This past Friday night we saw the Arthur Miller play, After the Fall. It was being performed at an art school which was near to the college where our son attends. While it wasn't a perfect performance (the sound engineer forgot a couple of cues, the actress portraying a German accent was difficult to understand as were some of the actors in their angry, yelling scenes), the actors were quite good, especially the lead since most of the 2 1/2 hour play is a monologue of streams of consciousness.
The play has been attributed as a loosely autobiographical portrayal of Miller; his sense of guilt in his relationships, in his political involvements and in his early upbringing. There was an extreme amount of angst in the 2 1/2 hours. Frankly, an hour of it would be 60 minutes too much.
The play takes place as a middle-aged lawyer, Quentin, is trying to decide if he has the inclination to love again, this time a German woman he meets while he is touring the German concentration camps. Interspersed throughout these present scenes are his reminiscences of his youth, his parents, his first marriage, his second marriage, and his defense of clients for the McCarthy trials.
While the characters did not resonate with me, they did propose some interesting ideas. One was through the German love interest, Holga.
"I think it’s a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one’s self. One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood. One day you faint because the gardener cuts his finger off, within a week you’re climbing over corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so? I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not to go to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms." ~ Holga.
Later in the play, Quentin decides that due to humankind's horror, both the global horror of WWII and the suspicious horror of McCarthyism and the fickle, selfishness of the individual that there really is no hope for mankind. After the fall, both individually and collectively what is there? The play ends with just as many questions as when it started.
What a shame and a loss that the character Quentin feels that there is not hope. For I do believe in hope in this world and not hope like Holga suggests. Hope is not within us. Yes, we do need to take one's life in one's arms, to be responsible for what we have done and accept our selves, warts and all.
But I believe, our hope comes from God. How can I, a finite being with limitations provide hope and consistency? Just the question alone of the looking for hope in one's current surroundings is limited and inconsistent since circumstances can change in an instant. Thank goodness they do. Thank goodness that, because of the fall, there is the realization that I am fallible. I must look up and towards someone bigger than myself, my surroundings and my situations.
What about you? Do you feel that there is no hope in your current situation? Have you ever looked up or looked beyond yourself? Like Holga, do you question the sudden change in life's circumstances- one day you smell bread baking, the next smoke? Does that determine your ability to have hope? Or do you have hope in spite of the changed circumstances?
If one doesn't have that, I wonder what does one have? Certainly the play bears it out- nothing but questions and angst.
After the fall, I choose hope.