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Miller graduated from high school in 1932 during the height of the Depression. He had to take various jobs, including driving a truck and working in an auto parts warehouse to save for college tuition. It took him two years to save enough money to enroll in the University of Michigan as a journalism student. Those two years also introduced him to the anti-Semitism and to the awareness that drama and writing could open people to the truths of the world around them. He changed majors after enrolling in a playwriting course and winning a University prize for his first play, They Too Rise. He won more awards, and upon graduating went back to New York, where he joined the Federal Theatre Project and supported himself by writing radio scripts. He turned down an offer from a major film company because he felt writing for stage would give him more freedom to choose his subject matter.
In the 1940s he had two major plays, All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, produced on Broadway. These plays explored the relationship between father and son, as well as American values. By the end of WWII, the horror of the Holocaust was surfacing. By the 1950s, another kind of scapegoat made its way to the public’s attention: communists.
Arthur Miller’s writing is influenced by the immense historical events of his lifetime: two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the growth of nuclear weapons, the McCarthy hearings, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the AIDS epidemic. But he does not write mere history. Miller writes about ordinary people struggling in a world changed by events that seem to leave them without a spiritual base. Miller is no recluse. He has lived and worked among people and formed close associations.
No biography of Miller would be complete without mention of his close relationship with Elia Kazan, who directed All My Sons, Death of a Salesman and After the Fall. Their friendship went beyond professional ties. But their relationship struggled to survive Kazan’s cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee and his naming of ten other writers and directors from Hollywood as communists. Miller and Kazan did not speak for ten years.
Miller married three times. In 1940, he married his college sweetheart Mary Slattery, with whom he had a daughter and a son. After their divorce, he later married Marilyn Monroe and wrote a movie, The Misfits, for her. When she committed suicide, they were already divorced. His last wife, Inge Morath, a professional photographer, with whom he had two more children, died in 2002. Miller himself died on February 10th, 2005.
After the Fall intimates that the original fall from Eden is recapitulated by each individual through the Fall into consciousness and thus into choice.
Stephen Barker (Cambridge 237)
After the Fall is a memory play. Quentin begins speaking to someone offstage. Perhaps he speaks to the audience, perhaps to an invisible friend or therapist. What becomes clear is this: everything that happens onstage is in Quentin’s mind; we see the other characters from his point of view. Something has happened to this man to force him into a reflective state of being. He is a lawyer whose primary client is himself. Quentin investigates how things have turned out the way they have from his own perception of truth. People from his past–wives, lovers, clients, and friends–appear and fade away as Quentin remembers past encounters. He wanted to do good in life, to love and be loved. But his first two marriages ended in divorce and he betrayed a friend. As the play moves forward and backward in time, Quentin acknowledges his own capacity for cruelty and murder–not the physical taking of another’s life but the murder of love, his own as well as the love of others.
The Theme of Denial
An overriding theme in After the Fall is denial. Quentin learns about denial from considering the impact of the Holocaust. This brings him to the realization that he must face the many ways he has justified or ignored his complicity in the failure of his marriage to Louise and the death of Maggie. He does not want to look at the truth and yet once he begins, he sees the layers of denial and is compelled to dig deeper.
After the Fall was first produced in 1964 for the Lincoln Center, which was to be home for a new National Theatre. Because the new theatre was not yet built it premiered at the ANTA- Washington Square Theatre. It was designed for a thrust stage similar to the Alley Theatre’s Neuhaus stage. The set consisted of risers and a background dominated by a watch tower reminiscent of a concentration camp. It had a three-month rehearsal period, during which Miller made many rewrites of the script. The touring show design did away with the watchtower and had higher risers with steps that formed a spiral. The background consisted of a barbed wire spiral.
