Their conversation is light-hearted; discussion of weather (“Gonna rain tonight” and “That beautiful. Not a cloud.” NOTE: here you could divulge into pathetic fallacy; the weather in the Keller’s backyard is bright and sunny now – indicating the health of the familial bonds – but Keller knows that it will rain later. Similarly, note how “The wind must’ve got [Larry’s tree] last night”. Miller develops a theme of exploring tone with the weather. The breaking of Larry’s tree, and a sudden gust of wind, represents the beginnings of a storm (both literally, within the family, and metaphorically).
1. Distinct characterisation – FOREBODING: Keller, Capitalism and Ignorance: In this passage, Keller is revealed by Miller to be mostly ignorant of the outside world. He doesn’t “read the news part [of the newspaper] any more” – “It’s more interesting in the want ads.” He also claims “there was no such thing [as a forester] in my day” – although this blatant falsehood appears amusing to the audience, it is the same ignorance of the world that underlies his crime.
Miller also introduces Keller’s key idea of “business”; he reads the want ads not because he’s “trying to buy something”, but because he’s “interested to see what people want”. Keller’s mindset is rooted in the notion of supply and demand, among other principles of capitalist economics. However, his ignorance is again demonstrated in his amazement at “all the kind of business goin’ on”. He wonders “[somebody] would want with two Newfoundland dogs?”, or “with an old dictionary?”, showing that he cannot immediately recognise any lifestyle which doesn’t conform to his ideals. In other words, Keller can appreciate the fundamental principles of capitalism, such as supply and demand, but fails to associate them to other “businesses”. It is the same flaw which allows him to cherish his own biological sons but fail in his responsibility to the rest of the world, especially the 21 pilots.
Note that, even when new professions are revealed to him, Keller wonders whether you can “make a living out of it”. In this, Miller also hints towards his limited economic outlook; profit makes everything worthwhile. However, in the opening of the play, the audience merely sees his surprise at the existence of book collectors as an example of Keller’s “wonder in many commonly known things”. As he acknowledges himself; “you look at a page like this, you realize how ignorant you are.” Thus Miller maintains a relaxed, conversational atmosphere but keeps the audience unaware of the vital developments in character being illustrated.
Mystery and further foreboding: Miller uses a reversal of dramatic irony to advance intrigue in the final part of the passage. The audience is introduced to situation in which the characters refer to each other within an unknown context; the audience is led to Larry is at least not present and, given that he is referred to in the past tense (“he’d been twenty-seven this month”) and Keller says “I’m surprised you remember his birthday”, is probably dead.
The most haunting example of Keller’s speech is “How can you make him a horoscope? That’s for the future, ain’t it?” – implying that Larry doesn’t have a future. Note also the reference to Kate’s reaction etc. Conclusion: General atmosphere is a conversational one; pleasantries. However, key character traits are explored (Keller’s ignorance and capitalist interests) and plot points are introduced too, such as Larry’s presumed death and Kate’s reaction to it.