play how ignorant you are”. We can tell
play progresses?The audience learns from the start that Joe Keller is an uneducated, butotherwise average American family man.
He loves his family immensely andwould do anything for them. He has worked hard all his life for them onlyand deserves what he has achieved; a happy, healthy family, a nice house, aprosperous business and a high social status. He loves his family so muchthat he made one fatal mistake that had disastrous consequences. In thisessay, I will be examining the impressions and images that the audienceperceive of Joe as the play progresses.
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The first impression the audience gets of Joe Keller is that he is anuneducated man, which they know from Miller’s directions. Miller says,”When he reads, when he speaks, when he listens, it is with the terribleconcentration of the uneducated man.” It is also said that Joe has “apeasant-like common sense” and is “a man among men”. So the first picturethe audience has of Joe, is that he is an average American man, but notvery clever.
He says himself, while reading the paper, “You look at a pagelike this you realize how ignorant you are”. We can tell from this thatKeller realizes that he is ignorant and is not afraid to admit it.The audience also get the impression that Joe is a friendly, well-like character as there are always people coming and going in his house andthey all seem to like Joe. When the play starts, Jim (Dr. Bayliss) is withJoe, yet it is early morning and a Sunday, a time when you wouldn’tnormally have visitors unless they are close friends.
A few minutes later,Frank, another neighbour comes in and he, Jim and Joe have a longconversation about something Frank is doing for Kate, Joe’s wife. Thisshows the Kellers are well liked as a family. Jim’s wife, Sue, comes to theKeller’s house next, to bring Jim home for a phone call, which means thatJim is often at Joe’s house because Sue knows exactly where to find him. Wecan tell that this wasn’t a guess because Sue left the caller hanging onthe line, and she wouldn’t do this if she wasn’t sure where Jim was.
Joe isalso friendly with the children in the neighbourhood. He plays a make-believe game with them – they believe that Joe is a detective and has ajail in his basement, and Joe treats them as though they are his policeofficers. Joe says to Chris (Joe’s son), “I got all the kids crazy!” whichshows that there are a number of children involved – not just Bert withwhom Joe has the conversation.Larry, Joe and Kate’s other son, never came back form the war and waspresumed dead as his body was never found.
We first learn that Joe believesLarry to be dead when he is talking about Annie and says, “She can’t mourna boy forever.” The word ‘mourn’ implies that Larry is dead. This isconfirmed when Chris says to Joe, “You know Larry’s not coming back and Iknow it.” However we also learn that Kate thinks Larry is still alive.Chris says, “Why do we allow her to go on thinking that we believe withher?” and “It’s time she realized that nobody believes Larry is aliveanymore.” The audience picks up on the fact that it is strange that Katebelieves Larry is still alive even though he has been missing for threeyears, “nobody comes back after three years, it’s insane.
” It is also thefirst sign of something secretive, as Kate obviously thinks everyonebelieves Larry is still alive, while Chris and Joe secretly think Larry isdead. Joe says, ‘frightened at the thought’, “You can’t say that to her,”showing he is scared to let Kate know the truth.The next thing we learn about Joe is that he worked hard to get wherehe is and that he did it for his family. The first indication we get ofthis is when Joe says extremely seriously to Chris, “You mean you’d leavethe business?” and then, “You don’t want to think like that.” This showsthat he wants Chris to stay in the business because the reason he workedhis whole life for the business was for Chris, that is why he wants Christo carry on the business, otherwise Joe’s efforts would have been in vain.This is proved when Joe says, “Because what the hell did I work for? That’sonly for you, Chris, the whole shootin’ match is for you!” This means thateverything Joe has done, it was with Chris’ future and best interests atheart, which shows that Joe loves Chris greatly and would do anything forhim.
Joe is also proud that he has achieved a lot, the audience get thisimpression because several times he mentions money and how hard he hasworked, for example, “I can afford another bag of potatoes,” and “I don’tunderstand why after I worked for forty years and I got a maid, why I haveto take out the garbage.” Joe worked hard for years so that he could givehis family the best, and so that his wife could take it easy. That is whyhe is annoyed when finds Kate has being doing some housework. “Now I gotmoney and I got a maid, and my wife is working for the maid,” says Joe.
Then, “Sit down, take it easy.” This shows that he really cares about herand because Joe has shown such love for his wife and son, the audience likehim.The audience first start noticing something is wrong when Kate isextremely agitated and says to Joe, “You above all have got to believe,”when she is talking about Larry being alive. The audience gets the feelingthen that there is something that they are not being told about Joe andbecome slightly suspicious of him.
