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1. Introduction – Historical, Cultural and Literary Context
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about the historical, cultural and literary context of 'All My Sons', focusing in particular on: (i) the immediate post-war period in which it was written, and the difference between Miller and other dramatists writing in this period, e.g. Tennessee Williams; (ii) the importance of the family in tragedy, especially the idea of something from the family's past somehow haunting the present; (iii) the concept of the Aristotelian unities and the extent to which 'All My Sons' fulfils them; (iv) the influence of social realist writers such as Clifford Odets (1906-63), Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) and Upton Sinclair (1878-1968); (v) the extent to which the United States had changed since the end of the First World War, and the different ways that these changes were represented in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), among other writers; (vi) the themes of money and greed in 'All My Sons'; (vii) the setting of the play, and the extent to which the Keller family are the prototypical 1940s American family; (viii) the importance of war as a background to 'All My Sons', and the tradition of plays examining the private lives of men involved in war, e.g. George Bernard Shaw's 'Arms and the Man' (1894); and (ix) the themes of responsibility and blame in the play.
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
McRae, J. (2022, January 12). Miller: All My Sons - Introduction – Historical, Cultural and Literary Context [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/miller-all-my-sons/introduction-historical-cultural-and-literary-context
McRae, John. "Miller: All My Sons – Introduction – Historical, Cultural and Literary Context." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Jan 2022, https://massolit.io/courses/miller-all-my-sons/introduction-historical-cultural-and-literary-context