earth, and as Kate ran outside to catch him, she saw his tree cut in half by the wind. Kate says that she knew that should have waited... (full context)
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...that Kate believes it is “too soon” to be mourning Larry. Chris says that the tree’s being cut in half has no significance for Larry’s life or death, and he says... (full context)
Act 2
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
...is 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... (full context)