An Analysis of Sacrifice in Arthur Miller's All My Sons

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In All My Sons sacrifice plays a crucial role in almost every part of the play. Miller explores the impact of sacrifices made for one’s family versus humanity as a whole, explicitly the direction and intention of a sacrifice. As part of this essay, I will identify and explain what I consider to be the most important in the play. The second aspect of sacrifice in All My Sons which I will examine in this essay involves the idea that not all sacrifices are actually conscious decisions; many of the acts of ‘sacrifice’ in the play could be explained simply by an ‘escape’ - does Joe Keller kill himself as a final realisation of the crimes that he has committed or just as an escape from the pressure around him? When we first encounter the characters in All My Sons, it is clear that the family is well integrated with its surroundings: as neighbours happily stroll by, and children are free to roam around the area, Jim Bayliss, the Keller’s neighbour, confidently discusses such informal matters as the weather and the news. Clearly the Keller family is content, however later in the play we discover that there is a sub-story which will turn out to cause more destruction and chaos than previously assumed.

In his autobiography, Arthur Miller, upon reflecting on his play, says: “This kind of placid American backyard was not ordinarily associated, at least in 1947, with murder and suicide.” This is an indicator that the setting of All My Sons was planned deliberately by Miller- it was a literary way of making the events that occur in the play seem more unexpected to the audience. It is also a subtle pointer that maybe ‘murder and suicide’, as Miller phrases it, is just as common as the suburbs in which it resides in All My Sons. Miller is subverting common assumption about the disconnection between normal, day to day domestic sacrifices and those made on an entirely different scale on a war front - to rephrase, he is indicating to people that the war was everywhere; it is inescapable. This notion is again reflected when Miller explains in the first stage direction that the house is “hedged by tall, closely planted poplar trees which lend the yard a secluded atmosphere” this enforces a sense of claustrophobia in the audience.

The first example of sacrifice in the play is when we discover that Joe has sacrificed general morality in order to save his family: he is willing to lie in court and therefore put Steve Deever, a colleague, in prison. The whole issue starts when Joe inadvertently causes an aerial-adversity when he willingly tells his colleague, Steve Deever, to weld over 120 cracked cylinder heads which were, that day, to be built into several planes. This results in the death of 21 pilots. The denial of this command in court leads to the jailing of Steve Deever. This mistake, two years later, still affects the family deeply. In this way we encounter the primary sacrifice in the play: that Joe Keller has indirectly sacrificed his son and twenty-one pilots in order to protect his family from an economic abyss. Joe Keller, when he notices Chris bringing up the subject of the incident and how Keller himself might have caused the death of his own son, Larry, by manufacturing defunct cylinder heads, gives the retort “Those Cylinder heads went into P-40’s only. What's the matter with you? You know Larry never flew a P-40”

Later on in that same page, Keller identifies (and also blames to some extent) Steve for the pilot’s deaths: “All of a sudden a batch comes out with a crack...A fine, hairline crack...So he takes out his tools and welds over the cracks”. The way in which Miller structures this sentence is praiseworthy: the deliberate inclusion of “A fine, hairline crack” is a reminder of the seriousness of the consequences of Joe’s actions: something similar to some major elements in the plot is only revealed after close inspection. This symbolism, although minor in the theme of sacrifice, is a linkage device between the small...
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