Analysis of Act Three
Jim, who has compromised on his own ideals to make money for his family, says of Chris, who has driven off in disgust after finding out about Joe’s crime: “He’ll come back … These private little revolutions always die. The compromise is always made.” This may be seen as cynical or realistic, depending on one’s viewpoint. Jim continues: “Frank is right – every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again. I don’t think he went very far. He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out.” Chris has been taking a salary for years from the family business, in spite of his realization that the money is tainted with the blood of twenty-one dead airmen, and if Jim is right, he will go on taking one.
Kate knows that Joe’s excuse that he committed the crime for the sake of making money for his family will not impress Chris, as is seen in the following exchange:
Kate: There’s something bigger than the family to him.
Joe: Nothin’ is bigger!
Kate: There is to him.
The two sets of values that are opposed in the play, self-interest versus social responsibility, have collided in the characters of Chris and Joe. Joe felt he had no option but to continue production at his factory rather than risk being shut down: he was thinking of his own interest, which centers on his own immediate family. Chris, on the other hand, wants to do what is right for humanity in general. His vision is wider than Joe’s.
There is irony in Joe’s comparison of Chris with Larry. Joe implies that Larry was the one with the business head and would not have condemned his action regarding the faulty parts, whereas Chris is hopelessly idealistic. But it later transpires that Larry killed himself because he could not live with the knowledge of what his father had done. It also transpires that Chris suspected his father’s guilt all along, but did not confront him. Thus Larry turns out to be the more idealistic son, and Chris the more pragmatic son who compromises his ideals.
Joe’s suicide is a necessary atonement for Larry’s suicide, which Joe’s actions caused, as well as for the deaths of all the other airmen, which resulted from his crime. It has taken the revelation that Joe is responsible for the death of his own son, Larry, to make him realize that he has a wider responsibility beyond the confines of his immediate family. The twenty-one airmen, along with all young men in the world, are all his sons.
Joe’s death does not, however, restore a sense of rightness to the world at the end of the play. The curtain falls on Chris, tortured by guilt as he apologizes to his mother for Joe’s death. The shadow of this event is likely to haunt the marriage between Chris and Ann, if it takes place. Joe’s death can be seen as a tragedy on the personal level, but also as the final sacrifice on the altar of capitalism and the American Dream.