After the Fall: Philosophy on Stage

After the Fall

By Arthur Miller

Perhaps at some inflection point in your life—marriage, divorce, accident, financial crisis, etc.— you’ve paused to take stock of where you are, how you arrived there, and where, based on your analysis, you’re headed, and if you might through conscious effort alter your course.

Additionally, perhaps you are the type of person who wrestles with the concepts of good and evil, of unintentional evil, of goodness for the sake of personal gain, of evil for survival, of doing the right things to avoid guilt, of controlling your life, of separating to develop and preserve your individuality. We could go on but you get the point. You might, in more modern lingo, call this leading the examined life. You, my friend, are a candidate for Miller’s dense, often stupefying, and always challenging After the Fall.

If curiosity about his marriage to and divorce from Marilyn Monroe months before her suicide, is all you seek, you will be sorely disappointed. (Though, putting aside Miller’s own protestations to the contrary, Monroe certainly seems at least the model for the highly insecure, dependent, paranoiac, and suicidal Maggie.)

Protagonist Quentin, a lawyer, has exited his marriage from Maggie, the singer star, has developed feelings for Holga, an archaeologist, after meeting her in Germany, now awaits her arrival by plane in the U.S., and addresses an off-stage individual (presumably his alter ego) if he possesses the capacity to do successfully what he has failed to do twice already. This launches him on a seemingly disjointed ramble through his life (though alert viewers and readers will see form in how Miller juxtapositions these), from boyhood to his final days with Maggie, which also serves as an examination as to what went wrong with that marriage. Intermingling with these personal questions are larger ones generalized to all human kind and symbolized by the central motif of the stage design: a watch tower at a Nazi concentration camp. Thus we have good vs. evil, whether humans have the capacity for pure goodness, and he loss of and/or nonexistence of innocence (lost after the fall from Eden, after economic failure, after wholesale, state-sanctioned murder).

Miller certainly tries to make this inquiry into drama, but, honestly, from this point of view, it’s tough sledding indeed. However, as a provocative experiment at stimulating readers and audiences to search their own lives for meaning, most will find it effective. So, as drama, not so much; as moral philosophy, yes; and reading or viewing it as such, it will not disappoint. w/c

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