Joe Keller in Act 1

All My Sons by Arthur Miller

What impression of the protagonist Joe Keller does Miller give to the
audience in Act One?

In Act One Arthur Miller has portrayed to the audience the chief  character, Joe Keller, as an old fashioned ordinary American, with  peasant like common sense, who loves to live in the secluded  atmosphere of the outskirts and yet a pleasant and genial individual;  whose pride ,wealth and hard work has made him a successful business  man. Although a man no one could dislike, he has a few flaws and  weakness. Miller analyses the morality of Joe Keller as a man who places his responsibility to his immediate family, above all else.

Arthur Miller has highlighted to reader in numerous occasions that Keller’s life revolves around two fundamental grounds; his business and his family.

A stolid minded, boss who finds relaxation, reading the want ads, in the Sunday paper. This prop indicates Keller’s superiority, who uses his business opinion even when reading the newspaper. The author supports this fact by indicating Joe’s practicality. The quotes:

“Looking for two Newfoundlanddogs” and “wanted old dictionaries. High prices paid.” 

Here Keller is shown to fit his title as a businessman who brings out his characteristics of a workaholic, even during holidays. His thoughts are based on a practical environment, by putting useless aside. For example, he does not justify the reason for having two dogs. Two dogs may be companion to each other; however, Keller perhaps thinks it as an expense to the owners, and ignores the wellbeing of the dogs. Old dictionaries are second-hand, outdated and thus a waste of money to purchase them at high price.

Arthur Miller has also shown Keller to be playful and imaginative.

“Bert on my word of honour, there’s a jail in the basement. I showed 
you my gun didn’t I?” 

“She was running in and out of this yard all her life.” 

His attention towards Bert and Ann reflects his character as a family man, who played with and experienced his children growing up.

However, in the “word of honour” quote, again Miller expresses Keller’s authority over children by words. Keller wants to capture Bert’s mind into believing that he is a man of power. Although this might show Keller’s imaginative and playful side, besides dominant characteristics, it can also perhaps determine that Keller is capable of lying.

Further on in Act 1 the quote:


(Turning to Keller furiously) “There’s no jail here! I want you to 
stop that jail business.” 



“What have I got to hide?” 

The negative trait of the protagonist is being supported. The two quotes makes the audience wonder! Why would Kate be so upset about Keller pretending, there is a jail? She probably wants him to speak the truth and be honest with himself.

In Keller’s interrogative response to Kate, Miller tries to tell the audience that Keller assumes there is no harm done in lying or by not being honest.

One of Miller’s emphases about Keller is his friendliness and popularity amongst his neighbours. This is shown in the setting of the play, which is ‘the backyard of the Keller home’, where the neighbours call in throughout the day.

“A respected man again, bigger than ever.” 

This quote proves that despite the past, Keller has achieved himself in becoming a respected man in town.

The courage and strength that Miller produces in Keller’s character is one of the key factors that helped Keller balance family and business.

“So I get out of my car, and walk down the street. But very slow, and with a smile.” 

Miller shows Keller’s brave attitude, who challenges himself by facing the loaded porches of people, who thought him a beast.

In Keller’s quote:

“Listen, you do like I did and you’ll be alright.” 

We learn that Keller can be very paternal, someone who watches out for his children. Here Keller is giving advice from his own experience. In
the beginning of the play, we are told that Keller is a man who is uneducated.

“A man whose judgement must be dredged out of experience” 

Despite the fact that Keller has no formal schooling, his fast learning ability, has made him a success, and is able to put experience into practice and thus influence the lives of others.

Chris has attacked Keller’s vulnerability by wanting to get out and go away, unless Keller helps him. At this point Miller brings out Keller’s emotions of shock, disappointment and fury.

“All right but but don’t think like that. Because what the hell did I work for? That’s only for you Chris.” 

Here Miller expressed Keller’s life achievement and hard work. Keller’s accomplishment was Chris, his son, who is to represent him in taking over the business.

During this scene Keller uses the expression “what the hell” at this point of the play, we see Keller’s threatening act of violence. (Puts a fist up to Chris’s jaw.) This proves that Miller is trying to tell the audience that Keller has a temper, and wants to send a message to Chris that he will not tolerate leaving the business.

In concluding, I think Keller loved his family and supported their feelings. He worked hard to achieve his dreams. He may not have supported his partner in the bargain, but emphasised caring and forgiveness towards him. Joe Keller is liked by everyone because of his jovial and friendly personality. This creates contrast later which makes the conclusion more shocking to the audience.

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