Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the play attempts to parse who is guilty for Larry’s death, Steve’s incarceration, and the deaths of the 21 airmen whose planes fell out of the sky. The tracing of these lines of guilt runs throughout the drama.
At first, it appears to everyone, except Annie, that Larry’s death was an accident, or that he was shot down in battle. But Annie finally reveals that Larry chose to commit suicide because he had learned of his father’s, and Steve’s, professional malfeasance. Larry does not wait to hear what the trial’s verdict will be; he “convicts” his father and Steve in his own mind, and chooses to end his life rather than confront the reality of this guilt back home after the war. Chris, on the other hand, has taken a job from his father after the war, and he stands to inherit the manufacturing company when his father retires. In this sense, Chris, who perhaps always sensed, vaguely, that his father had OK’d the production of the parts, nevertheless sweeps this feeling of guilt “under the rug,” as he continues to earn a good living with his father. Only at the play’s end does Chris confront, fully, the source of his family income, and the fact that it is tainted by the deaths of American soldiers.
Joe’s decision to allow the parts to be put in the planes was a small one—he knew there was a chance they could cause the planes to crash, though he wasn’t sure—and he allayed his feelings of guilt by saying, at least, that his own son didn’t fly P-40s, thus he did not kill his own son. Kate believes, and says repeatedly, that a father killing his son is inherently and especially immoral. In killing himself, Joe seems to accept responsibility for several crimes: for lying and forcing Steve to go to jail in his stead; for causing the deaths, through negligence, of 21 pilots; and for indirectly causing Larry’s death, though he believed Larry did not fly P-40s.
Because Joe’s money is therefore tainted by the multidimensional nature of his guilt, the only advice Kate can offer at the end of the play is simple: Chris and Annie must move away, must start a new life elsewhere. Kate has come to this moment of moral clarity in realizing that Joe’s decision to kill himself, though gruesome, has allowed him to take responsibility, finally, for his actions. Thus the play leaves Chris and Annie as the only hope for a new generation that can move beyond the guilt of their ancestors, and can, with a fresh start, establish a new family far away from the small town.
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt ThemeTracker
Liability, Culpability, and Guilt 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.
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.
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 . . . .
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 . . . .
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.
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.
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!