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How Greed Killed 23.

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Tavia Bahena

Michael Williams

Hon 101

26 February 2019

How Greed Killed 23

The underlying theme of money is prominent throughout the entire play of All My Sons. While the main plot revolves around Joe Keller’s attempts to return his world to how it was prior to the war, the years leading to his attempts are important to note. Keller’s desire to rebuild the bonds that tie his family together would not be necessary without the evil in the world of the play, which controls Keller and many others: Americans’ overvaluation of money. This leads to characters focusing not on common decency or even their passions if there is no financial gain such as “on a Warner Brothers salary” (Miller 9). Furthermore, for Joe Keller, this greed warps his mind to the extent that he perceives his immoral actions as virtuous and justified. In All My Sons, Joe Keller’s love for his family in conjunction with the evil in the world of the play form his tragic flaw of cupidity and lead to his suicide after he finally recognizes the hold his own overvaluation of money had on him.

Over the course of the play, Keller’s preference of those closest to him undermines his morality and ultimately manifests itself into his devotion of returning to the familiarity of his old life.  He even goes so far as to tell Chris that his marriage is “only your business” and declares “I ignore what I gotta ignore” (Miller 15,16). While he does believe this to be true, he understands his wife still clings desperately to the hope that Larry will come back and marry Ann as planned. Although this marriage would mean a significant change from his old life as Chris and Annie would be bonded, Keller still works to retain as much of his old life as possible, even guaranteeing a job for George and his father, once he gets out of prison. However, because things have changed, Keller knows he cannot return exactly to the prewar relationship with Steve and the rest of the Deevers, and instead of offering another partnership, he makes a promise to employ Steve as a regular employee. Moreover, because Keller knows George is struggling financially in his career as a lawyer, he lures him into coming home as well, stating he has contacts with some individuals who can offer George a job at a firm.

What exactly was the root of this transition into a new life? Cupidity under the influence of familial responsibility. Because America was in the middle of a war, the government employed manufacturing businesses to supply parts for, among other things, airplanes. This led to a business contract, and in turn the promise of wealth, for Keller. The night Steve discovered a flaw in the manufacturing process led to a moral dilemma for Keller: would he report the flaw and potentially lose his contract, leaving his family without an income? Or would he ignore the issue, maintain the contract, and report the issue once it was fixed? Keller’s love for his family, and their need for financial support, won out. Although sending off faulty mechanical parts meant risking the lives of pilots in the war, Keller and his cupidity does not allow him to feel guilty when ordering the cracks to be concealed and packaged. According to Keller, if “[y]ou got a process, [and] the process don't work[,] you're out of business” (Miller 69). Between him, his family, and 21 unknown pilots, Keller chose to save himself and his family. This decision not only killed the pilots and ruined Steve’s life, but it would eventually cause the suicides of Larry and Keller himself.

At the time that the play is set, although Keller is wealthy with a successful business, his efforts of creating this personal utopia would prove to be in vain as his reversal and recognition of the severity of his actions occur due to Kate’s slip of the tongue:

Keller: Say, I ain’t got time to get sick

Mother: He hasn’t been laid up in fifteen years
Keller: Except my flu during the war.
Mother: Huhh? (Miller 65)

Although Keller justifies his decision as valid, his acknowledgement that the death of twenty-one pilots was an entirely preventable tragedy is revealed through his attempts to hide his connection to the shipment of cracked parts.

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