Friday, January 24, 2014

All My Sons, by Arthur Miller - book review

My rating : 4/5
Riveting drama from a master playwright.
This is a play about loyalty, about belonging, about morality and ethics. The complexity of the bonds between two families the Kellers and the Deevers is exposed when Annie, the Deevers' daughter, comes to spend the weekend with the Kellers. She was previously attached to Larry, a son that the Kellers lost in the war and can't mourn because they refuse to acknowledge his death. However, Chris, Larry's brother, has formed an attachment with Annie and intends to propose to her that weekend, thus forcing his mother to accept that Larry won't be coming back. 
It seems that postponed grief is the only thing keeping Annie and Chris apart, until a deeper, darker secret surfaces, brought to light by Annie's own brother, coming from the prison where their father is wasting away, paying the price for a crime that implicated the elder Keller, Joe.
The relationship between the Kellers and the Deevers was never that of equals. Though they were neighbors and the children grew up together, Joe Keller was Steve Deever's boss. Something happened during the war, a decision was made, Steve went to jail and Joe didn't. The proximity of the neighborhood came undone, as the neighbors reminiscences attest to. Mother Keeler insists on seeing the children as hers, and her wish to see them escape the sins of the parents is predictably vain.
Reading this play is like watching a bomb explode in slow motion, watching the collisions happen with years' delay, spraying human bits away from the explosions' center.

Here's the great foreshadowing:

Ann: You’re the only one I know who loves his parents. 
Chris: I know. It went out of style, didn’t it?
Ann: (with a sudden touch of sadness) It’s all right. It’s a good thing. (She looks about) You know? It’s lovely here. The air is sweet.

 Any play implicating multiple generations, of course, will hinge on heritage and innocence lost. Parents show their children how to be adults in the end by demonstrating the opposite of what they always taught them to respect in moral terms. This is eloquently voiced by their neighbor Jim:
[...], he’ll come back. We all come back, Kate. These private little revolutions always die. The compromise is always made. In a peculiar way. Frank is right… every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again. I don’t think he went very far. He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out.

From a historical perspective, the play is imbued with an attachment to the codes of the period that strongly speak to post-war sentiment. It's doubtful that the same characters would attach the same importance to family honor and loyalty to one's country and laws today, but it doesn't take anything away from the play's power.

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