Half Caste by John Agard Sample Essay

Half-Caste – John Agard

This is a poem about asserting your identity against others who would ‘bring you down’.   John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949, with a Caribbean father and a Portuguese mother (he is of mixed race).   In 1977, he moved to Britain, where he became angry with people who referred to him as ‘half-caste’.   Realising that most people who say this do so without thinking about what it really means, he tells off people who use this term without thinking.

The poem’s content starts by sarcastically ‘apologising’ for being half-caste – ‘Excuse me standing on one leg I’m half-caste’.   He is not really apologising.   This is satire – although the poem starts by apologising for being half-caste, Agard MEANS exactly the opposite.

The next section of the poem argues that mixing colours in art, weather and symphonies does not make a half-thing When he says: ‘Yu mean when Picasso mix red an green is a half-caste canvas’, he is arguing that mixing colours is a GOOD thing, and makes things better!   You could say the same for blood and cultures.

He then writes how he must be able only to listen with half-a-ear, look with half-a-eye, offer us half-a-hand, etc. – a sarcastic, even angry, denunciation of the word ‘half’ in ‘half-caste’.   He writes: ‘I half-caste human being cast half-a-shadow’ – here, ‘half-a-shadow’ has a sinister vampire-like tone, and the author seems to be pointing out that by using the word half-caste, people are saying that he is not really human, but inferring that there is something sub-human, even evil about him.

He finishes by saying: ‘but yu must come back tomorrow wid … de whole of yu mind’ – here he is pointing out that it is us who have been thinking with only half-a-brain when we thoughtlessly use the word ‘half-caste’.   In this way, he challenges the readers to change their thinking, and come up with a better word.

As for the poet’s feelings, in early recordings of the poem, Agard sounds angry and bitter.   ‘Excuse me standing on one leg…’ is said in an aggressive tone.

He objects to being called half a human being, and asserts that there is much more to him than we realise.

The words: ‘I half-caste human being’ show that he is insulted by the term ‘half-caste’.  

His tone is challenging, even threatening (e.g: ‘Explain yuself wha yu mean when yu say half-caste’) as he asserts his identity as a whole human being and demands that readers change their attitudes.

In later recordings, Agard does not sound as angry – he even makes a joke of it, and he brings out the humour of phrases such as: ‘Excuse me standing on one leg’.   Perhaps this is because fewer people use the term half-caste nowadays.   But it may also be that sees the funny side to it himself.

 For the poem’s structure, the poet uses short lines (e.g. ‘Excuse me’) and almost no punctuation (he uses ‘/’ instead of a full stop) to convey the direct and confrontational nature of the message.   It makes the poem go quickly so it feels like someone ‘kicking off’ at you – pouring out his feelings at the reader.

One line is devoted to the Caribbean phrase: ‘ah rass’ – an expletive meaning ‘my arse’ – which makes this line of the poem very angry and aggressive, as though Agard has just got so angry explaining his argument that he cannot contain his anger any more.

He repeats key phrases such as ‘Explain yuself’ (four times) and ‘haaaalf-caste’ to hammer home his message.

The poem does not rhyme, but the words do have a Caribbean rhythm which is reinforced by the repetition of phrases like: ‘Wha yu mean’ and: ‘de whole of’; this reminds you of Caribbean limbo dancing and sense of rhythm

– perhaps Agard is asserting his Caribbean heritage, or perhaps it just comes naturally from his childhood in Guyana.

The poem has four sections, each with a different message so that – even though it is funny and angry – the poem gradually builds up its argument, step by step, that ‘half-caste’ is an unacceptable phrase and we ought not to use it.

The language of the poem is a mixture of Caribbean dialect and formal British English – the poet at one point says in Caribbean dialect: ‘Ah lookin at yu wid de keen half of mih eye’, but at another in BBC English: ‘Consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream’.   This very powerfully gets across the fact that Agard is of mixed heritage.

Agard uses direct speech (e.g. ‘I’/ ‘yu’) and many commands (such as ‘Explain yuself’) to point his thoughts directly at the reader, and to make the poem challenging and confrontational.

Agard makes use of metaphor, comparing ‘half-caste’ to art, the weather and music, which makes the poem a kind of parable – many teachers use analogy in their teaching to get the point across.

He also uses scathing humour – including the joke: ‘in dat case england weather nearly always half-caste’ – because humour can also help to give a point more impact.

