All My Sons


Arthur Miller

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All My Sons Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Arthur Miller

Born to a prosperous middle-class Polish-Jewish family, Arthur Miller watched his mother and father lose most of their savings in the American financial panic of 1929. Miller went on to work his way through high school, supporting himself by means of part-time employment, and to enroll at the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1938 with a degree in English. Miller began writing plays as an undergraduate. By 1946, his All My Sons was a success (his first major work), and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Author. In the 1940s and early 1950s Miller wrote other seminal works of American drama, most notably Death of a Salesman, the story of a small-time businessman named Willy Loman, and The Crucible, an allegory of McCarthy’s communist hearings (then raging in the United States) set in 1600s Massachusetts, during the Salem Witch Trials. Miller’s later career was dotted with smaller success and some notable failures, including the play After the Fall (1964), which dramatized his relationship to the deceased film actress Marilyn Monroe, and was believed by many to be an exercise in “bad taste,” exposing as it did details of their married life. Miller lived well into his eighties, passing away in 2005, and on his death many in America and across the English-speaking world lauded his contributions to American drama.
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Historical Context of All My Sons

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the Great Depression and of the Second World War on the work of Arthur Miller and his contemporaries. Even when Miller’s plays don’t specifically focus on the political woes of his age (the time immediately following World War II), they are infused with the political realities, the complexities of American power, which dominated popular discussion at the time. The Second World War elevated the US out of a crippling and decade-long financial depression; it put millions back to work; and it mobilized American production in the service of a clear and, for many, indomitable cause: the march of democracy against Fascism, as represented by the governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan. After the conclusion of the war, however, American GIs returned home, became educated, started families, and found themselves confronting a moral universe that was no longer so simple, so black-and-white, as that of the war in which they had been fighting. Miller concerned himself with the mind-set of the American family-man and –woman: those whose job was to provide, materially, for their families, but who often found that life was more difficult than the mere accumulation of wealth. All My Sons, like many of Miller’s plays, is an attempt to sift through the values common to American families after the Second World War, in order to determine what “the good life” truly meant in an age of rising economic circumstances.

Other Books Related to All My Sons

Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons during a flourishing period of American drama, with many playwrights breathing new life into the theatrical models of Greek tragedy and the dramatic realism of Anton Chekhov. Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Our Town, which depicted the real-life joys and problems of citizens in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, was a major success when it premiered in the lead-up to the Second World War. Eugene O’Neill, active from the 1920s to the 1950s, and a Princeton drop-out who went on to be one of America’s foremost playwrights and an eventual Nobel laureate, was famous for his reinterpretation of the Oresteia of Aeschylus, entitled Mourning Becomes Electra; he also wrote the well-known The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the latter an account of addiction and family tension which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1958. Tennessee William’s work in the period was also prominent, especially his The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire, the last of which was made into a feature film with Marlon Brando, and is considered a classic of 20th-century American realist drama. In Wilder, and to a greater extent in O’Neill and Williams, the tragedies, large and small, of contemporary American life in the first half of the 20th century became the stuff of theatrical drama—elevated to a plane of tragedy previously reserved for contemporary European writers, or for the heroes and gods of the Greek stage.
Key Facts about All My Sons
  • Full Title: All My Sons
  • When Written: 1946
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1947
  • Literary Period: Realism in American drama
  • Genre: American realist drama
  • Setting: Suburban United States (intentionally kept non-specific)
  • Climax: Joe goes upstairs to shoot himself, while the rest of the family waits in the backyard below.
  • Antagonist: George Deever

Extra Credit for All My Sons

Elia Kazan. All My Sons was first directed on the stage by Elia Kazan, a longtime friend of and collaborator with Arthur Miller. Kazan went on to “collaborate” with the House Un-American Activities committee, led by Senator Joe McCarthy, in order to identify those in Hollywood he felt to be tainted by Communist ideology—Kazan never fully regained his stature among some of his compatriots in the film and stage industries, but he and Miller eventually reconciled their views and worked together later in life.

Two film adaptations. The first film version of All My Sons, in 1948, was not strictly faithful to the play and received fair to positive reviews; the latter, in 1987, was a TV version which adhered more closely to the plot of the original play; the original film starred Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster in the roles of Joe and Chris Keller, respectively.