Academic journal article The Arthur Miller Journal

"Und Ist ein Mensch Gefallen": After the Fall and the Magic Flute

Academic journal article The Arthur Miller Journal

"Und Ist ein Mensch Gefallen": After the Fall and the Magic Flute

Article excerpt

Mer the Fall is Arthur Miller's most autobiographical play. In addition to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) component, it is dominated by Quentin's (Miller's) relationships with Louise (Miller's first wife Mary Grace Slattery), Maggie (his second wife Marilyn Monroe), and Holga (his third wife Inge Morath). His divorces from Louise and Maggie make Quentin gun shy of another commitment, to the beckoning Holga, to whom he is attracted to the point of telling the Listener, "I have a bit of a decision to make" (2).

Actually, it is a momentous decision. The offhand "bit" is Quentin's short-lived attempt to calm his guilt and the fear that flows from it. His inability and subconscious unwillingness to save Maggie from destroying herself are at the play's center and deeply affect his life. No matter how hard he tries, he is a fallen man battling to keep alive every morning's new "hope" (3). The play's title foregrounds his fall and his struggle with the "after." Because of strong thematic similarities, Mer the Fall has been seen as indebted to Albert Camus's The Fall (1956).1 Miller himself discusses the connections in Timebends (1987) but senses by that time that The Fall "ended too soon, before the worst of the pain began" (484). Having decided that "[g]uilt supplies pain without the need to act and the humiliation of contrition; by feeling guilt, in short, we weaken the need to change our lives" (520), Miller revisits The Fall:

It was clearer now why Camus's The Fall had left me unsatisfied; it seemed to say that after glimpsing the awful truth of one's own culpability, all one could do was to abjure judgment altogether. But was it enough to cease judging others? Indeed, was it really possible to live without discriminating between good and bad? (520)

Later in 1964, in Incident at Vichy, Miller further elucidates the ethical problem with a line of epigrammatic force in having Leduc say to Von Berg: "It's not your guilt I want, it's your responsibility" (340). How does one keep hope alive in view of the Holocaust, of "the blasted stone tower of a German concentration camp" (After the Fall 1)? The answer comes by way of Holga/Inge.

In Timebends, Miller relates Inge's trek from Berlin to Salzburg at the end of World War II:

It was the story one heard a hundred times then: the exploding end of the Reich, the rides on trucks, the streams of people passing in both directions, the unexpected decencies and the usual betrayals. Until at last she stood on a little bridge and, starting to climb the rail to let herself drop to her death in the water, was stopped by an older man, a soldier on crutches, who lectured her never to give up and made her follow him, and finally after days and nights on the road they arrived in Salzburg. (505)

In After the Fall, Holga says: "I tried to die near the end of the war" (22). Here, then,was the continuation to Camus: "And so, some four years after Walter Wanger had asked me to write a film of The Fall- the story of a man who had failed to save a woman leaping from a bridge-a woman was telling me of a man who had held her back from just such a leap" (505-6).

Though Maggie is the first woman mentioned in After the Fall (2), it is Holga who is on Quentin's mind as the play opens: he tells the Listener that his mother died several months ago when he was in Germany and that "I . . . met a woman there" (3). Holga has just arrived in New York City by plane from Frankfurt to attend a congress and is "looking about for him" (3). He glances up at her but continues to address the Listener and then is distracted by the appearance of Felice, who makes some conversation with him, and the silent appearance of Louise as well as a one-word hail from Maggie. He blurts out: "These goddamned women have injured me! Have I learned nothing?" (5) Immediately, Holga appears "under the tower with flowers" and asks him: "Would you like to see Salzburg? I think they play The Magic Flute tonight" (5). …

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