Thursday, 6 October 2016

Essay 2: Passage Based - All My Sons - George's Phone Call

This is a passage based essay from All My Sons by Arthur Miller
*For those of you who don't know, you are required to answer one passage based question, wherein you will be given a segment of the text. This segment is from Page 37-40 (Georges phone call)

Question: Discuss how tension is built in this extract

In this passage from ‘All My Sons’, Arthur Miller aims to develop tension and a sense of foreboding by the phone call that precedes George Deever’s arrival. The impact this has on Kate and Joe Keller reveals to the audience that they are tainted by the ‘crime’ at the factory somehow, and have something to conceal and be fearful of. Deever acts as a catalyst and unleashes the ‘winds of destruction’ upon the Keller household, much like the winds that brought down Larry’s tree. Thus, George’s arrival heralds the unraveling of the truth and he acts as a catalyst for the destruction of the Kellers’ falsehood-based sense of security.

The key to building tension so effectively in this passage is the employment of meticulously timed stage directions. Keller is so disturbed by George’s phone call, that even when Chris tells him he an Ann are “getting married”, Keller simply “nods indecisively” and is “distracted”. At this stage, the matter of George “calling from Columbus” is more urgent and of greater importance to him. An inner turmoil is brewing within Keller. He is so afraid of the truth surfacing that he begins to doubt Ann and the intentions behind her arrival and asks Chris if he “knows her pretty good?”. Suddenly, the prospect of Ann’s presence becomes unnerving and “uncomfortable” for Keller, in context of the fact that he was the real culprit behind the incident at the factory, for he ordered the shipment of the faulty airplane parts. By portraying this abrupt transition in Keller’s attitude towards Ann, Miller successfully builds up tension in this scene, for only moments ago, he was kidding with Chris and Ann when they kissed, and now he seems to be accusing her of coming here due to some personal agenda of finding something against him.

Keller’s paranoia only seems to increase as he rationalises George’s phone call and Ann’s arrival, thinking aloud to Chris and the audience. “All these years, George doesn’t go to see his father. Suddenly he goes…and she comes here”. In Keller’s extreme fear of the revelation of truth, especially to Chris, who idolises him, makes him very anxious and he over-analyses the entire situation. This insecure behaviour serves to heighten the tense atmosphere as the audience begins to suspect that Keller might in fact be guilty of something, otherwise he wouldn’t have had anything to fear, whereas in this case, he is thinking of all possibilities even before anything actually happens.

Miller also interjects segments of Ann’s conversation with George offstage, which interrupt Keller and Chris’s conversation. George is “excited” about having found out something following his meeting with his father, and despite Ann pleading him to tell him what he found out, George doesn’t relent. This enables Miller to increase suspense and apprehension in the minds of the audience. Furthermore, Keller seems to cover up in his conversation with Chris, when he feels he is sounding too suspicious, even though it is “with great force” that he changes the topic. However even then, this does nothing to ameliorate the tension, for he only brings up yet another controversial subject - Chris taking up the business.

All throughout the drama, Miller makes visible undertones of Chris’s residual guilt of having survived the war when his friends laid down their lives. In a very subtle manner, it appears as though he is remorseful for the shipment of the faulty parts, and that somewhere he knows that Keller was capable of such a crime, but remains in denial, for it would go against everything he thought his father to be. During the war, Chris is made particularly conscious of the ‘social contract’ that binds all human beings, whereas Keller does the exact opposite, by considering personal gain to be paramount, disregarding his responsibility towards fellow humans. Thus Chris seems to find the money tainted and doesn’t want to link his name with it, for he is “ashamed of the money”. The manner in which Keller justifies to Chris that “there’s nothing wrong with the (that) money” also furthers the tension in the scene due to his vehemence that “frightens” Chris.

Miller brings the attention back to George’s arrival when Ann concludes her conversation with George over the phone. He (Miller) has also made use of dramatic irony, for we only hear what Ann says and not what George has to say from the other end. She asks him to “get a hold” of himself and that “nobody is running from him”. This only confirms Keller’s fears, for indeed, it does seem as though George has found out something that could potentially let out Keller’s well-preserved secret and ruin whatever little reputation he has left in the eyes of his family. The fact that he is coming “on the seven o’ clock” accentuates the apprehension, for the imminence of his arrival accelerates the tension even further. It makes the audience rather curious to find out what George has learnt from his father, and what Keller is hiding.

Lastly, the scene ends with Kate “warning” Joe to “be smart”, urging him not to let his guard down. This reveals how Kate too knows of Joe’s wrongdoing, and to an extent, is complicit in his crime. Keller exits, “slamming” the door with “hopeless fury”. His inexplicable frustration makes it evident that he has done something to be ashamed of, and that George’s arrival only means that he will have to be a lot more cautious to ensure his secret remains undisclosed. It is also interesting to note the increased use of ellipsis in this scene, which in the play creates the effect of the characters leaving their sentences midway, leaving the audience to interpret the rest of their message. It creates ambiguity, thus intensifying the tense atmosphere, for the audience begins to hypothesise possible outcomes of the current situation.


In conclusion, this segment of the play enables Miller to take the plot to its climax with a lot more efficacy, as a result the emotions elicited from the characters and the incorporation of multiple elements such as George’s phone call, Chris’s attitude towards the business, Keller’s sudden suspicious attitude towards Ann, and Kate’s warning, all of which serve to further this effect.

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