After the Fall Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

After the Fall is a play about the death of love. Drawing upon Albert Camus’s La Chute (1956; The Fall, 1957), Miller—in contrast to earlier plays where he stressed communal responsibility—here moves to the existential theme of moral separateness. Quentin’s trial is a device to establish to the jury his “innocence,” yet this would-be exercise in self-justification leads him ultimately to acknowledge his complicity in the suffering of those whom he has loved.

The setting of the play is meant to remind the audience of the hollow, cavernous condition of humankind. In act 1 Miller tries to suggest, through the scenery and the archaeologist Holga, man’s responsibility for the Holocaust, but unlike Holga, Quentin has no feeling for the event or the people destroyed in it. He processes his client Felice’s divorce, but he returns none of her exuberance or desire to become close. He is not sure, after two broken marriages, whether he can relate as a lover to Holga.

Act 1 sets up the more focused act 2, which goes back in time to detail the gradual destruction of the love between Maggie and Quentin. As thoroughly innocent as she is physically beautiful, Maggie gives herself to Quentin unconditionally. If she is the apple of his eye, however, she is also the fruit of his fall. The more he tries to protect her, the more she becomes angry and joyless—qualities of an isolated person, doomed mentally and physically to death. This part of the play moves gradually toward ultimate isolation as Quentin pleads with the Listener for the right to his separate moral identity.

In the end, the characters who participated in his tragedy (destruction or holocaust of wives) pass in review as though in judgment on him. He observes: “I loved them all, all! And gave them willing to failure and to death that I might live, as they gave me and gave each other, with a word, a look, a trick, a truth, a lie—and all in love!”

The play ends on a positive note when Quentin, neither good nor innocent, apparently accepts his past as Holga accepts her people’s Holocaust, for he leaves with her. In a kind of existential choice, he, like her, forgives himself and moves toward a new love relationship.