After the Fall Themes
The themes that are most prevalent in the play After the Fall by Arthur Miller are love, death, denial, regret, and acceptance. The theme of love is quite obvious from the beginning of the script, as the main character, Quentin, looks back on his life in a memory-style text centering around the three most impactful women in his life: his first wife, Louise; his mother; and his second wife, Maggie. Quentin recaps his life for the audience by speaking while the action onstage imitates his speech. He discusses in detail his two failed marriages, which seem to be at the forefront of his thoughts.
The theme of denial becomes apparent as Quentin starts to unravel his life choices surrounding his relationships. He begins to feel regret about the choices he made. He realizes that he has denied his part in the failure of his relationships, which were filled with heightened emotions, toxicity, and cruelty. The line from Quentin “To admit what you see endangers principles” sums up his mindset when it comes to denial. He consciously didn’t recognize the effect he had on his relationships until his onstage realization, in which he begins “to see” and admit to himself and the audience the part he played in the destruction of these bonds.
Death is an obvious theme in this play, and it is displayed through the marriage of Maggie and Quentin, which is based on Miller’s second marriage, with the famous Marilyn Monroe. The relationship highlights themes of alcoholism and drug addiction, during Maggie’s rise to fame. These issues in their personal life, combined with the external pressure of the spotlight, led Maggie to multiple suicide attempts.
Although these themes seem rather gloomy, the play ends by highlighting the theme of acceptance, as Quentin begins a new relationship with the character Holga, who has also dealt with personal struggles. They both accept their pasts, their mistakes, and their regrets, and they move forward together in order to try to find peace in love with one another.
Themes and Meanings
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...
(The entire section is 721 words.)