Influences on Miller in writing After the Fall
The Great Depression
From the roaring 20’s when jazz and good times rolled, America entered the 30’s with a whimper:
Wall Street’s Great Crash of 1929 did not “cause” the decade of the Great Depression that followed…The Crash was a symptom of the economyís serious disease . . . After the Crash the economy was paralyzed. In one year 1,300 banks failed. (Davis 271)
There was no insurance on the money lost and as people lost their savings, salaries were halved and cut again, jobs were lost as businesses were forced to close, and people lined the streets waiting for handouts of food. The great wheat belt of mid America was stricken by a drought and farmers lost their land and migrated to California in search of jobs. Many lost hope and the effects of the Depression scarred at least two generations of Americans. They would never quite trust good times again.
Miller’s father lost his fortune in 1929 but business had been waning for the family company for the past year, and in 1928 the Millers lost their home and moved from a wealthy section of Harlem to a small house in a lower income neighborhood in Brooklyn. Miller’s mother blames her husband for his lack of foresight. Miller has to take a job right after graduating from high school. Miller writes of that experience in Timebends:
By 1936, in my junior year, I had had more than a taste of life at the bottom, and there was no room for sentimentality there…The bathos of the popular songs and plays of the day seemly weirdly misplaced even at the time. A scene in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, in which a storekeeper lets a hungry family keep a ten-cent loaf of bread without paying for it, was an amazing departure from any reality I had experienced.
Includes history of the depression, photos and writing by major poets of the time.
The United States drops the first Atomic Bomb
In 1945, President Harry S. Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 people and injuring another 100,000 with the newly developed Atomic Bomb. Three days later, another bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. These bombs were developed in secret during the early 1940ís in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Miller wrote in Timebends that he had been waiting for 15 years to write about Hiroshima. He wanted to write a play that examined how the scientist who invented the Bomb felt about what they had created. He visited with Hans Bethe, the designer of the lens that caused the bomb to detonate. Bethe struggled with the consequences of the bomb’s use. He had not wanted it to be used against people, but felt that its creation was inevitable and wanted to forestall Germany’s development of atomic power. Later Miller would visit Robert Oppenheimer, the lead scientist on the Manhattan Project.
Miller comes away from the visits asking these questions:
It was emphatically not mere blame or guilt I was interested in but the scientist’s connection, or the absence of it, with his own life. (Timebends, 519)
The Truman Library site has history leading up to decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as well as pictures and article on aftermath.
Comprehensive site on WWII.
By the end of WWII America and the world learned that over 6 million Jews had been killed by the Nazi government. Most of these victims died in the concentration camps. Millions more homosexuals, Eastern Europeans and Gypsies were also killed. Though is it believed that President Roosevelt knew of the extermination camps and the atrocities it was not until after the war that Americans began to learn of the Holocaust and the loss of human decency that made it possible.
In 1960, fifteen years after the war, Miller and Inge Morath visited Mauthausen concentration camp. He would be profoundly affected by what he saw and heard. He then traveled to Frankfurt, Germany where he had been commissioned by the New York Herald Tribune as a correspondent. He attended the war crime trials of several guards from the camps. Accounts of his impressions can be read in Timebends or in the articles that he wrote during that time.
Teacher Guide site with activities related to the Holocaust.
National Holocaust Museum web site. Pictures, oral stories and other useful information and links.
Historian Milton Meltzer writes books for young people about the Holocaust. Check the resource page for one title, or your local library for other titles. He does not have a web page.
House Un-American Activities Committee
Beginning in the late forties and well into the fifties, the HUAC was headed by Joseph McCarthy. Historian Kenneth C. Davis writes in his book, Don’t Know Much About History:
In the 1950s “McCarthyism” meant a brave, patriotic stand against Communism. It had the support of the media and the American people. Now it has come to mean a smear campaign of groundless accusations from which the accused cannot escape, because professions of innocence become admission of guilt and only confessions are accepted. Many who came before McCarthy, as well as many who testified before the powerful House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), were willing to point fingers at others to save their own careers and reputations. (326)
Another historian of the 50’s, David Halberstam, writes that McCarthyism crystallized and politicized the anxieties of a nation living in a dangerous new era:
He took people who were at the worst, guilty of political naïveté (innocence, gullibility) and accused them of treason. He set out to do the unthinkable, and it turned out to be surprisingly thinkable. (26)
Miller’s friend and collaborator, Elia Kazan had belonged to organizations with close ties to the communist party. Kazan may even have belonged to the party for a time. When Kazan decided to name names to HUAC, Miller withdrew from him. Kazan held the position that he was in the height of his creative life and he had come to hate the communist party, as did many of those he named. The fact that McCarthy was forcing him to name names against his will was, he felt, justifiable because the people he named were all known members of the communist party. Miller understood the longing Kazan had for fulfilling his artistic potential but he couldn’t accept the price that Kazan’s testimony was going to force on those he named.