My feelings

About this poem is that it has made me stop using the term ‘half-caste’, but it also makes me angry about abuse words which I suffer from people who use them thoughtlessly.


Nota Feedback Friday

I have read about half the essays, pretty happy so far 😉 Please review this and answer the questions below.

For an essay on drama, you MUST write a paragraph on each of the below and use it to answer the question.

If you don´t discuss the language that Arthur Miller uses, you CANNOT get more than a 5,4, as stated in the markscheme (which you received in paper form, we talked about in class, AND is available on my blog.)


Setting/Mood/ Intrigue, tension and suspense

Characterisation (how the character IS/development)

Dramatic Irony



Nota question:

Re-read from ‘Chris: Sometimes you infuriate me, you know that?’ (Page 15) To ‘Keller: Yeah. I can see that.’ (Page 18)

What does Miller make you feel about Keller and Chris at this moment in the play? Support your answer with details from the text.


  • Plan your answer thoroughly before you begin writing. Spend at least 15 minutes planning.
  • Open with an introduction and close with a conclusion whilst following a point, evidence, explain formula for the body of your script.
  • Embed quotations.
  • Use paragraphs.


Perfect Introduction, taken from Santiago Videla´s essay (well done btw)

In the play ‘All My Sons’ Arthur Miller manipulates the audience´s feelings by using different writing techniques to describe and contrast Joe and Chris, the main characters of the play. These techniques are plot and context, setting and mood, characterization, irony and language and themes.



Miller´s play is modern realism. He tries to describe his characters as realistic as possible and put them in normal situations with everyday problems and conflict. Miller creates a ´mirror´ that reflects normal life, to make the audience feel more attached to the characters. He shows that common people are as important as royalty and famous figures.

After two second world wars and a great depression. The characters have lived through this. Audience can relate to them. The characters problems mirror their own and the audience become involved in the characters.

Ideal of the American dream.

The USA was two times richer after the second world war = survivor´s guilt.



Surrounded by trees, symbolism because Joe wants to hide secrets.

In the backyard of the house, where people act like who they really are.

Play takes place in one place only. Audience is focused on the dialogue and what little action there is. Audience have to ‘read between the lines’ to understand what will happen next. Can argue that the start of the play is deliberately boring. Beginning of tension.



In act 1, pg 15, Chris said, “Sometimes you infuriate me, you know that?…. I gotta ignore.” The plot of the extract describes father and son in a serious discussion. This is the first time we see the two characters talking alone together. Tension and conflict we did not see before.


Miller uses the plot to create foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is the conflict that we now see between father and son… maybe it will get worse.

Foreshadowing builds tension  = play is more interesting


The plot is a tragedy and Joe is a tragic hero, this is the anticipation stage before it begins to go wrong for the tragic hero.



Comparatively tense atmosphere compared to before.



In this extract, where the two characters argue Miller shows how different Chris and Joe really are.

They stand for two different philosophies = self interest of Joe and social responsibility of Chris. These philosophies divide them in the end.

Joe believes in the American dream, but not at the cost of other people.

Chris and Joe have a believable father-son relationship.



Realistic dialogue to reflect real problems, the characters seem very realistic so the audience can relate to them.

Joe says hell twice, betrays his anxiety, this would have been a really bad swear word in 1947.  Chris never uses this word against his dad.


Dramatic Irony

dramatic irony = gives the audience additional information.

keeps the audience interested.

“You have such a talent for ignoring things.”

“the whole shooting match” (Chris is the one who went to fight, not Joe.)

We realize it is dramatic irony later because at this point we do not know that Joe was responsible for the faulty bombs. Miller creates a ´fake´ good Joe which makes his revelation at the end all the more shocking.



Social Responsibility



Underline what you missed.


Write your name here ______________________


All My Sons Questions

Please answer in your copy books.


  1. Do you think the world is divided into honest suckers (Steve Deevers) and dishonest winners (Joe Kellers)?
  2. Does Miller believe people are fundamentally good or bad?
  3. Do you think Larry’s suicide was an act of courage? What about Joe’s? Is suicide ever an act of courage?
  4. Drawing from people in your life, cast All My Sons. (You don’t have to tell them, especially if its not so flattering.)
  5. Do you think this play would work if it was updated to the 21st century? Why or why not?




Ideal essay opening…

How does Arthur Miller illustrate the complex situation in ACT 1 in “All My Sons”?

