All My Sons: Background to the Play

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Background to the action of the play<

Four years before the action of All My Sons begins, in the fall of 1943 during World War II, Joe Keller committed the crime that drives the plot. At that time, Joe’s factory made parts for airplanes. One night, the production line at the factory began to turn out cracked cylinder heads. Joe’s deputy manager, Steve Deever, had called Joe at home to alert him to the problem. Joe did not want to lose production or risk being shut down by the government, so he told Steve to weld over the cracks and ship out the faulty parts. He told Steve that he would take responsibility for any consequences, but said that he could not come into the factory that day as he had influenza.

As a result of the subsequent failure of the cylinder heads, twenty-one airplanes crashed and the pilots died. Joe and Steve were arrested and convicted, but Joe had appealed. In his appeal, he contradicted Steve’s (true) version of events, placing the entire blame for the incident on Steve and convincing the court that he himself knew nothing about it. Joe was released from prison, but Steve is still in prison at the time that the play opens.

Shortly after Joe’s conviction, Joe’s son Larry was reported missing in action while flying a mission. Immediately before his last flight, Larry wrote a letter to his then fiancée, Ann Deever, telling her that he had heard of his father’s and Steve’s arrest and was planning to commit suicide. Ann has never revealed the contents of this letter.

Kate Keller knows that Joe is guilty of the deaths of the pilots but says nothing about it. She has convinced herself that Larry is alive because to admit that he is dead is to open the door to the possibility that Joe has caused his own son’s death, an idea that she cannot bear. She supports Joe's deception, and in return, he supports her self-deception that Larry will return home one day.

Ann and her brother George believe that their father is guilty, and have cut off contact with him. But George has finally visited his father in jail, and Steve has convinced him of the truth about the faulty cylinder heads incident.

The play opens on a Sunday morning in the fall of 1947. Ann has come to visit the Kellers at the invitation of Larry's brother, Chris. He has been writing to her for two years and now intends to propose to her. Ann loves Chris and has guessed his intention. On the Saturday night there has been a storm in which a tree, planted as a memorial to Larry, has been broken off by the wind. In the early hours of the Sunday morning, Kate has woken from a dream of Larry and wandered into the garden, where she found the tree broken.

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