Chris Character Essay
“All My Sons” is considered Miller’s most famous play. The play is an assertion of the need for the individual to accept full responsibility for his actions, to acknowledge the reality of a world in which the idea of brotherhood is an active principle rather than simple piety. It is to be regarded as a sever attack on materialism which stands at odds with human values, on a war-profiteer’s drive for profits based on an ethic that Familial obligations should come first, even at the expense of his social responsibilities and obligations.
The title of the play is very significant; since it indicate one of the most important subsidiary themes of the play, namely “the father-son relationship”. As we have said before the main theme of the play has to deal with the importance of a Man’s social responsibility as compared to his responsibility towards his family. This main theme is very related, even interwoven, with the conflict that might arise between a son’s duty towards his father and his own moral duty towards his society.
Perhaps, a close examination of the character of Chris Keller and his relation to his father would make this point even clearer. As the play opens, we are immediately made to realize how Chris highly regards his father and the depth of his affection for him that he comes to believe that he (his father) is a perfect and ideal person. This fact has been affirmed when his mother-Kate- expresses her worries about George’s – Steve Deveer’s son- purpose in paying a visit to their house. She is quite sure that the later -being a lawyer now- intends to open the case of his father again.
Chris affirms her ” you’re silly; what’s there to be afraid of”; which clearly indicate his high regard of his father and his complete awareness of his innocence. And when his mother affirms that “to his last day in court Steve never gave up the idea that Dad made him do it” and that “if they are going to open the case again” she “won’t live through it” Chris assures her that he would stand by her and his father in a very determinant manner: “George is just a damn fool, Mother, how can you take him seriously”.
Later on, as George tries to convince Chris that the later’s father is the real culprit, Chris refuses to believe his accusations against his father: Chris: on his [Steve Deveer] own. And because he is a frightened mouse this is another thing he’d done through the blame on somebody else because he’s not man enough to take it himself. He tried it in the court, but it did not work, but with fools like you [George] it works. Matter-of-fact, Chris idealistic streak is indeed the key feature towards a clear-cut revelation of his character. This idealism has been manifested in more than one occasion.
First, as he was explaining to Ann the reason why he has delayed his confession of Love for her, he attribute it to his own feeling of guilt at the thought that all the men under his command had died when he himself survived. He even feels even guiltier when he finds that the world has not changed as a consequence of the War, as it retains its very selfish and callous attitudes as it used to be before the War: Chris: … they [the young soldiers under his command] didn’t die; they killed themselves for each other. I mean that exactly; a little more selfish and they’d’ve been here today… And then I came home and it was incredible.
I – there was no meaning in it here; the whole thing to them [the American society] was a kind of a-bus accident… Because no body was changed at all… I felt wrong to be alive, to open a bank-book, to drive the new car… ” Elsewhere, Chris idealism finds expression in his feeling surprised and shocked by the revelation that his father was the real culprit in the matter of supplying defective cylinder heads to the air force, after his confrontation with his mother about Ann’s stay in their house, which has developed to its peak that Kate affirms him that his father had really been guilty:
Kate: … your brother is alive, darling, because if he’s dead, your father killed him. Do you understand me now? As long as you live, that boy is alive. God does not let a son be killed by his father. As his father tries to defend himself, affirming that Larry “never flew a P-40” Chris idealism has been asserted once more. He affirms his father that he seems to be living in an altogether different world from the one in which other people are living. Even when his father affirms that he had supplied defective equipment to the air forces for his (Chris) sake:
“Chris… Chris, I did it for you, it was a chance and I took it for you. I’m sixty-one years old, when would I have another chance to make something for you? Sixty-one years old you don’t get another chance, do ya? Chris condemn his father’s causes and his complete lake of social responsibility; saying; “For me! Where do you live, where have you come from? For me! I was dying everyday and you were killing my boys and you did it for me? What the hell do you think I was thinking of, the goddam business?… Don’t you have a country? Don’t you live in a world?
Elsewhere, Chris’s idealism has been manifested as he tells Ann that during the fight there used to be a sense of honor between all soldiers, which forced them to behave in an honorable manner. But now he comes to realize that: “this is the land of the great big dogs, you do not love a man here, you eat him! That’s the principle, the only one we live by- it just happened to kill few people this time that’s all. The world’s that’s way, how can I take it out on him”. That’s to say he believes that the main principle governing life is to pursue self-interest, even at the expense of others.
Chris’s shock, as he himself explain it later, results from the fact that he is really convinced that his father “is no worse than most men, but [he had] thought [his father] to be a better man than most”. This shock caused a sever kind of internal conflict inside him between his Idealism and Practicality, to the extend that towards the end of the play he admits to his mother and Ann that his idealism had left him and that he has now become a practical man who does not have the courage to force his father to face the consequences of his guilt.
He further affirms them that he is no longer “human” and that his now like every body else. Referring to his father, Chris tells his mother “I could jail him, if I were human any more”… “I’m practical now. You made me practical”. As his mother tries to convince him that there is nothing wrong in being practical; Chris replies that even cats in the streets are practical, and the cowards who ran away from the battlefield during the war were practical.
That’s to say for Chris practicality is the word which unworthy people use to justify their own selfish attitudes: ” But I’m practical and I spit on myself”. It is worthy of note that “much of the success of “All My Sons” has been due to Miller’s complex vision of Keller’s shared guilt and each’s contribution to this family collapse. That’s to say Miller was keen to affirm that Joe Keller is not solely responsible for his family troubles, and ultimate disaster”. Chris, also, is responsible for his family’s dilemma.
Though he adopts a highly moral tone, he was only trying to escape his own sense of guilt. Having watching the heroic young men under his command die selflessly in the battle to save their comrades, Chris feels guilty for failing them and surviving the war. So when he was given a chance to escape his anguish, he tries to find relief out of his sense of guilt; in the form of contempt for his father’s criminal act, on the hope that by destroying his father he can some how escape his own sins and his own personal torment.
His father, thus, becomes his scapegoat. It is hard, therefore, not to see and condemn the hypocrisy behind the zeal that leads to Keller’s Suicide. His motives are purely selfish. We all know that his words ring hollow because he has long suspected his father’s guilt, but deliberately avoided confronting the truth-again for purely selfish motives: at some level Chris fears that if he allows himself to see his father’s human imperfection, he will also have to realize his own limitations- and his experience in the war make him dread that confrontation.