“All My Sons” was written in 1947 by the American Jewish writer, Arthur Miller. It is a tragedy about the manufacturer, Joe Keller, who sells defected cylinder heads to the military in order to save his business. It talks about morality in the context of desperation, and appealed greatly to the American people who had just gone through a war and a depression.

Arthur Miller uses several techniques in Act 1 to illustrate the complex situation he himself has created. We are introduced to a neighbourhood consisting of the Kellers, the Baylisses and the Lubeys. Joe Keller is put forward as a father figure, and his home is a welcoming place where neighbours come to chat and spend time with each other. On the outside, Keller seems like a nice old man with a clean record, but Miller weakens this impression by making the characters so different. Chris and Joe share many of the same qualities, but Chris has other moral values – to him, there is a more significant…


1. The introduction shows you understand the context of the play.

2. Arthur Miller uses several techniques in Act 1 (which are characterisation, dramatic irony, setting…)

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.

Sample Essay: “Father vs. Son in All My Sons.”

There is no denying that the father-son conflict is an old and also new theme in literature. Actually, there are a number of literary works dealing with the theme, like the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex and some other modern dramas. The relationship between father and son in literature takes on psychological quality. As we later analyze, Oedipus Rex is used as a basic theme of the father-son conflict. Miller refers to Oedipus Rex to argue against the criticism that Ann’s production of Larry’s letter about his death in Act III is abrupt and too convenient for audience’s tastes. Interestingly, this shows how much he was conscious of this Greek tragedy in creating All My Sons. Arthur Miller, Timebends: A Life (New York: Grove Press, 1987) 134-35.just as explained in Freud’s “Oedipus complex.” It more often than not takes the form of the son’s protest or rebellion against his father or that of the conflict just like a generation gap. The chief reason why the theme of the father-son conflict is often taken up in literary pieces is that, historically speaking, the father has almost always been the center of the family and has, therefore, tremendously influenced the son’s way of living or thinking.

Before All My Sons Miller wrote a few plays dealing with the father-son conflict. For example, in The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), Miller’s first play on Broadway, he took up this theme in a rather indirect way. On the other hand, in All My Sons he directly dealt with the issue for the first time, and as in
his biggest hit, Death of a Salesman, he has continued to stick to it in some of his subsequent works. Hence, it is not an exaggeration to say that without the father-son relationship there would be no way to fathom Miller’s drama. This issue is the crux of his drama. Why, then, does he adhere to it so much? This is due largely to his belief that an individual and the society are closely related. He avers its relation is just like the one between the fish and the water. To Miller who insists on the importance of the solidarity between an individual and the society, in his dramatic world central figures are inevitably the father and the son who live both in the family (the place occupying a great part of an individual’s life) and in society. In his case, the son is almost always portrayed at the most sensitive stage of his life: adolescence.

Concerning All My Sons, the following questions are crucial: why has Joe taken such an attitude as a father and what has his way of life meant to his sons, Larry and Chris?

The relationship between the father and the son in Miller’s plays holds a common pattern. Usually two brothers are adolescents and their father loves
them very much. The brothers also love their father, but the older one, particularly, is an idealist and the younger one a realist. And when he comes out
to society to find the father’s anti-social attitude and deeds, or faults and mistakes in his way of living and thinking, he becomes so embarrassed that he
rebels, changes his attitude toward him and even denounces him. The father-son conflict is also quite an effective dramatic technique in the sense that it instills a well-balanced tension and creates a climax in the whole play. More than anything else, it has an advantage to attract the audience’s attention to the play on the stage. Thus, we can say that Miller’s father-son conflict is a useful dramatic method in terms of content and form as well.

Examining the confrontation between Joe and Chris in All My Sons, we notice two different notions contradicting each other at a deeper level. For one thing, Joe represents the old generation in his realistic and practical thinking as opposed to Chris who is quite romantic and full of idealism. For another, while Joe puts his family before anything else and sticks to securing the father image and paternal dignity at home, Chris firmly, though superficially, believes that solidarity with the wider outside world beyond the individual family is an ideal way of living.

