Theme: Social Responsibility

Objective: Understand the term ´social responsibility.´ and how Arthur Miller discusses it in his play AMS.

Part A: After viewing the video ‘ kindness boomerang’ answer the following questions with 50-100 words:

  1. Is it possible for one idea to change the world? Why/why not?
  2. Could the idea of “paying it forward” actually work? Why or why not?
  3. Would you be willing to do something nice for someone else, with absolutely no expectation of receiving anything in return? What about if the person wasn’t appreciative? Do we always expect something in return for everything we do?
  4. Do you think the recipient of a good deed would go on to do good for others? Would you be more inclined to do something good for others if someone engaged in a random act of kindness towards you?
  5. Could you devise a scenario whereby a simple smile to someone else could translate into a series of events that might ultimately change someone’s life?
  6. Is there a moral duty or obligation to do good for others especially when there is little cost to oneself?
  7. Are there opportunities where we can do good for others? or do we fail to notice them?
  8. If you had the power to make the world a better place in one way, what would you do?

Part B:  Explain in your own words the meaning of the following quotes:

  1. “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” Mother Teresa
  2. “The only time you should look down at someone, is when you are helping them up.” Jesse Jackson
  3. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi
  4. “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

Chris discovered social responsibility during his experience of war.

He cannot forgive his father because of this AND because it is possible that Joe´s defective bombs could have killed his other son Larry.

Miller writes about social responsibility. That everyone cares and is responsible for each other. What do you think?


‘Sure he was my son. But I think to him, they were all my sons.’ (Joe, Act Three)

In Joe’s world, he believes he has done nothing wrong because he put his family first. His individual responsibility to his family is more important that his responsibility to society at large. It never enters his mind that he’s responsible for the death of the pilots who went down in planes with his faulty parts. Joe can further reconcile this responsibility because although Larry’s plane also went down, he never flew that type of plane:

‘Those cylinder heads went into P-40’s only. What’s the matter with you? You know Larry never flew a P-40.’ (Act One)

He’s completely focused on his individual responsibility. And when the truth comes out, that is still where his focus lays. There is nothing more important than the family, than saving the business to give to Chris: “For you, a business for you!” (Act Two)

Chris believes in a greater responsibility to society. This is what the war has left him with. And when Joe’s responsibility in the scandal is finally revealed, his response is volatile:

‘For me! Where do you live, where have you come from? For me! I was dying every day and you were killing my boys and you did it for me? What the hell do you think I was thinking of, the goddam business? Is that as far as your mind can see, the business?’ (Act Two)

Joe lives his life with blinders on. He completely blocks out his responsibility to society and can’t understand Chris’ outburst: ‘I’m his father and he’s my son and if there’s something bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head.’ (Act Three)

Joe’s insistence of individual responsibility is shown right from the start of the play with the description of the set. The stage directions describe the Keller’s backyard as ‘secluded.’ There are hedges and ‘tall closely planted populars.’ It’s almost as if the family is physically shut off from the rest of the world. Hiding. When Larry’s tree blows down Kate asks Chris at the top of Act Two if he notices that ‘there’s more light with that thing gone.’ As the physical enclosures are removed so is the Keller’s ability to hide from the world. The truth is coming to light.

The reveal of Larry’s letter puts Individual Responsibility and Social Responsibility on a collision course. Larry writes Ann a letter in which he states that after learning about Joe’s initial arrest for the cracked parts, he’s going to purposefully crash his plane:

‘Every day three or four men don’t come back and he sits there doing business.’ (Act Three)

The letter clarifies to Joe the difference between individual responsibility and responsibility to society. ‘Sure he was my son. But I think to him, they were all my sons.’ (Act Three) He realizes why Larry crashes his plane. The final question remains is whether by the end Joe learns to accept his responsibility.

Activities and Exercises

  • Define what it means to be responsible. What is the difference between individual and social responsibility? Create a tableau that shows both kinds of responsibility. Compare and contrast the two pictures.
  • Circle Answer: The class stands in a circle. Go ’round the group and each person answers quickly on a question. If there is momentum, go ’round the circle two or three times. If someone is truly stuck they can pass. Questions: Are you responsible? What are your responsibilities? Which is more important individual or social responsibility? Are you socially responsible?
  • In groups look at the following speeches. Divide the lines up so that each person is responsible for a small chunk. Once they’re under your belt perform them for the larger class in two ways: one with the entire class blocking the group in, creating human ‘blinders.’ This should allow for the speakers to be quiet, intensely focused. Then do the speeches in a large space where the groups have to try to communicate the speech to the class from far away. To society at large. How does the speech change? How does each manner feel for the speakers? Which way is more effective?
    • Joe’s speech in Act One that begins ‘The man was a fool but don’t make a murderer out of him.’
    • Joe’s speech in Act Two that begins ‘You’re a boy what could I do.’
    • Joe’s speech in Act Three that begins ‘What should I want to do? Jail?’
    • Do the above speech again. This time only one person speaks the speech. As they do, the other members of the group find places to call out ‘Guilty!’ It’s the person playing Joe’s job to convince the others of his innocence. Afterwards, what’s the response?

Questions To Answer

  1. What does the title mean?
  2. Is Joe responsible for what happens outside of his family? Why or why not?
  3. What are Kate’s responsibilities?
  4. Is Chris more responsible than Joe? Why or why not?
  5. When Joe kills himself does this show a sense of responsibility or a lack of responsibility?

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