World War II (1939 to 1945) was, in many ways “very much more total than its predecessor” (Messenger). The war took place over more territory “than that of 1914-1918”, had more “ferocious weapons” (Messenger) and the causalities of the Holocaust made for another long and damaging war. Due to the press, most of America had no idea how truly horrific the war really was. Newspapers often skewed facts and made the war seem less bloody and that it would be over soon. Arthur Miller was born in 1915 and experienced and felt the impact of America entering into World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. In his play, All My Sons, Arthur Miller helps reveal the truth about World War II.
In “Reporting World War II , American Journalism” an American bomber pilot said “When I told my mother what the war was really like, and how long it was going to take, she sat down and cried” (Hynes). At the time, newspapers tended to misrepresent the war so the general American public had no idea how truly horrific it was. Some say that theatre was partly responsible for this false illusion of the war. The same American Bomber pilot blamed this illusion on “their (Americans’) own wishful thinking, bolstered by comfort-inspiring yarns from the war theatres…” (Hynes). By definition, “War theatre” refers to a military term where “a theater or seat of war is defined as a specific geographical area of conduct of armed conflict, bordered by areas where no combat is taking place”. In a theatrical sense, expressionism and surrealism might have added to this false illusion of war. Expressionism and Surrealism Drama frequently seem distorted or dreamlike, which could easily be manipulated into war propaganda (Wilson). This might be the “war theatre” the American Bomber Pilot was referring to. However, In All My Sons, Arthur Miller does not sugar coat the “hard facts of war” (Hynes), but tells the truth. He shows how tough war is, and how it is still affecting the characters in his play. Kate, the mother, is still mourning the loss of her son, Larry. He has been missing for three years, but Kate refuses to believe he is dead. Everyone else in the family has accepted his fate. Chris, the younger son, survived the war but cannot understand how the rest of America is carrying on as if nothing happened. Chris also mentions that he experiences survivor’s guilt. He was the leader of a company and lost all his men. This is parallel to the phenomenon experienced by the Bomber pilot in real life. In “Reporting World War II , American Journalism” he says that “I had imagined that everybody, after two years, would realize the seriousness of war and the necessity of working as hard as possible toward ending it. But I found a nation wallowing in unprecedented prosperity….the truth was that many Americans were not prepared psychologically to accept the cruel facts of war” (Hynes). Arthur Miller helped reveal the cruel facts of war-death, suffering, unfairness- and how they are manifested in a simple family.
Another truth of war that is addressed in All My Sons is the loyalty and comradery that soldiers have for one another. Understandably, there are not many positive connotations that come with war. However, one positive outcome of war is the friendships that are made between soldiers. Upon reflection, one American soldier said “Friends in war are different in many ways from friends in peacetime. You depend upon friends in war much more” (Hynes).At the very end of All My Sons, it is revealed in a letter that Larry was so ashamed when he heard his father was the one who sent out faulty airplane parts that caused several pilots to die, that he committed suicide. Larry could not live knowing his father murdered his brothers. The father realizes that Larry considered his fellow soldiers his brothers and therefore, his father’s sons. Amongst other things, the American soldier from World War II said that “They (soldiers) don’t want to let their buddies down, they provide wonderful stories, they inspire their comrades to greater feats of arms” and that the “infantrymen can’t live without friends” (Hynes). It is this aspect of war that many people forget about. In All My Sons, Arthur Miller illustrates a clear and truthful picture about the bonds of friendship and loyalty that soldiers have for one another.
A predominate theme in All My Sons is injustice. Arthur Miller showed the injustices that are present in war with the story of Steve. He was once Joe’s partner in their military factory, and was wrongly jailed for sending faulty airplane parts even though Joe told him to. This kind of injustice is common in war. There were many injustices in World War II; one of the worst being the Holocaust. Unfortunately, “it is a fact beyond denial that the Germans have deliberately and systematically murdered millions of innocent civilians-Jews and Christians alike-all over Europe” (Hynes). Not only does Arthur Miller show the injustice of World War II, but he also shows the brutality of it as well. This is shown in All My Sons through the plot, the characters and the general tone of the play. Chris is torn between denying what his father did and accepting the truth throughout the entire play. When he finally accepts his father is responsible for all the deaths, he is crushed and insists that the only way for his father to make it right is to turn himself in. Joe, who has spent his whole life making money for his family doesn’t understand why they are all suddenly turning on him. Joe, who could not accept or handle the reality of going to jail or live knowing he let his whole family down, kills himself in the end of the play. Through the play, Arthur Miller revealed how war changes people. Under normal circumstances, Joe probably wouldn’t have allowed those faulty parts to be sent off, but since he was under a lot of pressure and the parts were in huge demand, he cracked. Joe is not the only character that was changed by war. Larry, who is described as a business man throughout the play, did not care that his father sent out those parts for the business. He had changed, and realized that honor and loyalty were more important. Chris also changed his perceptions. Even though he loved his father, once he realized and accepted that his father was guilty, he knew the only way to make it right would be to send him to jail.
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons perfectly represents the aftermath of World War II and the truth of how horrific it really was. Instead of appeasing the public and making Americans look like the heroes of World War II, he addresses the truths of war by shows how much our country struggled to end it, and lost many lives in the process. There is a strong tie between theatre and war. War often influences theatre while other times theatre affects the publics’ perception of war. In the case of All My Sons, World War II affected the playwright, and therefore the play. It was because of Arthur Miller’s truthful play of the aftermath of WWII, which people were able to come to terms with, and learn about, the reality of the ruthlessness of WWII.
Messenger, Charles. The Second World War in the West. London: Cassell & Co., 1999. Print.
Hynes, Samuel , Anne Matthews, Nancy Sorel, and Roger J. Spiller. Reporting World War II. New York:The Library of America, 1977. Print.
Gainor, J. Ellen, Stanton B. Garner Jr., and Martin Puchner. “Arthur Miller .” The Norton Anthology of Drama. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 753. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. “Theatres form 1945 to 1975.” Living Theatre, History of Theatre. 6th Edition ed. New York : McGraw-Hill, 2012. 402-410. Print.