Like Father, Like Son
Chris is Joe Keller's surviving son. Miller describes him as "thirty-two; like his father, solidly built, a listener. A man capable of immense affection and loyalty" (1.102). While Joe reads the want ads in the newspaper, however, Chris reads the book section. Even before the big fight in Act 2, Chris fancies himself a slight cut above his father the materialist. He doesn't want his name put on the business, and professes to dislike it. "The business doesn't inspire me," he tells his dad; that's why he wants to marry Ann. "If I have to grub for money all day long at least at evening I want it beautiful" (1.217-19).
When Ann says yes to his proposal, Chris tells her he'll make her a fortune. Who does this sound like? That's right, Joe at the end of the play – though Joe despairs and speaks in past tense. He accuses Kate: "You wanted money, so I made money… I could live on a quarter a day myself, but I got a family so I…" (3.61-63). Chris, like Joe, truly puts family first.
Chris also shares his friendly, non-confrontational approach with his father. He likes to glide over things to avoid conflict. Chris misleads Ann into thinking no one in the neighborhood remembers the old crime, and tries (with less success) to buddy up to her hostile brother George. He sounds just like Joe with his condescending, brotherly reasoning: "That's been your trouble all your life, George, you dive into things… You're a big boy now" (2.240).
When Chris is missing at the start of Act 3, Jim predicts he'll return. He believes that Chris is honest; that he never knew Joe was guilty:
"Chris would never know how to live with a thing like that. It takes a certain talent… for lying. You have it, and I do. But not him." (3.21).
Sue considers Chris a dangerous influence on her husband because of his belief in doing good. And Joe bemoans the ethical sensitivity of his son: "everything bothers him. You make a deal, overcharge two cents, and his hair falls out" (3.77). But, Chris seems to recognize and be proud of this vision of himself. After proposing to Ann, he tells her about the self-sacrifice of men in the war, and the lack of meaning that sacrifice seems to hold for people at home. He doesn't count himself among these thoughtless people.
Yet for all his talk about social responsibility is Chris really such a force of moral rectitude? As he admits at the end of the play, he's also a bit of a coward. He's afraid of his mother and won't be honest about his intentions with Ann. Perhaps part of him knows that telling her will unleash some fury he wants no part of. He attacks his father savagely when Joe's guilt is revealed, calling him lower than an animal. But after a night of thinking about it, Chris still can't bring his father to justice:
"I know what you're thinking, Annie. It's true. I'm yellow. I was made yellow in this house because I suspected my father and I did nothing about it… Now if I look at him, all I'm able to do is cry… I could jail him, if I were human any more. But I'm like everybody else now. I'm practical now. You made me practical." (3.122-124)
And listen to that guilt-evading language: "I was made yellow" and "you made me practical." Far from an paragon of moral responsibility, Chris is like a little boy blaming a broken teacup on the wind.