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Textaufgabe - Aufgabe I "All my Sons" by A. Miller


Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.

At your school, you are taking part in a creative writing workshop on family relationships. You have been given the text at hand, which is about an argument between a father and his son, Chris. Imagine that Chris is very upset after the argument and decides to leave his parents. A few days later, he writes a letter to his mother to justify why he left and why he won’t come back. Your task is to write this letter.

1. In order to heighten your awareness concerning family relationships, you

  • describe what the argument between father and son is about and how it develops
  • compare Chris’s and his father’s relationship with family relationships portrayed in materials studied in class.

2. Write the letter, in which Chris justifies his decision by passing judgment on

  • his father’s deeds
  • his father’s arguments
  • his father’s behavior during the conversation
  • their relationship.


Describe what the argument between father and son is about and how it develops.

In the given text, which is an excerpt from Arthur Miller’s “All my sons”, Act Two, published in 1947, Joe Keller and his son Chris are having an argument about the father’s actions as a businessman, which ultimately led to the deaths of 21 soldiers.

Chris has found out that his father, who is a manufacturer of aircraft parts, is responsible for the deaths of 21 soldiers after having delivered 120 cracked engine heads (cf. ll. 13, 14). Because of this, he accuses his father of murder (“You killed them, you murdered them.” l. 7) which Joe Keller denies (cf. l. 10). On the contrary, Keller senior defends himself by claiming that he had had no other choice because he was afraid that his business might go bankrupt. To emphasize this point, he says: “You lay forty years into a business and they knock you out in five minutes {…}” (ll. 19,20).

The father, furthermore, tries to justify his actions by asserting that he had “thought they’d stop ‘em before anybody took off.” (ll. 21,22) and that he was planning on admitting that the parts were broken (cf. l. 25), but before he could do that, everything came out and he was arrested (“They came with handcuffs into the shop, {…}” l. 28). But Chris cannot understand his father’s claims, because he himself served as a soldier, and thus strongly identifies with the victims of his father’s malfunctioning parts (“I was dying every day and you were killing my boys and you did it for me?” ll.36,37).

The conversation starts off with Chris accusing his father of killing 21 young men (cf. ll. 5-7) which his father vehemently denies (“I didn’t kill anybody!”, l. 10). Right from the beginning it becomes clear that Chris is enraged, because he threatens his father with physical violence (“Explain it to me or I’ll tear you to pieces!” l. 11). The father then tries to escape his son’s rage (“Keller keeps a step out of Chris’s range as he talks.” ll. 15,16).

When in the following discourse Joe tries to explain his reasons, referring to all the work he has put into his business and that he hadn’t planned to kill anybody (cf. ll. 16-22), his son cannot understand his father’s arguments. Several times throughout the conversation, Joe points out that he did it for his son (cf. l. 28; l. 35).

Chris goes on accusing his father, which ends in a monologue consisting mostly of rhetorical questions (cf. ll. 36-43). This monologue shows how distraught and disappointed Chris is by his father’s actions, because Joe put his business over people’s lives (“Is that as far as your mind can see, the business?”, l. 38). Whereas Chris at the beginning of the conversation only verbally intimidates his father, he hits him at the end (cf. ll. 41,42) and afterwards leaves him to himself.

In the end, his father only utters “Chris…My Chris” (l. 44) obviously realizing that he has lost his son.

Compare Chris’s and his father’s relationship with family relationships portrayed in materials studied in class.

In the relationship between Chris and his father Joe, characters from Arthur Miller’s “All my sons”, Act Two, published in 1947, one can find several similarities and differences to the relationships between fathers and sons in, for example, Hanif Kureishi’s short story “My Son the Fanatic” or the movie “Billy Elliot”, directed by Stephen Daldry.

The short story “My Son the Fanatic” is about Parvez and his son Ali. Parvez is a first generation immigrant living in the UK, where he works as a taxi driver. His son Ali is a second generation immigrant, because he was born in Great Britain. The two men argue about Ali’s newly found devotion to Islam and the changes he has undergone because of his faith. Parvez, who has assimilated into the British lifestyle quite willingly, is disappointed because his son doesn’t lead the life he had wished for him. He wanted him to be well-educated, successful and have a family, but due to Ali’s religious faith, those wishes are threatened.

In both stories, it becomes obvious that the sons are disappointed by their fathers’ actions: In “All my Sons”, Chris accuses his father of murder, which implies that he questions his father’s moral standards. He blames him for the deaths of 21 soldiers due to his supplying cracked engine heads.

Ali from “My Son the Fanatic” also criticises his father’s behaviour; he reproaches him for his lack of faith as well as for not following the rules of Islam. Accordingly, he also questions Parvez’s morals, because one of his father’s closest confidantes is the prostitute Bettina.

In addition, one can find another similarity in the fathers’ reactions to their sons’ accusations: Both parents insist that they have only acted in the interest of their sons’ welfare, either because of economical reasons as in the case in “All my sons”, where Joe thought only of rescuing his company, and with it, saving his son’s inheritance; or as with Parvez, who wanted to give his son the best possible opportunities for a better future. He, for example, financed his son’s studies.