Furthermore, Joe represents those who remained in the country during World War II, and Chris, on the other hand, takes a stance as a war veteran. Needless to say, at the bottom there lies a generation gap in the conflict. The conflict, however, constitutes a bit more complicated structure. First of all, what kind of person is Joe Keller? He is a so-called “self-made man.” He is also a “rags-to-riches” type of man who has worked pretty hard and become a successful owner of a factory. The hardships he has gone through are not mentioned in detail in the play, but we can imagine them from what he says.
He tells his wife, Kate, about Chris, “I should put him out when he was ten like I was put out, and make him earn his keep. Then he’d know how a buck is made in
this world.”(6)
This clearly shows how he started his independent life away from home when he was very young. The following also tells us how he has established
his present position through difficulties. “You lay forty years into a business and they knock you out in five minutes, what could I do, let them take forty years, let
them take my life away?” (115). In this scene he is explaining to Chris why he would not like to give up his factory which he has kept forty long years despite
the faulty cylinders the factory produced and shipped to the armed forces.

Another evidence of Joe’s being a self-made man is found in his night-school education which was not good enough to read more than classified ads in the
newspapers, in his surprise at the great number of new books published one after another, and also in his words, “Don’t talk dirty.” without knowing the true
meaning of the French word “roué,” etc. Since he left home when he was so young, we could easily assume that he had to make his own living without proper
education. When we come to understand how hard he worked to become a successful owner of the factory, we could consider him an independent, rugged,
and self-made Horatio Alger type of hero. In fact, Joe’s view of success is closely related to Alger’s “success dream” on a deep level and clearly understood when we take his background into consideration.

At the end of the nineteenth century when Joe was born and raised, “frontier spirit” and Alger’s “success dream” were inseparably bound up with each other, and the view of life based on the “from rags to riches” concept must have been penetrating the general public. It was not impossible for the ordinary people to realize such a success dream then. But the disappearance of frontiers brought about capital based on industrialization, and the social systemno longer allowed everybody to win a success on his own. Instead, only a selected number of people could become rich. The appearance of the competitive society took place here. With this the view on success inevitably became changed as a result. Ethical or moralistic characters the Alger success dream had held were disappearing in the competitive industrialized society during World War II. The social change accordingly produced both those who could follow it and those who couldn’t. A representative of the former is Joe.

The question is why Joe got stuck to the success dream. It is quite understandable that the success dream is the embodiment of the American
Dream and shows the traditional spirit of Americans. However, Joe adheres to it too much. As discussed later, his attachment to success is closely
linked to his perceptions of fatherhood or the “father image” for that matter. In an attempt to authorize himself as a breadwinner in the family, he
desperately needs something to support it. What supports this fatherhood is nothing but the label called success. If he could become a president of his own
company or an owner of a factory and have his son inherit it, it would strengthen his position as head of the family. This is the very reason Joe made
an order to ship the cracked cylinders for army airplanes and put the blame on his partner, Steve. The time was during World War II and Joe was optimistic in
thinking that his bad deed would be overlooked.

Actually, social conditions in the United States during World War II were as follows: In February, 1941 the United States entered a state of war to a full
extent. Production of arms was encouraged as much as any available resources could be used. How much and how soon they can produce is the prime question for any factory. Competing for volume and speed fits the American’s character. Also, companies in the war munitions industry were in harsh competition. Joe’s following words indicate the situation:
Who worked for nothin’ in that war? When they work for nothin’, I’ll work for nothin’.
Did they ship a gun or a truck outa Detroit before they got their price? Is that clean?
It’s dollars and cents, nickels and dimes; war and peace, it’s nickels and dimes, what’s
clean? (125)

He considers both the extension of his factory and the fame he obtains as a successful person in society to be the definite and surest way to keep his authority as a father in the family against his sons.
To Joe the family is everything. Especially his sons. Joe’s following words to Kate concerning Larry show this: “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!” (120). His head has been full of dreams that he will let his sons inherit his factory which he has established for decades. This is related to the American ethos and that’s where we can sympathize with Joe as a tragic person. Samuel A. Yorks explains: “After all, in our society a business to pass on to one’s sons is a badge of honor for a life well spent. Joe obeys the values the clan has taught him.”11 Joe’s problem, therefore, is not in the fact he couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong as Miller himself explains, but in the fact since he stuck to the small world such as a family, he could not turn his eyes to the general society at large, the world beyond the

In contrast to Joe, Chris is an idealist. The reason is that he is still ignorant of the world and mentally naïve and immature. Further, his war experience has
constantly occupied his mind to an unnecessary extent. It is assumed that he had a comfortable upbringing, and stayed home until he left for the war. Accordingly, the war experience affected him tremendously. To comprehend the father’s influence, it is essential for us to remember Joe as an almighty father figure. He puts his family before anything else and is supposedly a model husband for his wife and a role model for his sons. Rising from poor conditions, he has become a successful owner of a big factory with his own efforts. He, therefore, could keep his authority as a father without revealing his faults. On the other hand, how about Chris who was raised by such a father? As he himself confesses, he has been an obedient son: “ I’ve been a good son too long, a good sucker” (69).

