Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
After the Fall demonstrates one man’s struggle to survive in a fallen world. The fall from Eden is a recurrent theme in American literature—America, after all, was established as a kind of New World Garden, a bountiful paradise that would yield endless riches. It would bring forth an ideal community in which all individuals could live together in harmony and prosperity. The possibility of a fallen Eden, however, always lurked in the Puritan commitment to the individual’s natural propensity for evil. Some of the greatest American authors—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry James, and William Faulkner—have treated the theme of the fall. In After the Fall, Miller explores this theme in the light of the modern world. Quentin, the main character, who feels that there is no God to judge his actions, is an alienated man. He tries to plead his case to a sympathetic listener who is neither seen nor heard.
Quentin, a once-successful lawyer, examines his own conscience and becomes aware of his own fall from innocence. Through Quentin, Miller explores the historical context which has led humanity into a state of universal guilt. With his new girlfriend, Holga, Quentin visits a Nazi concentration camp. At the site, he is amazed to realize that human beings created such atrocities to slaughter nameless victims. According to Miller’s ethics, a hero dies affirming his identity by retaining the dignity of his name. Anonymous slaughter is anathema. The atrocities of the camps have made everyone, especially the survivors, guilty. Innocence is no longer possible, for the Holocaust of the Jews has violated all the principles of Judeo-Christian morality. The image of the concentration camp haunts Quentin throughout the play, a constant reminder that the world has fallen.
Quentin also experiences the guilt inherent in being part of a family. His father went bankrupt in the Depression, another symbol of the fall—a fall from economic stability that changed the American system and made once-successful men feel guilty for their own falls from prosperity. Quentin’s mother blames his father for the father’s failure to avoid economic disaster....
(The entire section is 894 words.)
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