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To What Extent Is Aurther Miller'S 'All My Sons' A Critique Of The American Dream?

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Autor:  anton  12 December 2010
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To what extent is Arthur Miller’s �All My Sons’ a critique of the American Dream

Arthur Miller was an American playwright and was a prominent figure in America until his recent death in 2005. It was at this time of his death that Miller was considered one of the greatest American playwrights.

In 1947, after his disastrous play – �The man who had all the luck’, �All My Sons’ was published, which brought Miller recognition and was the start of his successful career. �All My Sons’ is set after World War 2 and touches on The Great Depression, which was a decade of �dramatic and worldwide economic downturn beginning in some countries as early as 1928’. Many Americans were left in high poverty, jobless and homeless due to shops, factories and banks closing. For Miller, the Great Depression had a huge impact on his family, as he had no money for college after he graduated and therefore had to work in a number of tedious jobs in order to pay for his tuition.

A key idea explored in the play is the American Dream and is one of the main themes in the play, as it refers to all major and minor characters and shows that they all relate to this theme in some way. The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement...It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." Quote – �The Epic of America’ written by James Truslow Adams.

A critic has said that �All My Sons’ is a criticism of the American Dream as “Joe Keller (the main character) accepted the idea that a good businessman like himself should patch over the flawed shipment, Miller critiques a system that would encourage profit and greed at the expense of human life and happiness.” It could be said that Miller is portraying the negativity of the dream to show that the American Dream is virtually impossible to reach and that it is not true to reality as one critic states; “Miller points out the flaw with a merely economic interpretation of the American Dream as business success alone”. But on the other hand, Miller may believe that the American Dream plays an important part in every Americans life, hence the importance of the American Dream in the play and how it affects all of the characters.

Miller explores the American Dream through the use of many dramatic techniques, these being; stage direction, dialogue, soliloquies, exposition and monologues, as well as language, form and structural techniques.

The reader initially gains insight into the prosperity of the Keller family through the use of stage directions. One example of this is the first description of the Keller home; “nicely painted, looks tight and comfortable”. This gives the impression that the family are very house-proud and want everything to be precise and perfect. The description of the yard around the house can reflect the affluence of the Keller family; “the yard is green with sod”, as the colour green mirrors the colour of money and richness.

However, other parts of the stage direction suggest that maybe the Keller family haven’t achieved the American Dream. An example is the description of the apple tree, which is also introduces symbolism to the play; “slender apple tree, whose upper trunk and branches lie toppled beside it”. This image can relate to Keller’s downfall, which is revealed later on in the play. Also the fact that the whole play is based in a single setting – the house, highlights human dimensions of Keller’s crime and punishment.

The original set designer of the play Mordecai Gorelik interpreted the play as being a �grave play’ and therefore placed a grave in the stage set to represent this. All of these examples of stage direction show the Keller family to be a façade of a prosperous American family.

One aspect of the American Dream is the Family Business, which is what Keller has built into a successful enterprise through deceit and lies. Keller argues that what he did during the war was merely good business practise. Keller also refers to himself as an �uneducated man’, which implies that he has achieved the financial part of the American Dream without the aid of books; however, it is his business that leads o his downfall. Miller criticises a “capitalist system that encourages individuals to value their business sense over their moral sense”. This means that Miller disagrees with people who crave profit and success at the expense of happiness for yourself and others.

Keller earns respect from his neighbours, even though they all know the truth about his past, as at one point he is defined as “a man among men”. This suggests that men in the neighbourhood aspire to achieve what Keller has achieved – a great business and successful family life.

Realities dawn through the dramatic device of dialogue from neighbours which reveal Keller’s past to us, for example when Sue says to Ann; “There’s not a person on the block who doesn’t know the truth”. This shows that people are aware of what Keller did and the fact that he is guilty, yet people still admire him as it does appear that he has achieved the American Dream.

However, when Chris denies responsibility of the business during a conversation with Keller; “The business! The business doesn’t inspire me”, this hints destruction of the American Dream and brings to light the fact that on the surface the Keller family look like they have captured the dream, but behind closed doors they are far from it.

One key feature in the play that reflects the American Dream is Relationships. Keller is able to accept his actions during the war as he views them to be accountable for himself and his family, but not society. Keller’s narrow-minded view of the world is criticised by Miller as it allows his crimes to be overlooked because they were done for his family, nevertheless Keller’s assertion that family is most important is wrong as he doesn’t consider that he is connected with the rest of society. We know that Keller ignores the world as he says to Frank; “I don’t know, I don’t read the news part anymore”. Also, the initial stage directions indicate that the Keller family are isolated from the rest of society, as the house is described as “a secluded atmosphere”.

On the outside the Kellers look like an ideal family unit, but it is revealed to us throughout the play, how the family move closer to deterioration. Kate and Keller’s relationship begins to breakdown as the burden of Keller’s past she has been forced to take on, begins to be exposed while she endures headaches and nightmares. This is presented to us through the use of stage directions and dialogue; “pressing the top of her head” and “I’ve got such a funny pain on the top of my head”. Kate and Keller’s relationship is a contrast to the other relationships in the play. Frank and Lydia and Jim and Sue all care for each other and are closer to achieving the successful family life part of the dream than Kate and Keller, even though Kate and Keller look like they have achieved the dream.

Bert - the neighbourhood boy and Keller play cop and robber games, where Keller is the chief of police and has a jail in his basement. These games make Kate anxious and worried “Go home Bert. I want you to stop that, Joe. That whole jail business!” as she thinks that Keller may be giving himself away. The games also reveal Keller’s guilty conscience; “on my word of honour there’s a jail in the basement”. This is implies that Keller is constantly trapped by his past, and even though he isn’t in jail, he feels locked up in his own home.


�The Epic of America’ written by James Truslow Adams (American Dream definition) (Symbolism definition)

All My Sons - York Notes Advanced

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