The Social Context of All My Sons Play by Arthur Miller

Introduction

1940-1950 was an eventful decade for America and the rest of the world. America was recovering from the effects of the Great Depression that took place in the 1930s. The first half of the 1940s was marked by the Second World War while the second half was characterized by the early stages of the Cold War (Anonymous 4).

The Second World War had significant effects on many countries around the world including those in America, Asia, Europe and Africa. It was characterized by the formation of political alliances where countries came together against a common enemy in the war. The effects of this war persisted to the second half of the 1940-1950 decade, merging with the beginning of the Cold War (U.S. Timeline 8).

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Apart from the war, there were other events taking place in America during this time. The events included changes in lifestyle of the American people among other things. After the prosperity associated with the war tapered off, the American economy experienced high rates of inflation. More than 25 percent of the population had been living below the poverty line by the end of this decade (U. S. Timeline 9).

The family became a cherished social unit during this time. There were strong ties between family members as the population of the country and the size of the family increased. The average size of the family during this time was about 2.5 children. It was during this time that the country went through the infamous baby boom (Anonymous 5).

The effects of this boom persist to date given the fact that those born during this time are in control of the country today. Discrimination against African Americans and other minorities such as the Mexicans was also experienced during this period. Perhaps it happened as a result of the suspicion that the American people had towards outsiders as a result of the war (Anonymous 9).

It is noted that the social and political situation of any country is reflected in the art taking place at that time. This is given the fact that art to a large extent mirrors the social and political situation of the society at that particular time. In fact, it is noted that a historical analysis of art in a given period will indicate the events that were taking place in that society at that time. The form of art in this case includes paintings, songs, poems, plays and sculptures among others.

The events that took place in this society during that time can be discerned from various forms of art in that decade. It includes the plays that were staged in the country, the books that were written among other forms of art.

This paper is going to look at the social context of a particular play that was written in American during the 1940-1950 decades. This is the play All My Sons by the famous American artist Arthur Miller. The play was written in the year 1947 and was adapted for film and television over the years.

This paper is going to look at the social context that this play was written and acted within. The author will analyze the social and political environment of the country during the time this play was written. The author will go further to analyze whether Arthur Miller addressed the identified social and political issues in his play. The issues that were addressed in the play will be separated from those that were not addressed.

The Main Political and Social Issues at the Time of the Play’s Creation

As earlier indicated in this paper, there were several events taking place in America and the rest of the world at the time this play was written. Some of the issues were addressed by the play while others were left out. The time period that will be considered in this analysis is 1940-1950.

This is given the fact that the events that took place before the play was written (between 1940-1947) were still affecting the society while the early effects of those events that had not taken place (those that took place between 1947-1950) were being felt. Following some of the political and social issues that were taking place at this time:

The Second World War: America and the War

America joined the Second World War during the early 1940s. The war had both negative and positive effects on the American society. For example, by the year 1943, about ten million men had been recruited into the army. These included sons and fathers who were young and strong enough to go to war (U.S. Timeline 3).

Almost all American families had a son or a father in the army. The men were communicating with their family members back at home through letters. The letters were cherished by the family members and it was not unusual to find mothers and wives regarding those letters as family treasures.

This issue was addressed by Arthur in this play. The playwright keeps mentioning or alluding to the “American at war” issue throughout the play. For example, Larry (the son to the protagonist Joe) is fighting in China. The play keeps mentioning how the Keller family (especially Larry’s mother) is anxiously waiting for communication from their son. The issue of correspondence through letters is also addressed in the play (Moore 9).

The mother and the rest of the family are portrayed as being anxious since they have not received a letter from their son. At the tail end of the play, Arthur mentions how Ann (Larry’s girl before he went to the war) produces a letter that was written by Larry from the war. She has kept this letter to herself like a treasure, an indication of the value attached by American families to the letters sent by the soldiers (Moore 9).

The Negative Effects of the War

The war separated families and lovers being one of its negative social effects. Husbands were taken away from their wives while boyfriends were taken away from their girlfriends. The men went to fight while the women remained back at home.

Larry is separated from his girlfriend Ann. When Ann realizes that Larry had committed suicide by deliberately crashing his fighter jet off the coast of China, she is devastated. She now opts to marry Larry’s elder brother, Chris (Moore 10).

Another negative effect of the war is death of soldiers from accidents or from confrontations with enemy forces. This is mentioned in this play through the absent character of Larry. Larry died (albeit from suicide) in the war (Moore 12). It is noted that many soldiers lost their lives during this war. American families were mourning the demise of their male folk in the war.

The demise of Larry is signified in the play by the apple tree that is planted in his memory in the backyard of his family home. Despite the fact that the tree is struck down by lightening as the play opens, it is a significant indicator of the loss that the family is reeling from. The loss is brought about by the war and it is not limited to this family alone.