When his crime was revealed and when Chris severely accused Joe, he cried, “What’s the matter with you? What the hell is the matter with you?” (114). This fact clearly shows that Joe had never been criticized or met with any protest from his sons previously and that thus he was acutely embarrassed with the son’s accusation. Simply because he could not get over his father, Chris missed the chance to see his father as a person or a male, and regarded him solely as an ideal father.

In short, Chris could not become independent of his father, largely because Joe was a fond father to Chris, and Chris lost an opportunity to get independent and build up his own character. In addition, Kate’s influence upon Chris cannot be overlooked. Her existence as a fond mother contributes much to the fact that Chris could not become independent of his parents. Kate says to Chris: “Honest to God, it breaks my heart to see what happened to all the children. How we worked and planned for you, and you end up no better than us” (105). Before this, Miller has described Kate as a mother with “an overwhelming capacity for love” (69). We can easily imagine that Kate’s excessive love spoiled Chris to a great extent. Let us now turn to the influence that the war experience has imposed upon Chris. The following is what Chris gained through his war experience.

“One time it’d been raining several days and this kid came to me, and gave me his last
pair of dry socks. Put them in pocket. That’s only a little thing – but ….. that’s the
kind of guys I had. They didn’t die; they killed themselves for each other. I mean that
exactly; a little more selfish and they’d’ve been here today. And I got an idea –
watching them go down. Everything was being destroyed, see, but it seemed to me
that one new thing was made. A kind of – responsibility. Man for man. You
understand me? -To show that, to bring that on to the earth again like some kind of
a monument and everyone would feel it standing there, behind him, and it would
make a difference to him. (85)”
What Chris found out is the “solidarity” and “responsibility” between man and man. Those are noble ideas which Chris learned in his war situations. When he dared apply them to actual society, however, problems occurred. To Chris who had this war experience, it is quite natural that he found actual society “incredible.”

“And then I came home and it was incredible, I -there was no meaning in it here; the
whole thing to them was a kind of a -bus accident. I went to work with Dad, and that
I felt – what you said – ashamed somehow. Because nobody was
changed at all. It seemed to make suckers out of a lot of guys. I felt wrong to be alive,
to open the bank-book, to drive the new car, to see the new refrigerator. I mean you
can take those things out of a war, but when you drive that car you’ve got to know
that it came out of the love a man have for a man, you’ve got to be a little better
because of that. Otherwise what you have is really loot, and there’s blood on it. I didn’t
want to take any of it. And I guess that included you. (85)”
It would be possible to say that the “solidarity” and “responsibility” which Chris experienced in the battlefield at least urged him to be aware of his own ego, that is, independence from his parents and establishment of his own identity. We can see these in Chris’ adamant attitude both in speaking against Joe and Kate who are negative to his plan to marry Ann and in declaring his elopement with her if the parents reject it. Even though Joe says, “I want a new sign over the plant – Christopher Keller Incorporated” (87), Chris flatly answers back: “J. O. Keller is good enough” (87). This again clearly shows that Chris can now say what has to be said. Before this he was just following what Joe had said to him. As we have already seen, the war experience has made Chris aware of his ego or self.
However, his experience was gained in an unordinary situation and it is not applicable to the realities of everyday life. In a way, Chris’ tragedy lies in the fact that he has not realized this. The feeling of “solidarity” and the sense of “responsibility” he learned in the war has its true meaning in the army where military cooperation and union count as a harmonious whole.  In the dog-eat-dog American society of the war industry during the war, those words didn’t mean anything. Naturally Chris can never get along with Joe because of his unrealistic ideas.
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? What is that, the world -the business? What the hell do you mean, you did it for me? Don’t you have a country? Don’t you live in this world? What the hell are you? (116)

Chris’ immaturity is clearly seen in his words to Joe, “I never saw you as a man. I
saw you as my father” (125), even after Joe’s crime is revealed. When Chris Keller, who has been “a killer” in the war, does the same thing at thirty-two, we must conclude that he is responding to some private drama unwinding inside him rather than to the relation of his revelation of his father’s guilt.