Later Miller would be called on to name names. He refused and was held in contempt of Congress in 1956. In 1957, the United States Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. But during that time his passport was revoked and his career hit a low point. It was in this period that Miller divorced his first wife and married Marilyn Monroe.
This site provides links to The House Un-American Activities Committee and its effects on the lives and careers of many artists, as well as testimony of witnesses. This site is particularly good in seeing the different arguments that took place and the uses of entrapment used by the Committee.
Fun site for discovering the movies and stars that Elia Kazan directed.
A New York Times article that examines the collapse of the friendship and collaboration between Miller and Kazan as well as their different takes on giving testimony HUAC.
Miller article “Are You Now or Were You Ever?” from the Guardian.
Love & Marriage
Marriage is a central theme in After the Fall. Miller was married three times and had four children by two of his wives. Miller valued marriage and wanted, like Quentin, to understand how his first two marriages failed. Marilyn Monroe was perhaps his most famous wife. She was a star beyond measure. Her every move was scrutinized.
Biography and work as well as her relationships and husbands. Appropriate for high school students.
U. S. News and World Report Teacher Guide on courtship, marriage, and divorce.
(Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th…)
In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for his novel, The Fall. The story concerns a lawyer who witnesses a tragic event and does nothing to intervene. Camus was greatly influenced by feeling displaced throughout his life, which he dedicated to a search for his own truth. He believed that is all we can give one another–truth from our own perspective. He is frequently identified as one of the existential writers of the post WWII years.
Miller was deeply concerned with the role of denial or amnesia in American Culture. He wanted to write a story that would capture the universality of the human cruelty as seen in everyday life, he wrote:
…the unstated question posed in The Fall was not how to live with a bad conscience –but how to find out why one went to another’s rescue only to help in his defeat by collaborating in obscuring reality from his eyes. This is the book of an observer. I wanted to write about the participants in such a catastrophe, the humiliated defendants. As all of us are. (Timebends 521)
Nobel Prize information site.
Excellent link to articles and essays on Albert Camus and his works.
– The present is October 1963.
– Quentin was born in 1920, so he’s currently 43.
– Quentin and Louise married in 1946 and divorced in 1956.
– Louise was born in 1924.
– Quentin and Maggie were married from 1956-1961.
– Maggie was born in 1926, so she’s 36 at the time of her death in August 1962.
– Quentin quits firm September 1962.
– Quentin meets Holga in June 1963.
– Holga was born in 1926, so she’s 37 in the play.
– Quentin first meets Felice in 1961.
