The American Fog - Thoughts on All My Sons by Arthur Miller

Nietzsche said, “Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called ego.” In All My Sons, Arthur Miller depicts Joe Keller: a man who has let his dog no longer follow but lead. For Keller, family is not an end but rather a means. That end is protecting his own ego. Joe Keller, the poor kid who now owns the factory, has built his American Dream. That American Dream, however, is not about having a family but rather building wealth from poverty–becoming the rich factory owner from the poor factory worker. Keller commits the crime of sending out broken plane parts and then covers up this crime to save not his wife and sons but himself and his legacy.

Joe Keller is not a family man: he is a businessman. That business bears Keller’s name and all he has worked for. Therefore, to destroy the business would be to destroy Joe Keller. Keller’s attachment to his factory over the family is shown early in act one when Chris, the rightful heir to Keller’s factory, suggests that he may choose to live elsewhere and disregard all that Joe Keller has built. In response to this suggestion, Keller “puts a fist up to Chris’s jaw” and tells him, “But don’t think that way, you hear me?” (Miller 17). Keller putting a fist to his son’s jaw when he considers leaving Keller’s business shows something more than dad knowing what is best. Keller has allowed status and legacy to possess him so tightly that the business dying would be Keller’s legacy dying, and he will not allow that.

Joe Keller sacrifices his family in order to maintain his legacy. Late in act two, when discussing whether her lost son Larry is still alive, Keller’s wife, Kate, declares to her son Chris, “Your brother’s alive, darling, because if he’s dead, your father killed him. Do you understand me now? As long as you live, that boy is alive” (Miller 68). When Joe Keller reads Larry’s suicide note late in act three, he knows he truly did kill his son. Keller realizes the horror of his actions against his wife and sons in some of the final lines of the play when he says to Kate while holding his son’s suicide letter, “Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were” (Miller 83). Soon after, a shot is heard in the house.

In the fog of his American Dream, Joe Keller loses sight of his sons. He realizes too late that his misjudgement has cost him not only his family but his own life. Keller understands that the dog of his ego has dragged him too far from that which must matter most.

- Charlie, April 2022