The story highlights the interdependence of people and societies. Human communities are built on ties greater and beyond mere families and friendships, as seen in the context of a war.
In the story Joe absolves himself of war profiteering because it helped his family survive but on reality it destroyed 21 lives and so 21 families.
Every individual, no matter how free, has certain social obligations and duties to other people and thus his/her actions have direct and indirect ramifications for the greater society.
Thus, Joe’s narrow outlook of the World is juxtaposed with that broader outlook of his son Chris who understands the interconnectedness of the World and its society of diverse communities and individuals.
The central theme of the story is of tragedy like the tragedy of losing a parent (to jail) and the tragedy of losing a young son to war. Further, there is tragedy of losing one’s sweetheart for Ann.
There are tragic remonstrations of Sue for her husband prefers research and service over profit and money. There is lamentation of George losing his love, Lydia to another man.
Almost every character in the story is carrying guilt for one thing or the other. Joe Keller is guilty about Larry’s death and Steve’s incarceration. Chris is guilty about not telling his parents about marrying Ann.
Ann is guilty about withholding the suicide note of Larry from his parents and Kate is guilty about hiding her husband’s complicity in the crime for which Steve is imprisoned.
Larry was guilt-ridden for his family’s involvement in the death of his brothers in arms. All the characters try to divert attention on other people’s fault to evade any accountability.
The story highlights the need for money and wealth in the post War capitalist American society. Joe and Steve gave into their greed and profited from war.
It was driven by his protective instinct for his family, but Joe did throw his friend Steve to save his own name and business.
His insistence on the fact that Larry did not die in a plane carrying their cylinder also points to his disregard for other lives lost in the war, a testament to his self-preserving nature.
Sue Bayliss complained about her husband’s insistence on public service over money-grubbing practice like other doctors. She even criticized Chris’s idealism even though he survived on his father’s business money.
In spite of personal differences and conflict, there is lot of love shared between the characters. Joe and Kate love their sons. They have toiled all their lives to build a happy home.
Larry and then Chris love Ann passionately, who reciprocate their sentiments equally. Joe loves his neighbors including neighborhood kid Bert. Chris and Jim Bayliss show a greater love and compassion for other people.
The other couples the Baylisses and the Lubeys are also shown to be affectionate. George loves his sister and mother and feels attached to his ex-girlfriend Lydia.
Kate Keller exemplifies hope in the story. Her resolve is unbreakable and her hope in her son’s return is inexhaustible. She even falls prey to superstition, self-deception and astrology in her optimism. Even in the end, she is hopeful that Chris can escape the ghost of guilt that finally got better of her husband Joe.
Chris and Ann are hopeful for a better future together. Chris and Jim are hopeful of a better world where people care about other people and are happy to lend a helping hand.
Bravery and Sacrifice
Another theme of the story is of bravery and sacrifice as portrayed by Larry Keller. Joe and Kate are brave and strong for their family while Ann is courageous in her patience and calm exterior.
Even Jim Bayliss is courageous to reject a career in popular medical practice for less materialistically rewarding research work.However, even though suicides of Larry and Joe may seem brave at the outset, they need deeper analysis to ascertain if they both committed ultimate acts of craven submission.