Historical Timeline of Play
– 1919 WWI “the war to end all wars” ends as prohibition begins
– 1920 The roaring 20’s enter with jazz and 1st commercial radio
Women gain vote
– 1921 Congress begins to institute strict quotas on immigrants
Extreme inflation in Germany
– 1922 Lincoln Memorial dedicated
– 1923 Charleston Dance becomes popular
Teapot Dome Scandal
– 1924 J. Edgar Hoover becomes 1st Director of FBI
– 1925 Flapper Dresses become the style
Hitler publishes Mein Kampf
– 1927 Lindberg flies solo across Atlantic
Jazz Singer, first talking movie
– 1028 Penicillin discovered
– 1929 NY stock market crashes and banks close
– 1930 Pluto discovered and slice bread available
– 1932 Scientists split the Atom
– 1933 Adolf Hitler elected Chancellor of Germany
– 1934 Dust Bowl begins
– 1935 Germany issues Anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws
Social Security Ends
– 1938 “The Night of the Broken Glass”
– 1941 Manhattan Project begins
Pearl Harbor bombed and US enters War
– 1942 Japanese-Americans held in camps
– 1945 Roosevelt dies and Truman becomes President of the United States
Hitler commits suicide
US drops Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
– 1946 Nurenberg War Crimes Trials begin
– 1947 Dead Sea Scrolls discovered
– 1948 State of Israel founded
– 1949 China becomes Communist
Soviet Union has Bomb
– 1950 First modern Credit card introduced
Korean War begins
Sen. Joseph McCarthy begins Communist Witch Hunt
– 1951 Color TV introduced
WWII officially ends
– 1952 Polio vaccine invented
– 1953 DNA discovered
– 1954 Brown vs. Topeka–segregation becomes illegal
– 1955 Disneyland opens and Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat
– 1958 NASA founded and a new toy, Legos, is introduced.
– 1959 Castro becomes the new dictator of Cuba
– 1960 First televised debates and John F. Kennedy is elected President
FDA approves the birth control pill, known simply as The Pill
– 1961 Adolf Eichman stands trial
Bay of Pigs invasion
Peace Corps founded
– 1962 Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is published
Marilyn Monroe commits suicide
Cuban Missile Crisis
– 1963 Betty Freidan publishes Feminine Mystique
JFK is assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson becomes President
Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream”
The timeline of After the Fall begins when Quentin is born in 1920. In 1920, Miller was five years old. It is from this age that many people can remember back to. So Quentin’s lifespan in the play is related to Miller’s memory.
1. Have students make a timeline of their own lives and the major events that they can remember. Then have them make a list of major historical events during that time frame. They could also make a collage with family photos or photographs of themselves since birth.
2. Discussion Prompts:
Can you find some of these events discussed or dramatized?
Additional Plays, Movies, and Novels with themes of Introspection
Not I by Samuel Beckett
A short film about an elderly woman who speaks after a lifetime of silences. Only her lips are exposed.
Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett
An elderly man listens to tapes of himself in his thirties and responds.
Wings by Arthur Kopit
This play explores the inner life of a woman who has suffered a stroke.
Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg
Dissertation on directing Three Days of Rain.
article on Greenberg and his plays with links to other sites.
Night of the Iguana, Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
Lesson plans and resources.
Abbotson, Susan C.W. Student Companion to Arthur Miller. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2000.
(Has activities and ideas for Drama classes as well as criticism for English classes.)
Bigsby, Christopher. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
(Contains full range of essays and criticism.)
Bloom, Harold, Ed. Arthur Miller: Modern Critical Reviews. New York: Chelsea House, 1987 and Bloom’s Bio Critiques: Arthur Miller. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
(Two collections of essays on Miller, his writing and his life.)
Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About History But Never Learned. New York: Crown, 1990.
(A concise overview of history and its consequences. Easy to read.)
Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Villard, 1993.
(The definitive book on the 1950ís. Everything from politics to poodle skirts and rock and roll.)
Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust. New York: Harper Collins, 1976.
(Milton Melzer has written over 50 titles, many for young students. He is a wonderful historian. Never to Forget is filled with letters and stories of people whose lives were suddenly turned upside down by the rule of slander and fear and hatred. He also has titles that relate to other issues covered in this guide.)
Miller, Arthur. Timebends: a Life. New York: Grove, 1987.
(Miller’s autobiography is packed with stories and commentary on his writing and the people he met on the way to becoming one of Americaís most respected playwrights.)
Otten, Terry. The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.
(Focuses on a recurrent theme in Miller’s work.)
Roudane, Matthew. Ed. Conversations With Arthur Miller. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987.
(Full collection of Miller’s opinions from articles and interviews.)
Siebold, Thomas. Ed. Readings on Arthur Miller: Literary Companion Series. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1997.