After the Fall begins with Quentin sitting center stage on a chair in a dim light. In the background is a three-level, colorless stone tower, symbolic of the Nazi concentration camps, on which the people of his past walk in and out of his mind as he talks to himself. Quentin is, as it were, on trial, and he addresses the jury, “the Listener” or audience, in order to justify himself to himself. His monologue then becomes a dialogue with the people of his past as he seeks to alleviate his guilt over destructive relationships with two former wives.
Because the action takes place in Quentin’s mind, the episodes in act 1 are piecemeal and seemingly disconnected, but several major characters do emerge, along with distinctive periods of contemporary history. The first is Holga, an archaeologist and his prospective third wife, through whom he visits the Nazi death chambers of the late 1930’s, discovering in the process that no one is innocent. Holga has a feeling for this place and for her mother who died there, but with a long narrative telling how she kissed an idiot child in a dream, she endeavors to convince Quentin that he must accept the past and go on.
Quentin, though he would like to become a “separate person,” is different from Holga. He lacks any feeling for the Holocaust. He cannot mourn his mother, and after two failures in marriage he is skeptical about his relationship with Holga; indeed, he cannot sign letters to her “With love.” This void does not mean, however, that he is emotionally divorced from former relationships.
There are several women who cloud Quentin’s past: One is Felice, a client whose divorce he managed. He has no feeling for her, though she idolizes him. It is his first wife, Louise, who calls attention to his indifference to women, indeed his use of them as instruments to provide “a constant bath of praise.” The constant quarreling between Quentin and Louise leads to flashbacks of his childhood, of his dominating mother (for whom he cannot weep), and of other historical periods. The stock market crash of the 1920’s, followed by the Great Depression, when his father lost his fortune and his wife’s respect (she wants a divorce and calls him an idiot) leave their mark on...
(The entire section is 923 words.)