Arthur Miller’s modern domestic tragedy, “All My Sons” (AMS) develops tension throughout because of Kate’s search for her dead son, Larry, and the dark truth surrounding his death. Arthur Miller once wrote that “The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.”, and in AMS, he has certainly done this, where the play itself features a late point of attack and centres around the theme of the consequences of past actions catching up to the tragic hero, Joe Keller.
Written in 1947, AMS reflects a post-world war two society. This is reflected in many ways, one of which being a mother’s grief in the form of the character Kate, as well as a generation between those who fought in the war, thus suffering from survivors’ guilt, and those who grew up during the great depression. Kate’s grief is often constant source of tension, which allows the play’s narrative to move along.
She is constantly demonstrated to be irrational and unstable because of her loss; this instability is the cause of the climax of the play, where Kate reveals the truth of Joe Keller’s actions. This shows how essential the tension created by Kate’s grief and denial is to the plot.
Chris is shown to be an attentive and caring son in the extract, which initially helps Miller to convey the extent of the pain that Kate experiences with her grief as everyone around her tries to help.
In the phrase “can I get you an aspirin?” Chris shows his compassion for wanting to help his mother. This could also be a hint from Miller as to Chris agenda. Rather than talking to his mother about her grief, he tries to soothe her pain with an aspirin, perhaps so that he can distract her from her pain in order to enable his goal: marrying Anne. Tension is expressed in the extract through the reactions of other people to Kate’s kinesics and discourse.
“Chris [looks at Keller]: what was it, mom? Did you dream?” Interrogatives suggest that Kate regularly dreams of Larry, making this a repeated source of conflict within the Keller family. This in a way turns into dramatic irony in that everyone in the cast and audience understand that Larry is dead, except Kate. Chris kinesics of looking to Keller demonstrate his concern for Kate, signalling to the audience that we too, should be concerned for Kate as she is in a vulnerable and unstable state of mind due to the trauma of losing her son.
Kate’s monologue would bring about empathy from Millers post-war audience as many would have likely lost their own children. The contrasting approaches to dealing with Larry in the lay are also likely to represent a variety of methods for dealing with grief in the audience, where some will side with Chris, others will side with Kate, which in turn create tension in the audience.
The Incorporation of the voice of Larry in Kate’s monologue “Mom! Mom!” evokes pathos in Miller’s audience, which also creates tension due to the short exclamatory sentences.
Kate’s tone rapidly shifts from lamentation in her monologue, to accusatory “Everybody was in such a hurry to bury him. I said not to plant it yet”. Here, Miller establishes tensions through this drastic tonal shift, representing Kate’s unstable state of mind. To Kate, the fact that the memorial tree has blown down is a clear sign that Larry is still alive, showing that she is still only in the second stage of grief: denial.
The switch from Kate’s monologue to direct address of Keller, “[with an accusing undertone]: why did he invite her here?”, also establish tension. Through the stage directions showing a sharp contrast in tone. Kate’s interrogatives give a tone of hostility, most likely due to her blind faith of Larry’s survival being questioned. Kate’s conclusions for Chris” ambitions with Anne are signalled by her interrogatives, highlighting the underlying tension rising from the conflict between juxtaposing agendas: Chris wanting to marry Anne and Kate desperately searching for Larry.
Miller’s use of lighting was twilight falls, that evening start to establish increasing tension at the start of act two, where the use of chiaroscuro is used for dramatic effect. At this point, the audience will realise that conflict in the play
Kate’s desperate search for signs is very evident in her relationship with neighbour Frank Lubey. During rising conflict between George and the Keller family after Kate accidentally reveals that Keller was never sick during the war, Frank enters the stage, where his purpose serves as a deterrent from conflict, prolonging the suspense and tension. As Frank enters, he continues to feed Kate false hope, something that the rest of the cast resent. The stage directions [desperately]: “He finished Larry’s horoscope!” convey a sense and tone of panicked urgency, as if Kate believes that any stray signs that Larry could be alive will convince the rest of her family. All other characters realise that there is no possibility of Larry being alive, CHRIS: Stop filling her head with that junk!, the exclamatory sentence and imperative show Chris frustration at the ongoing conflict of whether Larry is alive or not. Equally, he could be frustrated as he realises that for as long as Larry is alive within his mother, he can never marry Ann.
Miller establishes tensions elsewhere in the play through Kate’s rejection of Larry’s death. For example, at the climax of the play on page 67-68, where Kate reveals the truth of the who sent off the cracked war heads due to her Kate belabours Keller “[she smashed him across the face]”, her violent kinesics bring the play to its climax in tension, which also demonstrate her instability and inability for rational conversation, resorting to violence.
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