All My Sons

Miller keeps the pace of the first act slow.How does it allow the horror of the crime to seep into the atmosphere,filling the audience with a sense that this idylic,placid community has been injected with a slow poison?

Arthur Miller's All my Son.

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Within the first act, we see that the most important events have already transpired. The only action that occurs within the time frame of the narrative is the revelation of certain facts about the past, and it is important to track how the revelations change the relationships among the characters as well as their own self-definition. Arthur Miller carefully controls the flow of information rather than focusing on plot and action. Thus the play, influenced by the work of the playwright Ibsen, is paced by the slow revelation of facts. In the first act, not much is said that is unknown to the characters, but it is all new to the audience. Miller takes his time revealing the background information to the audience by having the characters obliquely refer to Larry and to his disappearance again and again, until all the necessary information has been revealed through natural dialog. The explanation of Keller's and Steve's business during the war, and the ensuing scandal, is similarly revealed through insinuation and association. The first reference to Steve's incarceration occurs when Ann says that her mother and father will probably live together again "when he gets out." This does not mean much to the audience until Frank asks about Steve's parole. Therefore, Ann's estrangement from her father and the community's hostility and curiosity towards the man are established before the audience knows exactly where Steve is and how he got there. Miller's manipulation of the background information heightens the anticipation and the curiosity of the audience.

Again, very little new information is presented to the characters in this act. Chris reveals his intentions to marry Ann to his father, Ann learns of Chris's feelings of guilt for surviving the war and coming home to a successful business, and Mother learns that Ann has not exactly been waiting for Larry all these years. Yet Miller's skillful and carefully planned withholding of the characters' backgrounds prevents the first act from feeling like forty minutes of exposition--which, in function, it actually is. The slow pace of the first act also allows the horror of the crime to seep into the atmosphere, imbuing the audience with a sense that this idyllic, placid community has been injected with a slow poison.