Book #54: After the Fall, by Arthur Miller

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped a few of my reading projects in recent posts, but that’s mostly been because I’ve been reading school stuff that I don’t really know what to do with. What could I really say about Dante’s Inferno that you haven’t heard? Probably nothing too exciting.

Anyway, this third semester of my master’s program is kind of kicking my butt. I’ve pretty much known from the get go that this would be my hardest semester; I’m a full-time student, taking lit classes that are out of my comfort zone, drafting as much of the content of my MA thesis project as possible, and prepping my own syllabus so I can teach two sections of Intro to College Writing next semester. So yeah, it’s a lot.

Because of this, I’ve accepted that I won’t be able to do much recreational reading this semester, but there are a few moments here and there when it seems like I might be able to squeeze something in. That’s how I ended up reading Arthur Miller’s hugely autobiographical play, After the Fall. 

After the Fall isn’t what you’d call “light reading”; the play jumps from scene to scene because it takes place in the memory of the main character, Quentin. But if you know anything about Miller’s personal life, you’ll soon start to figure out who these characters really represent. Each of Miller’s three wives (ignoring the woman he was with at the very end of his life) is present, but most time is dedicated to Miller’s second wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Things look pretty bleak when we get into the truly dysfunctional marriage between Quentin and Maggie (AKA Miller and Monroe). We see Maggie becoming jealous and obsessive, turning to pills and alcohol to numb her pain. I know the play has been criticized for portraying Monroe is this light, but I’m not sure how (in)accurate it really is. To me, the real emotional impact of this play comes from knowing the reality of Monroe’s tragic life. Monroe was a woman who needed far more help than she ever received.

Miller dedicates After the Fall to this third wife, photographer Ingeborg Morath, who is thinly veiled as Holga in the play. Holga is the ray of hope at the play’s conclusion, but by that point, I was far more concerned for Maggie’s bleak future than Quentin getting his happy ending.

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