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.
Wealth and Its Accumulation ThemeTracker
Wealth and Its Accumulation Quotes in All My Sons
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?
. . . 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.
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.
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.
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? . . .