Many characters in the play wrestle with the memory of loved ones who are now gone: lost to them or dead. The most prominent “lost” character is Larry, one of Joe and Kate’s two sons. Joe believes, ironically, that Larry was more willing to “let slide” some of the small things that help a business to turn a profit. In fact, Larry committed suicide because of his father’s criminal negligence at the factory. Kate, for her part, worries that no one in the family wishes to remember Larry. She believes that remembering Larry’s life is inseparable from the belief that Larry will return one day, alive. And Kate infuses the tree, planted for Larry, with a kind of supernatural significance, believing that the tree’s destruction foretells the destruction of Larry’s memory itself.
Joe, Chris, and Annie believe that Larry is dead and have come to terms with his death; they wish to move on. But Kate fears that Chris and Annie want to do so only for “vulgar” reasons, because the two of them wish to be married and have a family themselves. Joe is happy that Chris and Annie have found each other, however, and does not believe that their wedding would in any way “destroy” the memory of Larry. Joe, too, wants to “forget” Larry’s death, because there are many parts of the war he wishes to forget, most notably the manufacturing fiasco at the factory. Annie does not harbor a grudge against Joe, in the beginning, because she believes her father really was responsible for the mistake; she has come to terms with the “loss” of her father in prison, and she has not visited him there. George, however, has not come to terms with this “loss,” and when he hears from Steve that Joe was actually responsible for the parts’ production, then lied about it, George wishes to make sure that no one in the Keller family has forgotten the memory of Steve and the ruin his life has become. George feels he has lost his chance with Lydia, because he (George) was forced to fight in the war, whereas Frank escaped the draft. George is reminded of his loss of Lydia when he returns to the Keller home. And Jim rues what he has lost, the compromises he has made, in marrying Sue and agreeing to settle down.
Throughout the play, then, there is a feeling that characters wish to “put the war behind them,” to forget the deaths of those they’ve loved, and the horrible things the war has caused them to endure. By the play’s end, however, this desire to “move on” has unraveled. Chris has lost respect for his father, then his father himself—and Kate loses a husband. And all lose the belief that Larry might still be alive, since his letter to Annie is revealed, showing that he intentionally crashed his plane out of disgust for his father and Steve’s actions at the plant.
Loss and Memory ThemeTracker
Loss and Memory 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?
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!