The Second World War is not just the immediate worldwide precursor to the play; it is inseparable from its action. Specifically, the war resulted in the death of Larry and caused the kind of difficult choices that forced Joe and Steve into their fateful decision to allow the production of cracked parts for American planes. But the war also provided Larry, Chris, and other American soldiers a clear set of black-and-white moral choices: democracy versus fascism, good versus evil. Larry is lost in the war (later shown to have committed suicide), and Chris survives. Although Larry’s death is mourned dearly by everyone, including by Chris, Chris himself must live in the shadow of his brother’s death—he must carry on with “survivor’s guilt,” and wonder why he was the one who was spared. As Chris explains to Annie at the end of Act I, he loved the sense of camaraderie in wartime, the feeling that one man could and must help another, as evidenced by last pair of dry socks another GI was willing to lend him. And Chris mourns the fact that, in peacetime America, this sense of camaraderie has vanished, has been replaced by an overwhelming desire for material gain.
Joe admits that wartime productions was so stressful, and he wanted his business to succeed so much, that there was nothing he could do but allow the defective parts to roll off the assembly line unimpeded. For him, this was a decision made to protect and support his family, but which also obscured the greater cruelty of battle: that these parts would be placed in American planes and would kill Americans, the very cause Steve and Joe wanted to support. War has taken Larry away from Annie, and, on a subtler level, it has made any prospect of Annie’s future happiness nearly impossible, because others in her life, including Kate Keller, will always wonder whether Annie “waited long enough” for Larry, or whether she “hopped into bed” with another man and married him at the first chance. Annie finally reveals the letter Larry sent her—admitting to his impending suicide in battle—in the hopes that this terrible letter will at least show Kate that Annie has not moved on out of callousness.
But the letter, another consequence of war, causes Joe to realize that he has not only killed members of other people’s families—other Americans’ families—but indirectly a member of his own. Joe goes upstairs and shoots himself; he is another casualty of the war. Thus the war was not “over” when the peace treaties were signed. Instead, Chris, Joe, Steve, and others in the play carried the war inside them, transposing into a morally-fraught environment the same life-and-death struggles they had once approached with a definite sense of moral purpose. Now, with that moral purpose gone, the horrors of war and death nevertheless remain.
War, Morality, and Consequences ThemeTracker
War, Morality, and Consequences Quotes in All My Sons
She was out here when it broke.
About four this morning. I heart it cracking and I woke up and looked out. She was standing right here when it cracked.
The trouble is, you don’t see enough women. You never did.
So what? I’m not fast with women.
I don’t see why it has to be Annie.
Because it is.
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.
We rushed into it . . . .
It’s wrong to pity a man like that [Steve]. Father or no father, there’s only one way to look at him. He knowingly shipped out parts that would crash an airplane. And how do you know Larry wasn’t one of them?
The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him.
. . . one time it’d been raining several days and this kid came to me, and gave me his last pair of dry socks. Put them in my pocket. That’s only a little thing—but . . . that’s the kind of guys I had. They didn’t die; they killed themselves for each other . . . .
. . . it’s very unusual to me, marrying the brother of your sweetheart.
I don’t know. I think it’s mostly that whenever I need somebody to tell me the truth I’ve always thought of Chris . . . . He relaxes me.
The man [Joe] is innocent, Ann. Remember he was falsely accused once and it put him through hell. How would you behave if you were faced with the same thing again? Annie believe me, there’s nothing wrong for you here, believe me, kid.
. . . you and George . . . go to prison and tell him [Steve] . . . “Dad, Joe wants to bring you into the business when you get out.”
You’d have him as a partner?
No, no partner. A good job.
How is he [Steve]?
He got smaller
Yeah, little. He’s a little man. That’s what happens to suckers, you know. It’s good I went to him in time—another year there’d be nothing left but his smell.
The court didn’t know your father! But you know him. You know in your heart Joe did it.
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.
What’d Joe do, tell him?
Tell him what?
Don’t be afraid, Kate, I know. I’ve always known.
It occurred to me a long time ago.
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you can’t get used to it [the Keller family money], then throw it away. You hear me? Take every cent and give it to charity, throw it in the sewer. Does that settle it? . . .
Chris, a man can’t be a Jesus in this world!
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!