All My Sons | synopsis

Synopsis

Act I

The play starts in the middle of the action, abruptly. In August 1947, Joe Keller, a self-made businessman, and his wife Kate are visited by a neighbor, Frank. At Kate's request, Frank is trying to figure out the horoscope of the Kellers' missing son Larry, who disappeared three years earlier while serving in the military during World War II. There has been a storm and the tree planted in Larry's honor has blown down during the month of his death, making it seem that Larry is still alive. While Kate still believes Larry is coming back, the Kellers' other son, Chris, believes differently. Furthermore, Chris wishes to propose to Ann Deever, who was Larry's girlfriend at the time he went missing and who has been corresponding with Chris for two years. Joe and Kate react to this news with shock but are interrupted by Bert, the boy next door. He tattles to Joe and wants to see the "jail". In a game, Bert brings up the word "jail", making Kate react sharply. When Ann arrives, it is revealed that her father, Steve Deever, is in prison for selling cracked cylinder heads to the Air Force, causing the deaths of twenty-one pilots. Joe was his partner but was exonerated of the crime. Ann admits that neither she nor her brother keep in touch with their father anymore and wonders aloud whether a faulty engine was responsible for Larry's death. After a heated argument, Chris breaks in and later proposes to Ann, who accepts. Chris also reveals that while leading a company he lost all his men and is experiencing survivor's guilt. Meanwhile, Joe receives a phone call from George, Ann's brother, who is coming there to settle something.

Act II

Although Chris and Ann have become engaged, Chris avoids telling his mother. Their next door neighbor Sue emerges, revealing that everyone on the block thinks Joe is equally guilty of the crime of supplying faulty aircraft engines. Shortly afterwards, George Deever arrives and reveals that he has just visited the prison to see his father Steve. The latter has confirmed that Joe told him by phone to cover up the cracked cylinders and to send them out, and later gave a false promise to Steve that he would account for the shipment on the day of arrest. George insists his sister Ann cannot marry Chris Keller, son of the man who destroyed the Deevers. Meanwhile, Frank reveals his horoscope, implying that Larry is alive, which is just what Kate wants to hear. Joe maintains that on the fateful day of dispatch, the flu laid him up, but Kate says that Joe has not been sick in fifteen years. Despite George's protests, Ann sends him away.

When Kate claims to Chris (who is still intent on marrying Ann) that moving on from Larry will be forsaking Joe as a murderer, Chris concludes that George was right. Joe, out of excuses, explains that he sent out the cracked airheads to avoid closure of the business, intending to notify the base later that they needed repairs. However, when the fleet crashed and made headlines, he lied to Steve and abandoned him at the factory to be arrested. Chris cannot accept this explanation, and exclaims in despair that he is torn about what to do about his father now.

Act III

Chris has left home. Reluctantly accepting the accusations against her husband, Kate says that, should Chris return, Joe must express willingness to go to prison in the hope that Chris will relent. As he only sought to make money at the insistence of his family, Joe is adamant that their relationship is above the law. Soon after, Ann emerges and expresses her intention to leave with Chris regardless of Kate's disdain. When Kate angrily refuses again, Ann reveals to Kate a letter from Larry. She had not wanted to share it, but knows that Kate must face reality. Chris returns, and is torn about whether to turn Joe in to the authorities, knowing it doesn't erase the death of his fellow soldiers or absolve the world of its natural merciless state.

When Joe returns and excuses his guilt on account of his life's accomplishments, his son wearily responds, "I know you're no worse than other men, but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man ... I saw you as my father." Finally, the letter, read by Chris, reveals that because of his father's guilt, Larry planned to commit suicide. With this final blow, Joe finally agrees to turn himself in, saying of Larry, "Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were". Joe goes inside to get his coat, and kills himself with a gunshot off stage. At the end, when Chris expresses remorse in spite of his resolve, Kate tells him not to blame himself and to move on with his life.

Timeline

The precise date of events in the play are unclear. However it is possible to construct a timeline of All My Sons using the dialogue. The action takes place in August 1946, in Midwestern United States with the main story taking place on a Sunday morning.[10]

  • Autumn 1943: Joe encourages Steve to supply the USAAF with faulty cylinder heads for aircraft engines
  • Autumn 1943: After 21 pilots crash, Joe and Steve are arrested
  • November 25, 1943: Having read about his father's arrest, Larry crashes his plane off the coast of China
  • 1944: Joe is released
  • August 1946, a Sunday morning at 4 am: Larry's memorial blows down
  • August 1946, the same Sunday morning: Ann arrives at the Keller home
  • August 1946, the same Sunday morning: George visits Steve in prison (opening)