All My Sons by Arthur Miller Essay
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Explain how Arthur Miller makes this moment in his play All My Sons so dramatic.
Refer to Extract 6 for passage
In his play All My Sons, Arthur Miller makes the moment of George Deever’s arrival highly dramatic through the sense that a crisis looms for the Kellers and is then narrowly avoided. Hostility is reduced to calm and jovial equanimity through Kate Keller’s maternal dominance and controlling nature, and this in turn ensures that the threat posed by George is negated.
At first, the interactions between Chris and George are adversarial as Chris repudiates the truth George asserts. Kate Keller resists Chris too, though in a very different way, which is ultimately successful in nullifying George and the threat he represents to the false reality of Joe Keller’s innocence.
The initial interactions in this passage create a hostile atmosphere that arises from the clash between George Deever and Chris Keller. George has arrived to insist that Ann does not marry Chris because Joe’s guilt, or, more particularly, Joe’s dishonesty about his guilt, resulted in their father’s imprisonment and the destruction of their family. Chris insists that George “won’t say anything now.” He intends to marry Ann and, more importantly, has systematically suppressed any doubts about his father’s innocence. Miller has George speak past him to Ann, “you’re coming with me,” he says, and again, “you’re coming with me.” This repetition in his dialogue conveys his tenacity and suggests that he’s unlikely to desist. His challenge to Chris is part of a larger challenge to the false reality in which the Keller’s have been living, a reality in which Joe is innocent. Kate has protected this reality for years and proceeds to do so again now.
When Kate Keller enters she immediately adopts a tone of maternal care and concern toward George. “Rais[ing] both hands” she “comes… toward him” saying “Georgie, Georgie.” This diminutive calls into the present George’s past, his childhood and the happy associations he would have attached to Kate Keller during that time. Miller’s stage directions describe how she “cups his face,” a gesture suggestive of the affection and intimacy between a mother and young son. She remarks that he has become “grey” and that “he looks like a ghost.”
This dialogue paints a vivid image of George as a gaunt and almost lifeless figure deserving of pity and perhaps plays on any feelings of self-pity he might have. She declares that she will “make [him] a sandwich,” and insists that he is “going to sit here and drink some juice.” Her theatrical and almost hyperbolic performance is one that seeks to emphasise her concern for George’s well-being and the motherly desire to nourish him and see him in good health. George is not actually her son, instead he belongs to the now fractured and dysfunctional Deever family. There’s a real sense that Kate is playing on this. She works to establish the nature of her interaction with George as obviously maternal, and thereby implicitly encourages him to adopt the corresponding role of dependant and grateful son.
Moreover, Kate works to displace both George’s mother and Ann as the female figure to whom George owes the most loyalty and thereby establishes her own dominance and control. “What’s the matter with your mother,” she asks, “why don’t she feed you?” This question undermines George’s mother as a capable maternal provider. Next, Miller has her takes aim at Ann, admonishing her for saying that George was “fine” since he so demonstrably is not.
Just as George’s mother supposedly fails to nurture him, Kate points out a similar failing in Ann when she notices Ann hasn’t given George grape juice. Ann says “defensively” that she “offered it to him.” The stage direction that describes her tone as “defensive” makes it clear that she feels as though she is under attack. And indeed she is. Kate’s reply is said “scoffingly,” showing that she is ridiculing Ann for her apparently inept attempts to adequately care for her brother. By undermining both George’s mother and sister, Kate implicitly offers herself as the female figure on whom George can really depend.
Ultimately, Kate succeeds and Chris defers to her utterly. Hostility dissolves into amiability and affection. Miller makes it clear from the beginning that George “always liked” Kate. This stage direction reveals a vulnerability he has in regard to her. At first he is gently dismissive of her, saying “I know” and “I feel all right.” This dialogue suggests he isn’t buying into her performance, or at least not at first. Eventually, however, he declares “Kate, I feel hungry already.” This line signals a crucial shift. It is so obviously said with affection and good humour. Clearly, the thought of doing anything to hurt Kate could not be further from his mind. Moreover, it indicates that he has adopted the role into which she has been cajoling him; that is, the dependent and acquiescent son.
Throughout this passage Kate is highly manipulative. She is motivated by an instinct to protect the false reality she and Joe perpetuate and on which she depends if she is to see her husband as anything but a monster who killed their son, Larry. Her success hinges on quelling George and the uncertainty of this is what creates the angst-ridden drama at this moment in the play. Ultimately, of course, her success is only momentary.