Customer Reviews: All my sons: Drama in three acts
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VINE VOICEon March 31, 2008
The late Lord Bertrand Russell once said, "Actions have consequences." Arthur Miller makes it clear: Bad actions have bad consequences in his early play, "All My Sons." Set not long after the end of World War II, the play concerns big issues: life and death, and the necessity of living a moral life. The conflict pits the idealistic son, Chris Keller against his pragmatist father, Joe Keller, owner of a manufacturing plant that shipped out defective airplane parts during the war. As a result, twenty-one pilots died when their planes crashed.

This early play foreshadows the disillusionment by the son of the father that plays so predominantly in "Death of a Salesman," the flagship of Miller's dramatic output. Miller also introduces the idealist's version of moral behavior. When younger son Chris discovers his father's flawed decision to continue production of cracked engine parts, he berates him for lacking the high caliber of character of which he thought his dad was made. His father sincerely asks Chris: "What could I do?" The key line and one which comes to fruition in "The Crucible" is "You could be better." Actions have consequences.

Yes, I am revealing a key secret in the play, but it is the consequences of this revelation that is really the clincher of Miller's powerful morality play. That I will not reveal. But lack of idealism, lack of moral turpitude show the inner essence of a person. Everyone is born with this pure core. Time and circumstances chip away, a day at a time, a person's idealism. Only the few survive. Joe Keller has revealed a seriously hacked core; Chris's is still intact. But at what price?

Two other stories deal with the consequences of idealism. Miller's The Crucible (Penguin Classics) shows John who can confess to witchcraft (although not guilty) and live, or deny his involvement, be found guilty, and die. He must sign a document; in doing so, he besmirches his name. Because of his idealism: "It is my name, I have no other," he cannot sign and thus dies. In the other story, Gone Baby Gone Casey Affleck's character believes it to be just to turn in the kidnapper and return the child to her neglectful mother and a probable miserable life, or leave the child with the kidnapper who would inevitably give the child a good home. Each decision shows the impact of idealism. Actions have consequences. Good or bad?

Chris forces his father to acknowledge his misdeed by realizing he caused the pilots' deaths. Joe says, "Yes, they were all my sons." Even this is not the end of the misdeeds. Two other secondary plots involve moral choices and evil consequences when morality is not chosen. Ann Deaver, the girl next door who was engaged to the older brother when he went to war, and now recently engaged to Chris, must live with a flawed decision she made. The other plot line goes to Ann's father and the consequences surrounding him.

"All My Sons' is a powerful play that holds up to scrutiny an American story of success at a high cost and the devastation that malignant success brings to so many others. With this play Miller established himself as a major talent and voice of conscience which would become so important in "The Crucible" and McCarthyism to come.
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VINE VOICEon July 25, 2004
All My Sons is Arthur Miller's first work which gives hint of his future genius. While the plot is strong, it starts slowly. However, the ending makes the play worth reading.

The story tells of partners in a defective machine shop during World War II. Keller escapes punishment for the faulty parts. Herbert Deever is sent to prison. Keller's son Chris intends to marry his deceased brother's love who happens to be Herbert Deever's daughter Anne. Keller's wife Kate is in denial of their son Larry's death. This denial makes her a trademark of Miller's works, an annoying female character. She is overbearing and at times a nag. Thus, conflict is created over Chris and Anne's relationship. The story reaches its climax when the true nature of Larry's death is revealed. While the conclusion is not shocking, it is a fitting end.

Miller has written some great plays and novels. While this is certainly not as good as Death of a Salesman, it is still a solid work.
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on September 27, 2015
I bought and read this book because my grandson had to read it in school as part of a unit of 3 books supposed to examine "The American Dream" This was the only book that came close to the topic in my opinion. The real subject of the book is integrity and it does a good job of examining that. The father, with a business in manufacturing, allowed faulty parts to be supplied to the armed services and passed the blame to his business partner. Questions arise later in their children's lives and they must decide which they value more, wealth or truth. It's a good read.
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on September 30, 2015
If you haven't read this play, it's a must for Arthur Miller fans. The first half will have you laughing from beginning, almost to the end. the last half will have you in tears. If not, then the performers didn't do their jobs!! I saw this in Ringgold, GA and I don't believe I could have found a professional performance that was any better. Kudos, to the cast and director in Ringgold!!
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on September 25, 2008
Arthur Miller wrote that he liked the fact that this creation of his deals not with a crime that is happening or about to happen, but one that has already happened. He also said that he was trying to emphasize that the consequences of actions are just as real as the actions.

