Footnotes for All My Sons

All My Sons – Footnotes 

[TJ1] Tragedy – A variety of drama first defined in Aristotle’s Poetics which seeks to celebrate human dignity and courage when confronted with destruction. According to Aristotle, through a dignified and serious treatment, tragedy rehearses the fate of a generally superior person whose descent from happiness to misery is charted by a plot whose arranged incidents are such as to arouse fear and pity in the average person. The advent of more democratic social structures has led to a significant discussion of whether protagonists of sufficient stature any longer exist to elevate the protagonist’s condition above those of the average citizen and, thus, provide the play’s action the seriousness to qualify as tragedy. One of the most spirited defenses of the possibility of tragedy in a democratic age is Arthur Miller’s essay “Tragedy and the Common Man,” in which he argues that tragedy demands a balancing of the individual or the psychological with the sociological: “Our lack of tragedy may be partially accounted for by the turn which modern literature has taken toward the purely psychiatric, or purely sociological. . . . From neither of these views can tragedy derive.” All My Sons has been described as a “liberal tragedy” in which an individual aspiring against a corrupt society finally becomes aware of his or her own corruption, his or her own guilt.

 [TJ2] The Federal Theatre Project – Part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal institution designed to provide employment during the Depression, the Federal Theatre Project was a government sponsored relief organization established to provide work for actors, writers and theater technicians. It’s most significant productions were the Living Newspapers, which presented a series of brief skits based upon topical social and political issues in a “rapid, cinematic form” that brought together unemployed newspaper reporters and theatre workers.  In June of 1939, troubled by reported communist influence in the FTP, Congress refused to renew its appropriation.

 [TJ3] The Group Theatre – An acting and production company founded in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford, the Group Theatre was dedicated to exacting acting training alongStanislavskian lines and to presenting new, socially significant American plays. The Group was largely responsible for popularizing the method acting technique and encouraging young playwrights such as Clifford Odets and Arthur Miller.

 [TJ4] social play – Related to the idea of “Tragedy of the Common Man,” in achieving the balance between the sociological elements of his drama with the individual or psychological, the social relationship between the individual and his or her society is brought into stark relief. In speaking of All My Sons, Miller has said, “Joe Keller’s trouble, in a word, is not that he cannot tell right from wrong but that his cast of mind cannot admit that he, personally, has any viable connection with his world, his universe, or his society. . . . In this sense Joe Keller is a threat to society and the play is, thus, a social play. It’s ‘socialness’ does not reside in its having dealt with the crime of selling defective materials to a nation at war–the same crime could easily be the basis of a thriller which would have no place in social dramaturgy. It is that the crime is seen as having roots in a certain relationship of the individual to society, and to a certain indoctrination he embodies, which, if dominant, can mean a jungle existence for all of us no matter how high our buildings soar.”

 [TJ5] House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) – A committee of the United States House of Representatives notably active in the 1940s and 1950s which sought to ferret out politically subversive persons in all walks of American life, including the theatre and film industry. Richard Nixon was a prominent member of HUAC. Joseph McCarthy, the flamboyant senator from Wisconsin, was not a member of the Committee, but his own search for communists in the government climaxed in televised Senate hearings in 1954, inextricably linking his name to an era of communist “witch hunts.”