QUENTIN: [through a sudden burst of tears] Maggie, we … used one another!
MAGGIE: Not me, not me!
QUENTIN: Yes, you. And I. “To live” we cried and “Now” we cried. And loved each other’s innocence, as though to love enough what was not there would cover up what was. But there is an angel, and night and day he brings back to us exactly what we want to lose. So you must love him because he keeps truth in the world. You eat those pills to blind yourself, but if you could only say, “I have been cruel”, this frightening room would open. If you could say, “I have been kicked around, but I have been just as inexcusably vicious to others, called my husband an idiot in public, I have been utterly selfish despite my generosity, I have been hurt by a long line of men but I have cooperated with my persecutors…”
MAGGIE: [she has been writhing in fury] Son of a bitch!
QUENTIN. “And I am full of hatred; I, Maggie, sweet lover of all life — I hate the world!”
MAGGIE: Get out of here!
QUENTIN: Hate women, hate men, hate all who will not grovel at my feet proclaiming my limitless love forever and ever! But no pill can make us innocent. Throw them in the sea, throw death in the sea and all your innocence. Do the hardest thing of all — see your own hatred and live!
The above written excerpt is from ‘After The Fall’, by the American dramatist Arthur Miller. Quentin’s character was believed to be based on Miller himself, and Maggie’s, on his second wife Marilyn Monroe. The play was written months after Monroe committed suicide. Miller came under heavy censure for this; many saw it as an insensitive telling of the intimate details of their marriage especially when Monroe herself could not defend or present the other side. Some saw it as tabloid-ugly with an intention to exploit the tragedy of Monroe’s death.
In the play, Miller treats his audience as if they were his jury – sometimes purging his guilt of not being able to save his wife, sometimes giving explanations to justify his actions. In places, he begs the audience to take cognisance of the impossible situation he was in - married to the deeply troubled screen goddess, and in places he confesses unashamedly of the frailty that he had been guilty of.
In the play, Maggie begs Quentin for help, telling him that God had saved Lazarus, and so he could save her if too. To this Quentin replies, “He … loved her enough to raise her from the dead. But He’s God, see … and God’s power is love without limit. But when a man dares reach for that … he is only reaching for the power. Whoever goes to save another person with the lie of limitless love throws a shadow on the face of God.”
The abject acceptance of this very human failing struck a deep chord within me. I have visited the play time and again to gain a fresh understanding of my own relationship dilemmas. Why do we say one thing and do another? Why do our partners do so? The very thing Miller was criticised for, revealing the deepest layers of his marriage, lends priceless value to it. The candid reflections of his marriage make me introspective of my own, at times, cutting me to my very bones, yet forcing me to see what I must.
Miller talks about the unconditional promises that we make to our loved ones in the ‘high’ love phase, to care for and heal and our inability to do so. It is not that we did not make the promise in all earnestness, we did, but the everyday implementation of it is beyond our otherwise ‘limited’ capacity. None of us, at least in our couple relationships, can be in that sense ‘limitless’.
Another take away from the play, something which has influenced me greatly, is what Quentin tells Maggie in the excerpt quoted above, ‘I have been hurt by a long line of men but I have cooperated with my persecutors’.
Don’t we all do this to our partners, consciously or subconsciously? Make our partners our punching bag for all the hurt that others have caused us? Expecting them to absorb it all, for we love them and they love us! When our loved ones protest at the unfairness of it (which they do at times), we reprimand them even more sharply for going back on their promise. Yes, I agree, we will take our partners for granted as they would too, but to not even acknowledge our excesses while under the umbrella of love is something that this play had made me think deeply about.
Quentin says, “Do the hardest thing of all — see your own hatred and live.”
Can we reflect on our own excesses and operate from there?