Commentary on A Critical Study by Christopher Bigsby for Arthur Miller's All My Sons :
All My Sons is a play in part about individuals responsibility for this own actions and in part about the obligations he has to society. Though the play was seen as a study of a war profiteer, it is equally the death of the ideal, the failure of society, as it is constituted, of offer the meaning which the individual seeks.
In All My Sons though some of the characters think they have stopped the clock, the play opens and the clock is started again and as a result the characters are forced to acknowledge the implacability of time and the power of causality.
At the beginning of the play, Miller creates an atmosphere of what he calls undisturbed normality. The first act is designedly slow. It takes place beneath a clear landscape in the broad light of a peaceful day.
The primary action that drives the play has already occurred and been buried. No action any of the characters can take will alter what has happened. What is at stake, though, is truth, responsibility, and what Miller has called the evil of unrelatedness.
The naturalness and realism of Ibsens play The Wild Duck has been a primary influence on All My Sons. Arthur Miller also, perhaps, learned from Ibsen a lighting which reflected the mood. In the first act the sun shines brightly, as Chris and Ann plan their wedding. In the second act it is twilight, as the mood darkens, while in the third it is two in the morning with the moon casting a bluish light on those whose lives have been drained, suddenly, of colour and purpose alike.
The Keller home is hedged in by poplar trees and has a secluded atmosphere, a physical description of the moral isolation of this family, or at least of its patriarch.
A common thread among some of the characters in the play is that they use money as a reason for relinquishing ideals or hopes.
The action takes place in the fall and this could be seen as foreshadowing that change which is about to come over the Keller household.
This is not primarily a play about crime. It is about a mans failure to understand the terms of the social contract.
This is a play in part about repression, about the compromises effected by individuals negotiating between private needs and public obligations. The characters are all denying something in this play. The difference is that what Joe Keller is denying is a crime.
The play has a distinctive rhythm as the tension is applied and relaxed, as serious discussion gives way to a deliberately distracting comedy, as truths threaten to break surface only to be momentarily concealed.
The third act, like the others, begins on a deceptively calm note and then builds to a crescendo as Joe Keller seeks the only absolution available to him by putting a bullet through his head.
This is not a well-made play whose energy is fully discharged with the final pistol shot, whose meaning is wholly revealed in the telling.