Chris can be said to be an idealist who tides over the stern realities of life based on the experience he had in the extraordinary situation like a war, and inevitably clashes with Joe, who is a rather short-sighted realist. Chris’ idealism is, however, doubtful. When he says to Ann, “I’m going to make a fortune for you!” (86), we see inconsistency in his attitude of refusal toward his father’s business ethics. As a matter of fact, his hypocrisy is pointed out by Sue, whose husband is a doctor living next door to the Kellers: “if Chris wants people to put on the hairshirt let him take off his broadcloth” (94). We see here that there is a discrepancy between what he says and what he does and that Chris can’t grasp reality as he claims. Considering this, we might say that his ideas on “solidarity” and “responsibility” are a cause merely good for the army. Therefore, we can’t help concluding that just like Joe, Chris is also a narrow-minded person obsessed with his own dogmatism.

Miller’s intention in the drama is not merely to describe the conflict between father and son. What is his real intention, then? To integrate several points discussed so far, the conflict between Joe and Chris is based on the basic pattern of the rebellion of a son against his father, who has become aware of his own ego.

The object of Chris’ rebellion or protest is his father’s unethical actions urged by his family-centered way of thinking. Chris lambastes Joe’s behavior as egoistic, even saying “You’re even an animal. No animal kills his own, what are you?” (116). Joe, on the other hand, is too obsessed with “fatherhood” and “success” in the modern capitalistic society where both of them have become quite difficult to obtain. He has gradually lost moralistic or ethical aspects in his conduct.  In this father and son conflict, the father commits suicide as a loser.

However, what does this actually mean? On the surface Joe seems to have cast away his philosophy of life all of a sudden, which he has cherished for 60-plus years. But actually, he hasn’t. He has only tried hard to convince himself that his philosophy is absolutely right, but as a result, he has come to realize that he is wrong and that death is the only solution. What is Miller’s real intention in presenting the father-son conflict? It is obvious that he is presenting two significant themes: the fall of fatherhood and the demise of the Alger-type “success dream” noticeable in modern American society. These clearly illustrate the end of the nineteenth-century American ethos, and the father-son conflict represents the myth of the family and that of success. In fact, Gerald Weales interprets the play in the mythical terms. His [Joe’s] death is more than a single man’s punishment, for Joe Keller is a product of his society. He not only accepts the American myth of the privacy of the family, but he has adopted as a working instrument the familiar attitude that there is a difference between morality and business ethics. Joe Keller is a self-made man, an image of American success, who is destroyed when he is forced to see that image in another context – through the eyes of his idealist son.17

Sample Essay “Tragedy and All My Sons

Tragedy in Arthur Millers all my sons

All My Sons is an American play, set in a typical, suburban town in the backyard of a family home. The Keller’s are a family who live a life of tension and un-realistic aspirations after losing a son at war. As the Keller’s try to live a normal life they are left struggling when they are left to face dealing with the consequences of their actions these lead to the central tragedies of the play.

Chris Keller is an honourable man, a man who tries to see the good in people, a man of war. His father, Joe Keller is a chief character who is about three things: Business, money and making a profit. However, Joe Keller is a family man above all else, and has sacrificed everything, including his honour. Nonetheless, he must face up to what he has done and with these actions he must step forward into an inevitable future.

Throughout the play the character introduce familiar faces, hard situations, memories both bitter and sweet, the first example of this is the morning after the thunderstorm, the Keller’s awaken to their memorial tree, has been torn down (which was planted in memory of Larry after he was lost at war). This gives the Keller family a rude awakening that Larry is probably gone forever; this is a tragic realisation for most of the Keller’s.

Obviously the main tragedies in this play include the horrendous crime that Joe Keller committed, killing many pilots which included the unfortunate murder of his son. This is a realisation that soon occurs to Keller which unavoidably leads to his Suicide. In regardless of Joe Keller being such a family man, he had caused such deceit not only to his family and to him self, but people all around him. He had caused too much deceit and hurt that he could no longer deal with blood left on his hands.

