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All My Sons

play joe larry heads

a play by Arthur Miller, published in 1947. An Ibsen-like drama of moral evasion and confrontation, it concerns the Keller family, the head of which, Joe Keller, a self-made businessman, has been acquitted of the charge of connivance in the sale of defective cylinder heads to the US Air Force during the Second World War, a crime for which his neighbour and employee, Steve Deever, has been imprisoned. One of Joe's two sons, Larry, has been reported missing and, despite the fact that three years have gone by and the war is over, his mother refuses to believe that he is dead and tries to block the engagement of his brother, the easy-going Chris, to Larry's girlfriend, Annie. It emerges during the course of the play that Joe knew that the cylinder heads were cracked and that he was in fact as culpable—and as responsible for the ensuing deaths of US airmen—as Deever; it is eventually revealed that Larry knew this too, and, far from being killed in action, had committed suicide out of shame. Despite its occasional moments of near melodrama, the play is a powerful work and offers a convincing portrayal of the contradictions of American middle-class life.

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