All My Sons as Precursor in Arthur Miller’s Dramatic World
Since its first production in 1947, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons has been performed and appreciated worldwide. In academic studies on Miller, it secures an important place as a precursor, because it has encompassed such themes as father-son conflict, pursuit of success dream in the form of a traditional tragedy as well as a family and a social play. As for techniques, to begin with, the Ibsenite method of dramatization of the present critical situation and presentation of the past “with sentimentality” are obvious. Secondly, the biblical tale of Cain and Abel from the Old Testament allows the play to disguise itself as a modern morality play on “brotherly love.” Thirdly, Oedipus’s murder of his father in Oedipus Rex is used symbolically to place the play in the Western tradition of drama. Taking all these major themes and techniques into account, the paper argues that the play is dramatizing the universal, and that by looking at the conflict between father and son, we can understand why Miller’s message in All My Sons is significant for Japanese andiences.
Most of the reviews appearing in the major newspapers and magazines on All My Sons (1947) were rather favorable, which is quite understandable considering that the play vividly depicts the psychological aspects of the United States during and immediately after the Second World War in a realistic setting. In fact, it is impossible to understand the problems Joe and Chris Keller, the father and the son, get involved in without the background of the war. The moral or ethical issue the play presents through the conflict between Joe, a practical-minded realist and Professor, College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. © The International Studies Association of Ritsumeikan University: Ritsumeikan Annual Review of International Studies, 2002. ISSN 1347-8214. Vol.1, pp. 99-120
Chris, a militant idealist, or even Larry, another son not appearing on the stage, becomes apparent with the very background of the war, per se. It is true that in the play Arthur Miller portrays Joe and Chris as victims of the war. However, if we look at it merely, say, as a social play reflecting the American society of the 1940s in relation to World War II, that will lead us to close our eyes to an appropriate evaluation of this play. All My Sons is Miller’s first Broadway hit and it’s the precursor of his subsequent works on Broadway in terms of his own themes and dramatic techniques. It has encompassed such themes as father-son conflict, guilt of fathers,1 conflict between the social and the personal, a man’s personal integrity, survival and social responsibility, a moral crisis, individual and family pride, pursuit of the dream of success in the form of a traditional tragedy, as well as a family and a social play. As for techniques, first of all, the “Ibsenesque” method of how to dramatize what has gone before is well-known: “a viable unveiling of the contrast between past and present, and an awareness of the process by which the present has become what it is.” 2 Second, the biblical story of Cain and Abel from the Old Testament allows the play to disguise itself as a modern version of a morality play on “brotherhood.” Third, Oedipus’s murder of his father in Oedipus Rex 3 is utilized symbolically to place the play in the Western tradition of drama. Taking all these elements into consideration, this paper is an overview of All My Sons written over fifty years ago, and studies some of the universality the play embraces.
II. Father-son Conflict as Useful Dramatic Method
There is no denying that the father-son conflict is an old and also new theme in literature. Actually, there are a number of literary works dealing with the theme, like the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex and some other modern dramas. The relationship between father and son in...
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