Wartime Prosperity in America

As earlier indicated in this paper, the American society was reeling from both positive and negative effects of the war at the time this play was being written. One of the positive impacts of this war was the recorded economic prosperity (Lindop & Goldstein 94). It is noted that many industries were established in America to supply materials to the soldiers through the government (Anonymous 5).

The government entered contracts with many producers both within and without the country to supply it with war materials. This included parts for making weapons and in some instances, weapons themselves. The Department of Defense entered into contracts with private producers on behalf of the government (Anonymous 9).

This issue is addressed adequately in the play. Joe (the protagonist in the play) is a self-made business man who prospered during the war. In the play, he is depicted as having entered into a contract with the Department of Defense to supply the government with cylinder heads to be used in making fighter jets.

At the time of the play, he is in his early 60s enjoying the fruits of his labor. His family is relatively affluent as a result of the success of his business during the war. Together with Steve (his neighbor and long time friend), he had a factory for producing the parts (Moore 19).

Unscrupulous Entrepreneurs takes Advantage of the War

Unscrupulous entrepreneurs are reported to have taken advantage of increased demand for weapons and parts during the war to supply the government with substandard materials. A true story is told of a producer who supplied the Department of Defense with faulty parts to manufacture tankers for war. The faulty parts led to accidents during the war leading to the death of many American soldiers (Anonymous 8).

Arthur addresses this issue in his play. In fact, the story is fashioned along the true story of the unscrupulous dealer illustrated above. The protagonist of the play unwittingly supplies the Department of Defense with cracked cylinder heads to manufacture fighter jets. He does this together with his partner Steve.

A few weeks after the delivery of the cylinders, 21 fighter jets crashed in the same day killing 21 soldiers who were piloting them. Investigations carried out revealed that the cracked heads were to blame for the accident. This is how Steve and Joe are arrested and taken before the court. Joe is exonerated while Steve goes to prison for three years (Moore 7).

Ethnicity and Race as a Social and Political Issue in America during the 1940s

It is noted that whites from other parts of the world were assimilated in large numbers in America during this time. This is especially so after the adoption of The Alien Registration Act that was passed during the first half of the decade (Anonymous 4). Between 1943 and 1944 (three years after the act was passed), approximately one million people from outside the country were granted citizenship.

This development is attributed to the revulsion that the Americans had towards the Nazi ideology (Lindop & Goldstein 34). The ideology advocated for racial purity which saw mass execution of millions of Jews in Germany and other communist nations (U. S. Timeline 9).

This political and social issue is not addressed by Arthur in this play. The play does not mention minorities or people from outside America being integrated into the society.

Discrimination against Mexican Americans and African Americans in the 1940s

This is another issue that is not addressed by Arthur in this play. At the time this play was being created, whites in this country were discriminating against blacks and Mexicans who had crossed the border to enter America. This is despite the integration of white Europeans into the society in early 1940s.

When Mexicans got recruited into the war, they were entrusted with menial and low paying jobs in the army (Lindop & Goldstein 29). Americans were naturally hostile to these minorities at the time this play was written. A case in point is the infamous ‘Zoot Suit’ riots that took place in mid 1943 (Anonymous 2). The riots were perpetrated by white soldiers against their Mexican and African American counterparts. This issue is not mentioned anywhere in the play.

The Family and the Baby Boom

The play addresses these social issues that were evident during this time. The rate of marriage increased between 1940 and 1946 as many young Americans rushed to tie the knot before the husband went to the war. The young couple also started bearing children soon after before the husband left. During the same period, rate of birth rose from about 19 to more than 24 births in every one thousand women in the country. This led to the infamous baby boom in the country (Anonymous 3).

The Arthur addresses all these issues in the play. For example, Chris Keller (who is 32) is in rush to marry Ann Deever who is 26. Lydia Lubey is just 27. However, she is already married and within three years, she had given birth to 3 children (Anonymous 9).

Conclusion

The above are just some of the social and political issues that were taking place in America during the time this play was created. Arthur addressed some of them in his play but left some out. Some of those addressed includes the participation of the country in the Second World War and the effects that this had on the society.

The issue of the family and baby boom was also addressed in the play. Some of the issues were addressed directly while others were referred to indirectly. However, Arthur left out issues such as ethnicity and discrimination against minorities.

Works Cited

Anonymous. The 1940s: Lifestyles and Social Trends- Overview. American Decades. 2001. December 1, 2011 .

Lindop, Edmund, & Goldstein, Margaret J. America in the 1940s. New York: Free Press, 2009.

Moore, Andrew. Studying Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Universal Teacher. 2000. December 1, 2011 .

U.S. Timeline. The 1940s- World War II. America’s Best History. 2009. December 1, 2011 .

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