Joe Keller seems to be a decent person trying to make a life for his family. He made his living building parts for airplanes, and he did significant business with the military. His family includes his wife Kate and his son Chris. (His other son Larry died in W.W. II.) Though his wife continues to believe that Larry is still alive. At first, she just seems to have the natural hopes a mother might, but we come to suspect that there are other reasons she can't bring herself to admit Larry is dead. Moving on, Chris is in love with Annie. (Annie is an interesting caught in the middle character. She was in love with the Larry, and her father worked with Joe Keller.) Keller went on trial for selling defective parts to the military that resulted in the deaths of several pilots. Joe Keller got off, but Annie's father went to jail. Though Annie doesn't seem overly concerned about her father. Putting Annie in the middle again, Kate gives Annie grief over the fact that she is planning to marry Chris. (If Annie marries Chris, Kate has to admit that Larry is dead.) Tensions rise when Joe Keller hears that Annie's brother George (a lawyer) has been talking to his father in prison.

In the 2nd act, we meet Annie's brother George, and he clearly objects to Annie marrying Chris. He blames Joe Keller for the imprisonment of his father, and does not want the Keller family to get his sister as well. Joe Keller covers himself well, but we can also tell he is 'working at looking innocent.' Tensions rise when Kate packs Annie's bags. (In other words, Kate wants Annie out of the house.) Chris then suspects that his father did have a part in the shipping of defective parts that caused the deaths of several pilots. Joe Keller admits his guilt. This carries Miller's intentions in his dislike of business over what really matters in life. Though Miller offers a bit of sympathy to Joe. Joe did not expect the parts to make it into the airplanes. He felt they would be discovered before anyone got hurt. This puts Chris into a psychotic frenzy.

In the final act, Annie is willing to forget Joe Keller's guilt if she can marry Chris, but Kate refuses to believe Larry is dead. Now we come to the greatest flaw in the book. Annie produces a letter from Larry shortly before he killed himself. This letter makes Joe Keller's guilt indisputable. I call this a flaw, because Annie's character is not consistent with someone who would have had this knowledge. (Especially her coldness towards her father in prison.) In a crisis of conscience Joe Keller puts the title of the play into the story: "They were all my sons." In a final moment, Chris carries Miller's feelings: "...there's a universe of people outside, and you're responsible to it."

The ending is tragic, but this is usually the case in Miller's stories. Overall, it's a great play that emphasizes that the consequences of actions are just as real as the actions.
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Critics tend to compare ALL MY SONS to various plays by Henrik Ibsen--and most particularly so to THE WILD DUCK, which it tends to mirror in theme. There is a certain truth to this: having failed in his previous efforts, Arthur Miller set out to create a commercially viable play, and the resulting script echoes "the well-made play" style that Ibsen created. But this comparison will take us only so far: when it arrived on stage in 1947, ALL MY SONS made clear a new and powerful dramatic voice, and critics and audiences were so taken with it that the show even bested Eugene O'Neal's THE ICEMAN COMETH in terms of accolades and popularity at the time.

In general terms, ALL MY SONS presents us with what seems to be an "all American family" in the aftermath of World War II. Joe and Kate Keller are a middle aged couple with two sons, one missing in action since the war. Joe runs a factory; Kate is obsessed with the notion that the missing son will some day return; and son Chris has fallen in love with is missing brother's former girlfriend, Ann. At first the play seems to be about Kate's resistance to Chris and Ann's romance, which she clearly sees as a betrayal of her lost son--but the play takes a gradual turn that lifts it out purely domestic drama and into the realm of wider social issues.

