After the Fall Critical Context
by Arthur Miller

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Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Though After the Fall represents a bold experiment in dramatic techniques, many critics have seen it as a failure. It includes some touching moments, as in the humorous language of Quentin’s Jewish mother in act 1, or the pathetic, psychotic change in Maggie in act 2. However, it lacks structural balance, for the two acts do not seem to cohere, nor is there an underlying force that might make Quentin’s case plausible.

Nevertheless, After the Fall is a major step in Miller’s development as a playwright. All My Sons (pr., pb. 1947), a well-crafted play, stresses collective moral responsibility: The sins of the capitalistic father are visited on the son who flies the airplanes his father builds. In the 1950’s, Miller began to experiment with expressionism in the vein of August Strindberg. In his most famous play, Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949), Willy Loman’s dreams of success are undercut by his failure in reality. Still, Willy inspires a love in his son Biff that gives the play a sense of tragic joy. The Crucible (pr., pb. 1953), which includes expressionistic elements, elevates John Proctor’s individual honesty and integrity, in contrast to the hysterical thinking of the group.

After the Fall, which takes place totally in the mind, is far more existential in conception than its predecessors. Quentin decides to leave behind his past, those he helped to destroy, and go on as an individual, but unlike Willy in Death of a Salesman, he inspires a love that is problematic at best. Quentin lacks the strong character of John Proctor.

Miller’s plays postdating After the Fall use similar themes in far more conservative ways. Incident at...

(The entire section is 413 words.)