Nearly all the characters in the play are concerned with the establishment and maintenance of family life. Joe Keller is the “head” of the Kellers: he has run a successful manufacturing business both during and after the Second World War. Joe cares primarily about the happiness of his wife Kate and his son Chris, who works with him in the family business. Larry, another son, was lost in a plane crash during the war and has yet to be found. Joe seems to recognize that Larry will not return, as does Chris, but Kate holds out hope that Larry is still alive. To Kate, Larry’s being missing means that the family must be on permanent “high alert,” in case he should return. She hopes for his safe return at every moment, so that the family can be whole again. Chris, for his part, wishes to soothe all parts of the family: he works hard for his father, and wants his mother to give up the idea that Larry is coming home. Chris also wants to start his own family with Annie, former girlfriend of Larry, with whom he has fallen in love, and whom he has asked to marry him. Annie wants to marry Chris but seems worried about her own family—her father, Steve, was a subordinate of Joe Keller’s in the business, but an accident at the plant during the war (resulting in the manufacture of faulty plane parts that downed 21 airmen) caused Joe to blame Steve, saying Steve OK’d the production of the defective parts. Steve is rounding out a prison term for allowing the defective parts to be sent out, and Annie worries about her father’s wellbeing and that of her brother, George, a lawyer who later returns to the Keller home to find Annie and prevent her from marrying Chris.
Other characters in the play manage their own “family units.” Dr. Jim Bayliss is unhappy with his wife Sue, and though he tried briefly to leave her in the past, he has returned and largely given up his dream of becoming a medical researcher, so that he can make enough money for Sue. Frank Lubey married Lydia, a childhood sweetheart of George’s (as is hinted at toward the end of the play); Frank and Lydia have three children together, and George believes that his bad luck (causing him to be drafted and Frank to avoid the draft) resulted in Frank’s winning of Lydia and success in life.
The playwright Arthur Miller presents a paradox of family obligation: the more one attempts to care for one’s family, in the play, the more one makes decisions that end up harming one’s family. Thus Joe attempted to cover up his mistake at the plant, and blamed it on Steve, in order to protect the Keller family and ensure their financial success. But Joe’s fatal decision leads Steve to land in prison, ruining Annie and George’s family; its later, unintended consequences jeopardize the married happiness of Chris and Annie, and cause Joe to commit suicide. This is the final unwinding of the Keller family, as Kate tells Chris, in the final scene, to go off with Annie and begin a new life far away—a fresh start untainted by the tragedy of the Kellers.
Family and Familial Obligation ThemeTracker
Family and Familial Obligation Quotes in All My Sons
Well, a favorable day for a person is a fortunate day, according to his stars. In other words it would be practically impossible for him to have died on his favorable day.
It’s so strange—Annie’s here and not even married. And I’ve got three babies. I always thought it’d be the other way around.
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.
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.
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 . . . .
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.
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?
. . . 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!