Arthur Miller, A Playwright Coping with War
Arthur Miller is known to be one of the most influential and brilliant playwrights of this day and age. Plays such as The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, etc. are just a few of the many, which have graced their presence with the stage. Just as many other playwrights, Arthur Miller’s plays don’t just pop out of thin air. Plays arise from inspiration, life experiences, and observations. All My Sons is a play about a family dealing with the loss of a son and a hidden family shame after World War Two (WWII). Coping mechanisms are often seen in times of war with families dealing with loss, posttraumatic stress disorder, or feelings of guilt concerning the war. The play All My Sons is a great example of people using coping mechanisms to move on with their lives after the loss of a son in war and a shameful secret kept by the father that cost the lives of many Air Force Pilots and a false jail sentence of a business partner. One can only imagine what the inspiration and connection towards the subject of WWII and Arthur Miller that brought him to write such a brilliant but dramatic story of people coping with the effects of war in their personal lives. Arthur Miller’s inspiration for All My Sons stemmed from a true-life story told to him by stepmother as well as his personal experiences in life. The story and his personal experiences with the Red Scare in the late 1940’ s-1950 have brought him to understand coping mechanisms dealing with loss, shame, and guilt in times of war.
Within the play All My Sons, Joe and Kate Keller mourn the loss of their son Larry who disappeared while flying fighter jets in WWII. Though Larry’s disappearance and probable death haunts the Keller family, the characters find their own individual coping mechanisms to deal with their loss. Kate Keller holds on to the superstitious belief that her son may one day return to her while Joe just continues to move on day to day remembering the honor of his son, while his still living brother Chris finds that taking his brother’s sweetheart and proposing marriage to her is his rightful claim of moving on and escaping from the shadow of his favored brother. Though the coping mechanisms are different, Arthur Miller found a common ground through his own experiences from which the individual coping mechanisms stemmed from. Arthur Miller himself was exempt from the WWII due to a leg injury playing football, yet Arthur Miller fought his own war during the Red Scare in the 1950’s. Artists across the country were being questioned and black listed for any association with the Nazi party by the Un-American Activities Committee. Every artist had their own way of coping with the bombardment of communist accusations thrown at them. Some gave names of people who were supportive of communists, other’s protested, some artists found it easier to leave the country, and other’s like Arthur Miller found their best ways of coping were to fight the war of the Red Scare which was a result of the Nazi’s invading and going to war with the rest of the world. Miller at the time was coping with loss as well due to the Red Scare and the effects of WWII. His father had lost the family business causing his family to loose everything in return due to failure in capitalism and a depression putting hundreds of American families out of work. Miller also lost many friends through the Red Scare and he saw friends throw each other to the dogs to keep their careers. It all came down to money and the real truth behind the “American Dream.” All My Sons was written as an attack towards the committee. It showed the hard truths about capitalism as well as the so-called “American Dream.” The play was based off a true story, but character aspects such as Joe willing to ship out faulty cylinder heads for warplanes to keep up his profit as well as ratting out his business and blaming him for a crime he did not commit to keep his business. It all comes down to money and Miller was not afraid to cope with his loss by fighting fire with fire and exposing the truth of things. All My Sons resulted in Miller being questioned about communism and though he was not found guilty, he was charged for not releasing names of others to the committee. Through Miller’s experience in loss, he was able to express true circumstances within the characters’ coping mechanisms when dealing with the loss of their family member though the characters’ loss differed from Miller’s. In the end, it all came down to them coping with loss caused by the effects of war.
Coping Mechanisms dealing with shame also appear within All My Sons. Joe Keller deep down knows that he is to blame for the crime of producing faulty cylinder heads. It has brought a huge shame on the Keller’s as well as the family on his now convicted business partner. The family of his business partner has left town unable to cope face to face with the shame hanging over their heads. The Keller’s however deal with the shame by avoiding the subject all together. The Keller’s long to live their life as if the incident had never happened to the best that they can. During and after war, many countries look to move past the shame of rash decisions made that resulted in disaster by putting it behind them, looking towards the future, and not bringing it up as if the subject of the war were taboo. Arthur Miller was able to convey the coping mechanisms of shame a s a result of war through the shame he not only felt for his fellow colleagues during the Red Scare, but for the shame he witnessed others suffer through. As mentioned before, many artists were brought into the Un-American Activities Committee for questioning and determination of whether they were supportive of the Communist Party. World War II brought a common fear of communism and the Nazi party that soon turned into an epidemic. With fear of loosing their careers in an already competitive art community, some artists felt the shame of bleeding out names to the committee was worth the sacrifice. Arthur Miller lost several friends in their shameful pursuits and was reported to have dreams at night where he claimed the demon under his bed had stabbed him in the back. It is thought to believe that Miller meant the people, who he thought to be his friends, had stabbed him in the back and accused him towards the committee for communism. It can only be imagined that the shame Miller carried for his once beloved friends and a communist fearing government had brought him to write the shame experienced by the characters within All My Sons.
Last but not least, coping mechanism for guilt arise within Miller’s All My Sons. Joe Keller deep down does feel guilty for the cracked cylinders but copes with it by forcing himself to believe he was not to blame for what happened, that he was under intense pressure from the U.S. Military, he was too ill to think straight, and that he was trying to look out for the better of his family’s and business’s financial well being. He also copes with the belief that if they cylinders were not usable, his now imprisoned business partner should have taken responsibility for them to not be shipped out. Kate on the other hand handles the guilt by suppressing it with the belief that her dead son will one day return to her. The idea to admitting to the true guiltiness of her husband would mean that she is admitting to her self her son is actually dead and that it was his own father’s fault he did not return home from serving in the Air Force. Arthur Miller was able to convey the characters sense of guilt well through he experiences he had during the Red Scare. The Accusations artist received from the Red Scare acted as threats towards their reputations and careers. Some felt pressured to feel guilty of communism or to prove others to be guilty of communism. Though Miller never confessed names of communist supporters, he was made to feel guilty by the Committee for even attending communist meetings. Arthur Miller was appalled by the fact of being made to feel guilty for a crime he feels he hasn’t committed. This is a distinct act of a coping mechanism we see in Joe’s character. Ways that Miller again coped with the guilt he saw around him was fighting the guilt that himself and others were forced to feel. He fought the feelings of guilt emotionally as well as physically in his protests and plays in which he produced attacking the Red Scare including All My Sons.
Through the trials and accusations of the Red Scare as a result of fear in communism brought by World War II, Arthur Miller was exposed by experiences within himself and through others he witnessed what common coping mechanisms a family such as the Keller’s may produce in their stages of loss, shame, and guilt from the effects of war. It takes true experience such as that of Miller’s to be able to produce even a real life based story to continue it real life circumstances on the stage.