This is because the audience wonder whyin Kate’s eyes, Joe ‘above all’ should believe that Larry is alive. Thefeeling of not being fully informed grows stronger when Bert arrives andasks Joe about something concerning the game and the jail Kate tells Bertto go home with sudden ferocity. She keeps repeating this and turns on Joesaying furiously, “I want you to stop that jail business!” She is shakingand the audience wonder why she gets so worked up about a Joe playing alight-hearted game with a child. It seems as though there is somethingabout the murder trial that is seriously wrong, as Kate gets so worriedabout the ‘jail’.
The next picture we have of Joe is one of admiration. This comes fromthe speech Joe makes about coming home from jail:The story was I pulled a fast one getting myself exonerated. So I getout of my car and I walk down the street. But very slow. And with asmile.
I was the Beast! I was the beast who sold cracked cylinderheads to the Army Air Force; the guy who made twenty-one P-4Os crashin Australia. Kid, walkin’ down that street that day I was as guiltyas hell. Except I wasn’t, and I had a court paper in my pocket toprove I wasn’t, and I walked.
.. past… the porches.
Result? Fourteenmonths later I had one of the best shops in the state again, arespected man again; bigger than ever.”Joe McGuts,” Chris ‘says with admiration’. The audience feel the same way.
They admire how Joe has come back with pride even though everyone believedhim guilty when he wasn’t. The audience also admire Joe when he says thathe has forgiven Steve, even though as Ann points out, Steve dragged Joe’through the mud’. Joe says, “I never believed in crucifying people… heain’t my sweetheart, but you gotta forgive, don’t you?” Ann says, “Yousurprise me. I thought you’d be mad at him.
” This is exactly right, theaudience also wonder why Joe is so forgiving as this is very strange.The next event that shows Joe in a new light is the announcement thatGeorge, Ann’s brother is coming to stay. When Joe hears this he isextremely worried and thinks George is coming to question him about thecracked cylinder heads. Kate says, “Be smart now, Joe. Be smart. The boy iscoming now Joe,” and repeats it. Because of this, at the back of theaudience’s minds is the idea that Joe might be guilty and a very good liaras Kate is warning him to ‘be smart’ which probably means, ‘watch what yousay’.
Otherwise, why would he be worried if he had nothing to hide?George arrives and he fights with Chris about whether Joe is guilty ornot. He says, “And he’s the kind of boss to let a hundred and twentycylinder heads to be shipped out of his shop without him knowing about it?”and, “The same man who never left his shop without first going around andchecking all the lights were out,” and “The same man who knows how manyminutes a day his workers spend in the toilet.” When the audience hearseverything that George has to say, that is the moment when they realize theterrible truth. That Joe is guilty – he threw the blame onto Steve. WhenJoe arrives on the scene, he manages to convince George that he is notguilty but he does not manage to convince the audience.
All he does isprove what a good liar he is and now the audience have the opposite theview of him. However, Kate makes a mistake in Joe’s alibi and Georgerealizes he has been fooled again. Kate finally tells Chris the truth andhe is extremely shocked and takes off.Ever since the truth came out, Joe has been at a loss, askingstumbling questions, “What do I do? Tell me, talk to me, what do I do?” Joecannot understand or admit that what he did was truly wrong. When he isforced to admit he is responsible, he argues that he did it for his family.This is true and the audience are sympathetic towards him.
He didn’t do itto make money, but to protect his business and his children’s future.Because of this, Joe does not feel guilty. He doesn’t understand why Chrisis so disgusted with him. “You want me to go to gaol? If you want me to go,say so. I’ll tell you why you can’t say it, because you know I don’t belongthere,” he says to Chris. Joe believes that Larry would have backed him up;he says, “He understood the way the world is made.
.. This one, everythingbothers him. You make a deal, overcharge two cents, and his hair fallsout.
.. He don’t understand money… But Larry! That was a boy we lost.
” Theaudience is frustrated with Joe at this point. Why can’t he see that he hasdone wrong?Joe finally reads Larry’s letter and he realizes what Larry thought ofhim. Larry had written, “How could he have done that?” and “If I had himthere now I could kill him.” Joe realizes his own guilt and he admits Larrywas right.
“I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, Iguess they were,” he says sadly. Now Joe realizes what he must do, eithergo to jail and serve his time or die himself to avenge Larry’s death, andso he shoots himself.The audience’s idea of Joe takes many different forms throughout theplay. Joe first appears to be a likeable, average man they can relate to.
Self-made and practical, he is ‘a man among men’. He is also a lovinghusband and father and so the audience is drawn to him. The audience thinkthey know him well and so believe his version of what happened at hisworkshop and admire him when he makes his grand speech. He seems soforgiving when he talks about Steve, but the audience learn later thereason why – he left Steve to take the punishment for the both of them.
Theaudience are sympathetic when he is forced to admit his wrongdoing, as theyknow he didn’t do it for himself but for his family and he cannot see thathe is guilty. In the end, Joe takes the easy way out by killing himself andthe audience feels sorry for him.