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Miller: All My Sons

11. Act 2 – "Don't civilize me!" (pp. 50-57)

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In this module, we read from the moment George enters to the moment Kate enters, focusing in particular on: (i) the character of George and the haptics between him, Chris and Ann ("He puts his hand on GEORGE'S arm, but GEORGE pulls away"); (ii) the tenseness the conversation that follows; (iii) the contrast between Keller, who enlarges himself with bluff and bluster, and Steve, who has "got smaller", according to George; (iii) the literary history of the son as revenger on behalf of his father, cf. Aeschylus' Oresteia, Shakespeare's Hamlet, etc.; (iv) the idea of revenge as "a kind of wild justice" (Francis Bacon, 'On Revenge', 1625), George's comment to Chris not to "civilize" him, and the implicit critique of 'civilization' itself; and (v) the literary history of two sons going head to head to defend the honour of their fathers, cf. Hamlet and Laertes and Shakespeare's Hamlet.


In this fifteen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Arthur Miller's All My Sons. In the first two modules, we think about the historical, cultural and literary context for the play, as well as exploring the themes of capitalism, greed and guilt. In the thirteen modules that follow, we go through the play page-by-page, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes, motifs, language and symbolism – as well as certain issues to think about when staging the play, e.g. haptics, proxemics.

Note: Page numbers are based on the Penguin Modern Classics version of the play (2000, ed. Christopher Bigsby). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both text and page numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2022, January 12). Miller: All My Sons - Act 2 – "Don't civilize me!" (pp. 50-57) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, John. "Miller: All My Sons – Act 2 – "Don't civilize me!" (pp. 50-57)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Jan 2022,

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