Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 720
After the Fall is a two act play by Arthur Miller. While it is not his most popular, it is considered by critics to be very autobiographical. A recurring theme is the fall of man, and the protagonist Quentin examines the fall of innocence.
A memory play, Quentin looks back on his life and failures. Quentin says to us:
You know, more and more I think that for many years I looked at life like a case at law, a series of proofs. When you're young you prove how brave you are, or smart; then what a good lover; then, a good father; finally how wise, or powerful or what-the–hell-ever. But underlying it all, I see now, there was a presumption. That I was moving on an upward path toward some elevation, where—God knows what—I would be justified, or even condemned—a verdict anyway. I think now that my disaster really began when I looked up one day—and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was the endless argument with oneself—this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench.
In this quote, the law metaphor connects to Quentin's career as a lawyer, as well as to the common idea of judgment from a higher power. Quentin puts himself on trial. This self reflection comes early on in the play and sets us up to learn about Quentin's past.
An exchange between Quentin and his second wife, Maggie, is revealing of Quentin's character:
Maggie: And . . . what's moral again?
Quentin: To live the truth.
Maggie: That's you!
Quentin: Not yet, dear; but I intend to try.
Quentin looks back on his failed marriages of the past. He is not able to help Maggie, who commits suicide. From the present perspective, he is able to look back on his past and admit his faults. His first marriage to Louise fails as well, as he is selfish and ends up pushing Louise away.
Quentin, fallen: Well, I—I‘m not very demonstrative . . . I worry about you all day.
Louise: . . . there are never any issues, and you'll fly around in a constant bath of praise—
Quentin: Well, I wouldn‘t mind a little praise, what‘s wrong with praise?
Louise: I am not a praise machine! I am not a blur and I am not your mother! I am a separate person!
In this passage we can see the conflict building between the two of them. Quentin is able to admit that he is not very demonstrative, but he is not able to save his marriage.
Two other characters, Mickey and Lou, appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which Miller himself was investigated by in 1956. Miller refused to give up any names and was found in contempt of Congress, while many others provided names in order to save themselves. This conflict is reflected in a passage from the play:
Lou: Name . . . the names?
Mickey: Yes. I've talked to all others in the unit. They've agreed, excepting for Ward and Harry. They cursed me out, but I expected that.
Lou (dazed): Let me understand—you are asking my permission to name me? (Pause.) You may not mention my name. (He begins physically shaking.) And if you do it, Mickey, you are selling me for your own prosperity. If you use my name I will be dismissed. You will ruin me. You will destroy my career.
Mickey : Lou, I think I have a right to know...
(This entire section contains 720 words.)
exactly why you—
Lou: Because if everyone broke faith there would be no civilization! That is why the Committee is the face of the Philistine! And it astounds me that you can speak of truth and justice in relation to that gang of cheap publicity hounds! Not one syllable will they from me! Not one word from my lips!
This exchange shows how high the stakes are. It also shows how friends can turn against each other. What further complicates this is that Lou is not entirely innocent, as he does have a radical political background and has lied in a book he wrote. Quentin has mixed feelings about defending Lou, but he does not agree with Mickey naming names.
These are my favorite sections of the play, as they are revealing of character and connect to the overall themes!