Regarding the outcome of both arguments, one can see a difference. especially in the sons’ reactions. Whereas Chris uncontrollably hits his father and then leaves him behind, in “My Son the Fanatic” it is the father who attacks his son physically.

In addition, both fathers are disappointed in their sons when they don’t behave the way they expected them to.

Even though both stories deal with completely different themes – the excerpt from “All my sons” is about the moral deficiencies of a father, and “My Son the Fanatic” relates to religious conflicts – the underlying conflict between father and son is apparent. In both stories, neither father nor son can understand the other side’s point of view, and neither are willing to accept the decisions of the other.

The movie “Billy Elliot” is set during the miners’ strike in the mid 1980s in a small pit village in Durham. At the centre of the film is the Elliot family: 11-year-old Billy, his older brother Tony, their widowed father Jackie and Nan, the boys’ confused grandmother. Both Tony and his father are coal miners on strike. A conflict arises when Billy decides to quit his boxing lessons to join a local ballet group. When he finds out, his father forbids him to continue, which Billy ignores by secretly taking lessons with his teacher. Nevertheless, in the end Jackie accepts his son’s wish because he recognizes his talent, and he decides to support him in his further education, regardless of the obstacles which he then has to face.

Compared to “All my sons”, the relationship between father and son in “Billy Elliot” is based on gender roles and expectations. Even though Billy’s father tries to suppress his son’s wish to become a professional ballet dancer in the beginning, he later accepts and even supports him.

Furthermore, with his decision to support his son, he attracts his colleagues’ anger because the only way to earn the money for his son’s education is to become a strike breaker.

By doing this, Jackie – just like Joe in “All my Sons” – shows that he is willing to support his son, but he doesn’t use unethical methods to achieve his aim. On the contrary, he is even willing to accept his colleagues’ disapproval when he returns to work in order to support his younger son’s ambition.

In addition, whereas in “All my Sons” the relationship between father and son seems to be damaged beyond repair, in the end Jackie and Billy accept and understand each other’s position.

All in all, one can say that the similarities between “All my Sons” and “My Son the Fanatic” are more striking, because they are mostly based on the negative feelings and outcome of the stories. Compared to the positive development of the father-son-relationship in “Billy Elliot” which results in a fundamental change of attitude, the basic problem between Joe and Chris in “All my Sons” is not resolved in the end.


Dear mum,

I’m writing to you to explain why I decided to leave and why I won’t come back again. Over the past few days I have been reflecting on my argument with dad, but I still cannot understand why he did what he did.

When I tried to talk to him and explain why I think he is responsible for the deaths of those 21 soldiers, he just didn’t show any guilt or remorse. Quite the contrary, he didn’t take any responsibility for his actions. Even worse, at the beginning he even denied that he had had anything to do with the deaths. He told me that he hadn’t killed anybody. Of course, he tried to explain to me why he can’t be blamed for anything, but in my opinion, his arguments are not valid. Why did he allow those broken parts to be actually used in the planes?

I guess that, first and foremost, he didn’t want to lose his company, because one of his arguments was that he worked forty years long to build up the firm. But tell me: Is a company or wealth worth more than the lives of 21 young men? I don’t think so…

To say that he never wanted anyone to die because of his faulty engine heads, but not intervening when those machine parts were actually used, is beyond my understanding. He knew about the mistakes and still didn’t stop the transaction. That is the most unsettling fact for me, and I will never forgive him for that.

He also claimed that he did it all for me because he wanted me to have a future and not to lose everything he had built up over the past forty years. But how could he allow those soldiers, soldiers like his own son, to die because of his failure? Just because of profit and money? If this is his only justification, I feel deceived by my own father.

Furthermore, I feel very angry and betrayed because my own father is responsible for the deaths of so many young men, and he doesn’t even feel guilty about it. Well, he might feel guilty, but in my eyes, not for the right reasons. He only sees his business, but not the people who have suffered and died from his own actions. From my point of view, he acted very egoistically, and by saying that he did it for me, he was probably hoping for my absolution – which I definitely won’t give him. I should be able to look up to him – he’s my dad, after all – but after what happened I can’t…not anymore. The only thing I feel for him is pure disgust.

During our conversation, I got more and more angry and also very disappointed in him. He told me his reasons, and I heard everything he said, but it felt as if he wasn’t really talking or listening to me. It was so frustrating that he didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand my arguments, but instead only tried to make excuses. So, in the end I hit him and walked away. I just couldn’t stand to see, hear or talk to him any more, and all I could think of was leaving as fast as possible.

I still feel angry now while writing this letter, and I’m not going to apologize to him for my behaviour. I just can’t do that. In a way I know that hitting him, hitting my own dad, was not right, but I was and still am so infuriated that he doesn’t seem to understand the extent of his actions. Why can’t he just take the blame for what he has done instead of finding superficial excuses for it? I’m very sad, because I know that I have lost my dad – and maybe even my family.

I’m sorry that I have caused you so much pain, but I hope that you are now able to comprehend my point of view and understand why I acted the way I did.

Love, Chris

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