“I don’t know why it is, but every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull back because other people will suffer. My whole bloody life, time after time after time.”
Chris says this to Joe when Joe suggests that Chris should not propose to Ann on the grounds that she is, in Kate’s eyes, “Larry’s girl.” Chris’s determination not to back off because of what his mother might think is a sign that the two are on a collision course and that the days of allowing Kate to sustain her delusion of Larry’s being alive are over.
“All right, but … but don’t think like that. Because what the hell did I work for? That’s only for you. Chris, the whole shootin’-match is for you!”
Joe says this to Chris when Chris says he is prepared to leave town (and the family business) if Kate will not accept his marriage to Ann. Joe is horrified, as he has sacrificed everything, including his moral conscience, to the business he has built up, with the aim of passing it on to his sons. To hear that Chris is ready to walk away from the business is to have the entire basis of his life undermined.
“Everything that happened seems to be coming back.”
Kate says this to her family as she reflects on the fact that “everything decides to happen at the same time.” This month has seen the last of the roses and the beginning of the fall, Larry’s birthday, the destruction of his memorial apple tree, and Ann’s arrival. Though Kate does not know it yet, the wrong that Joe did years before in falsely incriminating Steve Deever is about to rebound upon him. The sins of the past will finally have to be atoned for.
“… when I got home from the penitentiary the kids got very interested in me. … I was [Laughs] like the expert on the jail situation. And as time passed they got it confused and … I ended up a detective.”
Joe describes what happened when he was released from prison on appeal after falsely blaming Steve for his crime. The local children have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Joe went to prison for committing a crime and in their imaginations, have made him into a detective. This reflects the role that Joe has played in having Steve sent to jail for a crime that he himself committed. Joe has transformed himself from being a criminal (the reality) into a policeman (the role-play).
“Chris, I want you to use what I made for you … I mean, with joy, Chris, without shame … with joy…. Because sometimes I think you’re … ashamed of the money…. Because it’s good money, there’s nothing wrong with the money.”
The speaker in this quote, Joe, has just heard that George Deever has been to visit his father, Steve, in prison. This, combined with Ann’s visit, makes him worry that his secret (that he, and not Steve, was responsible for the faulty airplane parts crime) may be revealed. His assertion that there is nothing wrong with his money, when Chris has never suggested to the contrary, seems defensive and raises the audience’s expectation that Joe is deluding himself and others.
Chris [to Ann]: You ever meet a bigger ignoramus?
Keller: Well, somebody’s gotta make a living.
Chris is bantering affectionately with Joe, referring to Joe as an “ignoramus.” Chris is presented in the play as more of a thinker who is fond of reading and who wants to be inspired by his daily work. Joe’s response, that “somebody’s gotta make a living,” implies that it is necessary to be ignorant in order to make money. This exchange is part of Miller’s critique of the American Dream. In his desire to make money, Joe has refused to question himself and his actions, unlike Chris, who wishes to lead a more truthful life.
“My only accomplishment is my son. I ain’t brainy. That’s all I accomplished.”
Joe says this to Ann and Chris after he has told them of his plan to offer Steve a job in his firm when Steve gets out of prison. Joe’s aim in life has been to make money for his family, and in particular his only living son, Chris. But in doing so, he has sacrificed his duty to the larger family of humankind. This is why the play is called “All My Sons.” Joe forgot that all the young men whose deaths he caused due to his determination to make money for his one son were all, in a spiritual sense, his sons. Miller’s point is that people are responsible for everyone whose lives are touched by their actions, not just for the few members of their immediate family.
“He got smaller…. He’s a little man. That’s what happens to suckers, you know. It’s good I went to him in time – another year there’d be nothing left but his smell.”
Using bitter sarcasm, George says this to Chris about his father, Steve, in response to Chris’s asking after him. His words relate back to Joe’s version of the story of the cylinder heads incident in Act One. Joe has blamed Steve for shipping out the faulty parts, claiming that Steve was a “little man” who was frightened by the production demands of the air force officers. George has taken the concept of “little” and is using it to mean a victim, someone who has been trodden underfoot and diminished by those who have taken advantage of him.
“Your brother’s alive, darling, because if he’s dead, your father killed him. Do you understand me?”
Kate says this to Chris, after ordering him not to marry Ann because she is “Larry’s girl.” In this statement, she sums up why she has been deluding herself and trying to convince others that Larry is alive. She cannot bear the thought that he might be dead, because that would raise the possibility that he was killed by the faulty airplane parts that Joe shipped out to the army. In other words, the truth that Kate cannot face is that Joe is responsible for Larry’s death. The logic is as follows: if Chris marries Ann, who is Larry’s girl, then Larry must be dead, in which case Joe killed him.
“Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.”
Joe says this after he has heard Chris read Larry’s final letter, written to Ann. Larry writes that he cannot live with the knowledge that Joe has committed the crime of causing the deaths of the pilots and is going to commit suicide. Joe goes to put his jacket on in order to go to the police and confess, but Kate tries to stop him, saying that Larry was Joe’s son, and he would not have wanted this. Finally, after years of justifying his wrong action by telling himself that he did it for the sake of his sons, Joe recognizes that he also had a wider responsibility, to the airmen who died due to his crime: “they were all my sons.” The tension between personal responsibility and a wider social responsibility that drives the play is resolved in this realization by Joe.