Joe Keller as the Tragic Hero in Miller's All My Sons
Ancient Greek tragedies were almost always about a protagonist with a
tragic flaw. This flaw dictates the stories events and leads to the
eventual downfall of the protagonist. The story cannot end until the
protagonist has realised his flaw and tries to remedy it. This very
often involves the protagonist dieing in an attempt to make right what
wrongs he may have caused.
Arthur Miller has borrowed this idea as a base for his play ‘All My
Sons’. The protagonist of this play is Joe Keller, a sixty-year-old
retired factory owner. The play follows the story of him and his
family ; his wife Kate, his son Chris and Chris’ fiancée Annie in
1940’s suburban America. The play reveals that Joe committed a crime;
he knowingly sent out faulty cylinder heads for use in the war and
then blamed his partner, Annie’s dad, who went to prison instead of
Joe. Kate also knows he did this and is struggling to keep the secret.
However, she feels she has to believe he didn’t do it or it means that
he would have been responsible for the death of their other son Larry,
who they believed died flying planes in the war.
Joe is a victim of the American Dream. He wanted to do the best he
could by his family, and in his quest for money, forgot about the
greater scheme of things in the world. This is his major flaw-he
cannot see beyond the forty foot line that surrounds himself and his
family. He thinks what he is doing will help his family but by making
the ill-considered decision he makes, he ends up hurting them more
than helping them.
At the start of the play, the audience is not aware of any of Joe’s
misdeeds. He is portrayed by Miller as a friendly man, who is a pillar
of the community. He is seen talking to neighbours Jim, a doctor, and
Frank. Miller purposely portrays Keller like this at the beginning of
the play to misguide the audience and make it more of a shock when the
truth is revealed.
As the play progresses the different layers of Joe’s personality
emerge. Joe feels it is his duty and responsibility to provide
material comforts for his family whilst he is alive, and to leave an
inheritance for his surviving son. There are hints throughout the play
that Joe is troubled by his guilt. Miller shows us these hints of
Joe’s true character through strategically placed dramatic devices,
which include dialogue from Joe and other characters, the setting of
the play, props, entrances and exits of the characters and
The first dramatic device used by Miller in the play is when Larry’s
memorial tree is knocked down by bad weather. Joe and Chris think that
Larry is definitely dead and do not read into the tree falling down,
However Kate thinks that it must mean Larry is not dead. She feels the
tree should never have been planted in memorial because he is not
dead, and sees it as the worlds way of showing he is still alive
somewhere. This event begins to...