Image credit: Paul Sihvonen-Binder
All My Sons is Miller’s first play to receive widespread critical acclaim. It is the story of the Keller family: Joe Keller, a successful factory owner who has built his business on selling defective parts to the military during World War II, his older son Larry, a pilot missing in action, and his younger son Chris, who joined the family business despite suspicions about his father’s unethical actions.
Miller frequently drew from real-life experiences and people for his plays. He was the younger of two brothers, and his father ran the family business, a coat and suit factory, in a well-to-do part of Manhattan. When Miller was a teenager, the business failed, and his father moved the family into smaller quarters in Brooklyn, just as the Great Depression began. Miller lacked the money to go to college and worked odd jobs for years to save for his education, building experiences (such as encounters with anti-Semitism while working an auto parts warehouse) that would recur throughout his later plays.
An English major at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Miller studied expressionist playwrights like Henrik Ibsen and social protest plays by Clifford Odets. He received university awards for his earliest plays and further honed his craft after graduation by producing half hour works broadcast over the radio. However, his first play produced on Broadway was a critical failure. The story of a garage mechanic who cannot understand why he is successful while his brother is not, The Man Who Had All the Luck closed after just four performances. Discouraged, Miller decided to try writing one more play before giving up on playwriting for good. That play would become All My Sons.
After the play premiered at the Coronet Theatre in January 1947, William Hawkins wrote, “All My Sons is a play of high voltage, charged with things to say. No civilian, past or present, will find himself immune from its comment.”
Buy tickets to attend a University of Redlands performance of All My Sons here.
Hawkins, William. “‘All My Sons’ a Tense Drama.” New York World-Telegram, January 30, 1947. Reprinted in New York Theatre Critics Reviews, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 475.
Marino, Stephen. “Arthur Miller.” Twentieth-Century American Dramatists: Fourth Series. Ed. Christopher J. Wheatley. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 266. Detroit: Gale, 2003. From Literature Resource Center.