All My Sons

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Themes and Colors
Family and Familial Obligation Theme Icon
Loss and Memory Theme Icon
War, Morality, and Consequences Theme Icon
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All My Sons, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Wealth and Its Accumulation Theme Icon

The play dramatizes a common element of post-Second World War American society: the belief that the acquisition of wealth and material possessions was part of American power, following the defeat of fascism in Europe and Asia. Joe believes that he must acquire wealth in order to please his family and make something of himself in the world. He has very little by way of formal education, and therefore considers himself “self-made.” His shrewdness in business is well known in the community. Joe’s manufacturing business has adapted well, both during and after the war. In wartime, Joe understood that acknowledging any malfunction in parts would cause the government to remove its contract, thus dooming the business. And after the war, Joe does all he can to transition the factory from wartime to peacetime production. Joe therefore uses his wealth as proof of a kind of moral fortitude: the money he has is the money he earned. He wants his son Chris to feel this way, too, but Chris is more conflicted about the source of his money, perhaps because he senses that his father might not have been entirely truthful in his “exoneration” following Steve’s conviction. Larry is mourned by the family not just because he was lost during the war, but because he has lost a chance to benefit from the post-war boom.

Other characters—namely Kate and Sue—warn Annie and Chris that they must make a life for themselves and earn a great deal of money. There is a sense that money can solve all, or nearly all, of one’s problems, that it is the only thing necessary for the establishment of a prosperous future and a happy family. Sue understands that her husband Jim feels his current life is a prison, and that she forces Jim to make money doing a job he hates, rather than allowing him to make less money and feel morally and spiritually fulfilled as a medical researcher. Sue believes, fundamentally, that the accumulation of wealth is more important than Jim’s feeling of personal fulfillment.

Of course, as the play shows, the pursuit of wealth is insufficient in papering over the moral complexities of the war and its aftermath. Money does not bring Larry back; it does not free Steve. In fact, the pursuit of money is what caused Steve’s imprisonment, Larry’s suicide, and, later, Joe’s guilt-induced suicide. If money is the root of happiness in a materialist American culture, it is also the root of the sadness that culture attempts largely to hide.

Get the entire All My Sons LitChart as a printable PDF.
All my sons.pdf.medium

Wealth and Its Accumulation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Wealth and Its Accumulation appears in each act of All My Sons. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Act length:

Wealth and Its Accumulation Quotes in All My Sons

Below you will find the important quotes in All My Sons related to the theme of Wealth and Its Accumulation.
Act 1 Quotes

I’ve only met you, Ann, but if I may offer you a piece of advice—When you marry, never—even in your mind—never count your husband’s money.

Related Characters: Dr. Jim Bayliss (speaker), Ann Deever
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim Bayliss is a minor character in the play, and his statement here, to Ann, can be interpreted in several ways. It could be an argument that Ann should be careful to marry for love—to establish a bond and a family with someone whom she trusts completely. Or, Jim could be making a more useful and cynical point, that Ann might be marrying for all sorts of reasons, but that money, as a baseline for marriage, is not particularly dependable. Financial fortunes rise and fall, and Jim notes that Ann should be prepared to accept that her husband might not wind up wealthy after all. This in itself would be a comment on Jim's own marriage, as he ends up stuck in a job he hates trying to financially support his wife.

Jim's piece of advice also indicates the nature of neighborly interaction in the town. Neighbors have no trouble offering hints or tips on one another's business. It is a close-knit and gossipy community, bound together by the traumas of the war. 


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other All My Sons quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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?

Related Characters: Ann Deever (speaker), Larry Keller, Steve Deever
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Ann states without guilt that if her father, Steve, knowingly was involved in the shipping of faulty parts for airplanes during the war, then he should be punished. Ann believes that the guilt for the airmen's deaths should fall on the heads of those who were negligent in manufacturing the parts. She does not seem to imply that Joe was one of these people—she places the blame squarely on her father's shoulders, despite their close familial relationship.

But, of course, the other characters in the play recognize that Joe might very well have been responsible for the shipping of the parts as well, and that Joe might even have "sold out" Steve in order to protect his (Joe's) family, at Steve's expense. Ann appears not to believe this. But others in the community wonder if Ann hasn't returned to "check up on" the Keller family, to see whether Joe has been unfair to her father, who is currently in prison for his crime. 

Act 2 Quotes

. . . 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.

Related Characters: Joe Keller (speaker), Ann Deever (speaker), Ann Deever, George Deever, Steve Deever
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Joe's comments to Chris and Ann are as complicated as many of his other emotional responses in the text. Joe and Steve were partners in the airplane-part business—thus, Joe offering Steve a job is, at best, a less-valuable offer than the job Steve originally had. Of course, it is later revealed that Joe also testified against Steve and put him in jail, allowing him to take the fall for the entire faulty-part affair. Many have repudiated Steve and his actions—including Ann—although George, Ann's brother, seems more willing to defend their father. 

Joe, in short, feels that he owes at least something to Steve for the time Steve has served in prison. But Joe cannot come out in public and say that he, Joe, blamed Steve for the problem, or that this "generosity" on his part is really a feeble attempt to ease his own guilt in the affair. Thus, as in other parts of the play, the characters are damned both by their crimes and by their inability to expiate for them. Joe, at the end of the play, is horrified when his guilt is revealed, and he kills himself as a result. But he is also obviously relieved at having made plain the internal burden he has borne for so long.

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

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.

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? . . .

Related Characters: Joe Keller (speaker), Chris Keller
Page Number: 81-2
Explanation and Analysis:

Joe wonders whether the guilt that Chris feels is related to the money that the firm has made. Of course, this is a part of it—Chris has expressed, here and elsewhere, that the company's profits, if indeed they are tied to a willingness to overlook the faulty plane components, would be stained with the blood of those who died in the airplanes during the war. Joe, in his qualified willingness to expiate the family's guilt, argues that the money can be refused—and that, in taking the money, Chris is complicit in the family's crimes.

But the guilt runs much deeper than this, and Joe and Chris both appear to realize it. The only way to atone for what has happened in the past is to admit it. This means, for Chris, that Joe would have to acknowledge and take responsibility for his actions. Yet Joe still seems incapable of doing this—which is what frustrates and saddens Chris most of all.