It transpires that Ann's father was once in business with Joe and the factory they owned sold faulty aircraft parts that resulted in the loss of 21 pilots during the war. In a subsequent trial Ann's father was held responsible and Joe was found entirely innocent of wrong-doing. As the play progresses, suspicion begins to arise about whether these findings were correct--and if they shouldn't have been the other way around. Did Joe Keller, who seems such a likeable family man, knowingly send out the faulty parts and shift blame to his partner?

The first two acts of the play are remarkably well-crafted, presenting us with vivid characters and some of the most realistic dialogue ever heard on stage. Toward the third act, however, the mechanics of the play become a bit too obvious. This is particularly true when Ann reveals to the family a letter she has had in her possession all along, the content of which precipitates the final climax of the play. The phrase "deus ex machina" comes to mind: an artifical device unnaturally inserted into the play in order to bring the story to a conclusion.

Whenever I review a play I feel called on to note that playscripts are essentially a blueprint for a performance. They are not really intended to be read, but to be seen on stage, where performing artists give the author's writings the final breath of life. As such, it is not always possible to see how a particular script "plays" when it is on stage before an audience. Like most of Miller's plays, ALL MY SONS reads very well--but I have the distinct feeling that the flaws of the play are much more noticeable on the page than they are on the stage. Although the play suffers a bit in comparison to Miller's later works, it is nonetheless an essential for anyone seriously interested in 20th Century American drama; recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on March 13, 2016
My original review is here: [...]

I. Does it represent/portray and do it well?

I’m sure it represents its setting fairly well.

II. Does it teach me something or make me think?

It made me think about the concepts of community-family and actual-family, and the moral codes related to those concepts, as it was meant to make me think about.

III. Does it perpetuate healthy ideals?

I think it perpetuate a type of ideal, possibly a healthy one. This would be up for debate. I don’t think it perpetuates anything unhealthy, though.

IV. How was the writing itself? (Style, plot, characters, ease of reading, pace, world-building.)

The writing was engaging and fast-paced. It was easy to follow and the kind of play that one can read in one sitting but still fully absorb. The characters reflect real people, the writing was purposeful, the setting was presented with ease, and the morals and themes were interesting.

V. Did I enjoy reading it?

Very much so! It was like watching a thriller in a way, although it didn’t impact me emotionally as much as I think it was supposed to. I loved that, though! I was very entertained.
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on January 4, 2003
"All My Sons" is a play that captures the reader simply with the title. The first few pages are rather slow, but after setting the characters this play takes off like a rocket. The reader is plunged directly into post WWII America, in the middle of a town's scandal and a family's crisis. It is easy to understand the scandalous ongoings of small town America, certainly a lesser focus of the novel. The centrifugal point of the play is just a different twist on "Romeo and Juliet". If one strips away the whole conflict with the town and the influence of the war, all you are left with is a story about a boy and girl who are in love but who's families are at odds with each other. The result is book with a hackneyed base plot and an overdramatic ending. Luckily for Miller, he adds enough meat with the town and war subplots to classify this play as worthreading and worth seeing on stage. Although, in comparison to his only Pulitzer winner, "Death of a Salesman"...Well, comparing the two will not do "All My Sons" any justice.
If you liked "Death of a Salesman" then go for this book too. On the other hand, if you found "Death of a Salesman" to be lackluster, "All My Sons" will only add to your grief.
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on January 6, 2014
This "realist" play is just awesome. The main characters are so deep and their relationships so compelling that it is almost impossible not to relate with some of them. It's a very good portrait of a family with big personal guilts and social complicity that emerges from love and fear.

The detailed introduction by Christopher Bisgsby deserves a special mention because of its psicological analysis of the main characters and elements of the play.
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on September 17, 2013
I love Arthur Miller! This play does not disappoint! The beginning slowly introduces the plot, but as it rolls, it becomes an avalanche! As an actor, I could imagine the drama and the intensity as I read it.
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