The Theme of Social Responsibility in the play “All My Sons” (BEGE-107)

The play “All My Sons” has a single major theme- the theme of social responsibility. It emphasizes the importance of a man’s duty towards society and his country before his duty to his family. The play brings out the magic consequences of a man’s mistake of becoming rich and providing comfortable and luxurious life to his family at the cost of society. Joe Keller wants to fulfil the American Dream that goes back to the early puritan settlers in America who came with the aim to establish New Jerusalem that practically meant establishing an economic civilisation in the wilderness of American continent. In due course of time, however the achievement of success was through manipulation and disregard for moral values. Keller merely believes in the economic interpretation of the American Dream where values and morality take the back seat. Joe Keller’s dream is confined to his family only. His ultimate goal is to look after the comforts of his family. This obsession makes him dupe his own friend and partner Steve Deever. He is inspired by the myopic vision of the ‘American Dream’. This meant to become successful by manipulation and duplicity. He believes that to survive in this world of competition one has to be successful alone. The fear of failure leads him to betray not only his friend but also his own country.

Joe Keller, a manufacturer of aircraft engines had received an urgent contract from the army to supply cylinder heads for aircrafts to be used in war. But it so happened that the whole batch of cylinder heads produced by the manufacturing unit had developed cracks. On the day, the urgent order came and Joe Keller was at home, while his business partner Steve Deever was in the manufacturing unit. Steve Deever called up Joe Keller to inform him, about the hairline cracks in the cylinder heads discovered by him in the factory. Joe Keller could have asked Steve Deever to withhold the supply of these defective cylinder heads, but he left that putting a half to the supply of the damaged cylinder heads would lead to a huge financial loss. A hundred and twenty defective cylinder heads that the factory had manufactured were damaged and discarding them and making new ones would lead to a lot of delay as also to the termination of their contract. Moreover, they would not be able to meet the demands of the army who needed the cylinder heads immediately for the ongoing war.

Owing to the financial pressure and the obsession of becoming rich, Keller risked shipping the faulty parts of the cylinder heads. Keller could not bear to see his business collapse that had taken forty years of struggle to build it. Keeping his personal and family interests in mind, he called up Steve Deever asking him to weld the cracks on the cylinders and ship it out to the army. Keller told him that he was down with flu and would not be coming to the factory, but would take full responsibility for supplying the damaged cylinders. Later defending his action, Keller tells his son that he thought that the authorities would send him a report of the damaged cylinder heads after they themselves had tested them. Twenty-one pilots were dead in consequences as their aircrafts crashed. Both Steve Deever and Joe Keller knew that the defective cylinders would put the lives of the pilots in danger but they wanted to make profit without bothering about the consequences. Keller disregards his social responsibilities and seeks his own material interests at the cost of other people’s lives. For Joe Keller, the duty towards his family is the priority; he makes a wrong choice and the result is disastrous. Keller insists that his own values are those of the American capitalist society that emphasizes achieving success by economic gain in this land of opportunity. Joe Keller places his commitment to his immediate family above his wider responsibility to the society at large.


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