Regardless of these actions, Joe Keller was once a poor man, a poor man with a big dream. And in some ways he is a fine example of what conquering the American Dream stands for. Yet, when he reached to the top his money obsession continued. He ultimately became power hungry, a man fixated and possessed by the mere thought of money and business. He became a man who murdered dozens and a man who took advantage by using the death and destruction of the war as an excuse for making more money. The only question is was he really making it for his family, or was he just making it for himself? This is something that his son, Chris would by no means would or even think about doing, “I Didn’t want to take any of it…” Chris Keller is a man who would never take money, let alone blood money from anyone. Chris is just a simple guy that believes that greed can destroy lives, and in his father’s case, it did exactly that.

Joe and Chris Keller may be father and son; nevertheless they are still particularly diverse from each other. Chris is an optimistic man, he is a romantic and idealistic. Everything in Chris’s mind is wonderful and faultless. His father on the other hand is a practical man. He is sensible and thinks only about the important things in life e.g. money and his family. As protagonists and father and son they are inescapably much alike and this leads to tension and confrontation.

Both the Keller men both have short tempers; this is a quality that brings anger and constant anxiety and strain to the play. Chris has always looked up to his father, he always saw him as the sole provider, the protector and the hero in his life. In Chris’s eyes Joe Keller fought against the court of law, to prove his “innocence”. However and unknowingly, when behind the shadows of all this, lingers deceit when family friend Steve Deever is sent to prison for tragic crime he did not commit, he was sent to prison for something Joe Keller did.

In many ways, I think Joe Keller is in denial about the situation. I believe he fought so hard to try and prove his pretend innocence that he almost convinced himself and wife Kate that he did nothing wrong and that he is innocent. I believe that he lied in the way he did due to his fear of people finding out the truth, especially Chris and also because he was frightened to lose all his power. If Chris was to discover the truth Keller would no longer be able to live with him self. The idea of killing one son and losing another was almost never an option Keller wouldn’t even have contemplated on doing. Because he spent so long building his business empire he was terrified to lose not only that. But the love and respect from his only other son.

Chris and Joe’s relationship in all means ended up deteriorated and this some ways is the central tragedy, a father who loses two sons because of his own mistakes and greed. “That’s what a war does. I had two sons, now I got one. It changed all the tallies. In my day when you had sons it was an honour”. This quote is ironic, the way Keller says “That’s what war does” he seems to be so in denial that he seems to be blaming the war, when he is the reason his son dies. Joe’s character mentions only having one son left, but even Chris begins to drift away from his father; “Sometimes you infuriate me, you know that? … You have such a talent for ignoring things.” Chris seems to have unknowingly stunned Keller by saying this, the word ignore implies that Keller is fully aware of what exactly has been going on and he is ignoring his past as if nothing had even happened in the first place.

The relationship between Chris and his father seems to allow the audience to understand how the two of these characters think and interact not only with each other but other characters in the play also. Joe Keller is a man who believes he owes nothing to anyone other than himself and family, however as Chris served in the war he believes in a superior responsibility to humanity, he likes to help people, make people feel good about themselves. This illustrates the completely parallel characteristics that Keller and Chris have.

The relationship Joe and Chris Keller share is diverse throughout, as father and son they joke and butt heads from time to time. But as Chris discovers the dark past his father has hidden, he is in utter shell shock. Not only has this man killed dozens of pilots, he killed his own son and left an innocent man rotting in a jail cell. As this tragic truth began to sink into Chris’s mind and no matter what Keller had to say for himself, to Chris this no longer matters. “It’s not enough to be sorry.”

I think because Keller was such a businessman, that Chris in some ways felt that his father’s job seemed almost more important to him than Chris, but Chris was still a priority. So when Chris found that that his brother was murdered by his own father for ‘business’, this was the final straw. “The cats in that alley are practical; the bums who ran away when we were fighting were practical. . . But now I’m practical, and I spit on myself. I’m going away. I’m going now.”

“Everyday three of four men never come back and he sits back there doing business. . .” This quote suggests quite clearly that Chris is disgusted at the fact that all those men died because of his father and it seems utterly insane that Keller was able to sit back and continue to run his business as everyday men were dying because of his father.

To conclude, Chris and Joe Keller’s relationship contribute to the central tragedies of the play in a massive way. It proves that just because two people are related and share the same blood, does not mean they are compatible. And asks the question, do we really know our family? Chris spent years look up to his ‘hero’ of a father, however towards the end of the play Chris’s utter disappointment, aversion and almost hatred for Keller becomes apparent. This consequently leads to Keller’s revelation, “Then what is this if it isn’t telling me??? Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.” This then leads to the final tragedy of the play, Keller’s abrupt suicide.