Readers familiar with Arthur Miller’s popular plays like ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘A View from the Bridge’ know what to expect from ‘All My Sons’.
The blurb on the book also readily gives away the plot – but am sure the playwright didn’t have suspense in mind while he wrote the tale. He seems to focus on the games people play and human drama that surrounds decision-making. As a dollop, right at the end, he adds a nice twist to the tale as well.
It is a tale set in the middle class neighbourhood of an American city recovering from the recent world war. We meet the Keller family and learn about their lives. Joe Keller is a successful businessman who is well off financially and had built a business involving supplying Aircraft ancillaries during the war. His eldest son, Chris, is a conscientious chap who is trying to come to terms with the effects of the war and trying to come to terms with his plan to propose to Annie.
Annie had been the quintessential girl next door and happened to his younger brother’s (Larry) sweetheart as well. But Larry has been missing for over three years now and many believed that he was dead. Larry’s mother, Kate, believes to the contrary and is worried that Chris would propose marriage to Annie who might accept it as well.
A further complication is that Annie’s father, Deever, had been a partner with Keller and both were accused of having supplied defective spares that caused the death of 29 pilots as the planes simply crashed. And while Deever was convicted, Keller was exonerated. A shadow of doubt remained on Keller’s role and it was generally felt that he had pulled a smart one to escape punishment.
The initial drama is on a simple subject – Chris and Annie are happy to discover their love for each other and want to announce their engagement. Keller is on the whole happy about the match but worried about Kate’s reaction. Kate of course is dead set against it as she refuses to believe that Larry is dead. She would rather have Annie remain a lone maid forever awaiting Larry’s return.
The writer also chips in small vignettes for us to savour – a young lawyer returns home to see that his sweetheart is now married and a mother of three children and an ambitious nurse is frustrated to find that her husband seems to wish away the practical demands of modern life and idealistically dream about pursuing his pet research project.
The drama moves one notch further wherein Annie’s brother, George, arrives at the scene intent on breaking the match. He has just met his father in prison and wants to denounce Keller for his role in the plane tragedy. The personal confrontation is intense though Keller still cops out and does not acknowledge his guilt.
Kate tries to push the situation to her advantage and Annie finally opens up on a secret she has held for a long time. She shows the family a letter from Larry who, upon learning about the plane tragedy while being posted on the war front, feels humiliated and ready to denounce his father on his role. He flies off on a mission and indicates that he won’t come back.
The tragedy triggers a heated argument between Chris and his father. Keller is finally broken and accepts his misdeeds. He is rather broken now and decides to shoot himself. Larry’s views have influenced in a marked manner while Chris’ suspicions of a similar nature where easily fended off.
Kate is part of the duplicity as well since she did suspect her husband of being involved in the incident. And of course Annie too has held onto the secret for three years now. True she had never tried to derive any advantage of it till now when she had arrived at the scene with every intent of putting the past behind and get married to Chris.
In the final twist, Miller achieves a great climax as none of the characters coming out smelling like a Rose. The stench of moral decay is horrendous and there is nothing redeeming about the situation. Miller’s plays do tend to have a dark undercurrent and often end in tragedies. But he is remarkably prescient in his narratives and the reader too knows deep within his bones that the narrative will tend to be a clinical narration of a depressing tale about a man’s feet of clay.