Ethical Responsibility in a Modernist Universe: America in the Canvas of Miller’s All My Sons

Subhayu Bhattacharjee

Presidency University, Kolkata. Email:

   Volume V, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF


In an interview with Enoch Brater in the University of Michigan, Arthur Miller emphasized the significance of the Depression of the 1920’s on all playwrights of his generation. In one of his plays, namely, All My Sons, this re-emerges as an important theme, albeit implicitly. Focussing on the lives of a middle-class American household, Miller essays to show how politics in the realm of the public sphere happens to influence decisions that have tremendous emotional consequences in the private lives of all members. I attempt to show that this focus on the family as a space of theatricality is undertaken with a view to exposing the inextricable associations that exist between the two aforesaid spheres of life, and which conspicuously is left unidentified by the characters. The play makes it evident that the hidden presence of this issue is itself the principal cause of tragedy. In fact Miller himself in his well-known article entitled ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’ attributed the idea of self-persistence in an extremely uncontrollable universe to the idea of tragedy in modern times, and the idea of semblance of private autonomy (which no character in the play is bereft of ) as mentioned above squares in perfectly well with this. In attempting to demonstrate the consequences of the inability to locate this nexus between the public and the private, I have undertaken to show how each character is, in the last instance, ‘interpellated’by the ethos of a social discourse that ultimately puts into question their autonomy further, thereby identifying this ‘hidden presence’ as critics have spoken of vis-à-vis the play and its symbolic implications.

 Keywords: Other, pubic, private, capitalist, modernism, American Dream.