A View From the Bridge
A Comparison of the Openings of A Streetcar Named Desire and A View from the Bridge
The opening of a play is naturally one of its most important parts, serving as an introduction to its setting, characters and themes; the best openings also encapsulate both the intentions and style of the playwright. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams describes the set in extreme details, using plastic theatre to create a vivid setting, while Arthur Miller displays a closer focus on characters, themes and dialogue in A View From the Bridge. Both of these approaches present the realism necessary for any domestic tragedy to have impact.
A Streetcar Named Desire opens with a lengthy description of the set. Williams is evidently describing something more conceptual than actually feasible, as he includes detail of “the L & N tracks and the river”, features of the landscape that would be difficult to capture on a stage, yet more abstractly juxtapose nature with industry, each out of place in this environment, and bear connotations of travel and movement. Both these ideas link to Blanche’s arrival at the Elysian Fields, out of place and finding that life has moved on without her, leaving her a relic of a previous age. Williams furthermore uses techniques of plastic theatre, building up a soundscape of the “perpetual blue piano” native to New Orleans, as well as the shouts of a tamale vendor and multiple simultaneous conversations, creating an image of a busy and vibrant community through sound alone.
By contrast, Miller gives a brief and more practical set design in A View From the Bridge, with its opening clearly more focused on the introduction of themes and characters. Alfieri’s initial soliloquy essentially gives away the “bloody course” of the play, setting out the key ideas of justice, and how the Italian and Sicilian form of social justice often clashes with the law. Alfieri’s commentary throughout the play provides an outsider’s outlook on the events with the benefit of hindsight, and the opening speech of foreshadowing is no different. By including this soliloquy, Miller alters the audience’s perception of the events that follow and their opinions of the characters themselves through Alfieri’s forgiving and understanding viewpoint.
The characters themselves are described initially, not necessarily in a greater level of detail than the set, but at a greater depth: Miller provides not only details of appearance, but also approximate age and mannerisms, with Alfieri described as “good-humoured and thoughtful”. While Miller’s characters are no more or less realistic than Williams’, this immediate focus on character and personality demonstrates how critical they are in A View From the Bridge. The importance of Eddie in particular is highlighted both figuratively and literally, being spotlighted by Alfieri but also being introduced first; the opening of the play follows Eddie through his relationships, first with his fellow workers and then with his wife and niece. It is in the latter interaction where his protectiveness of Catherine first becomes apparent, against introducing a major recurrent motif in the play – Eddie’s inappropriate feelings towards Catherine. While his doubts over her skirt being “too short” could easily be interpreted as natural paternal concern (as he acts as her guardian), Alfieri’s soliloquy lends an ominous air of foreboding to the scene.
Although Williams does not focus on character as immediately in A Streetcar Named Desire, he still uses the opening to present the characters to a similar degree of depth. Stella and Stanley are introduced as indistinguishable from the people around them; they are as likely to be main characters as Eunice and Mitch. Despite this, enough information is provided to intimate the nature of their relationship. Stanley is clearly the patriarchal head of the household and main provider, bringing the “meat” home to Stella, and his physicality is evident from the action of “heaving” the package of meat at her. It is less clear who the dominant character is, if any; while Stella is physically above Stanley on the upper floor, suggesting dominance, and tells him, “don’t holler at me” – the imperative command indicative of power – she does not hesitate to follow behind him to the bowling alley, a physical display of deference where she could have caught up to him or not followed at all. The degree to which Stella and Stanley appear unremarkable is in strong juxtaposition to Blanche’s introduction, dressed “as if she were arriving at a summer tea or garden party”, all in white and initially totally silent. From her first appearance she is a character incongruous with her surroundings, seeming lost and confused. She is also, like Eddie, the clear protagonist: the extent to which she stands out simply by her manner and appearance sets her apart from the characters introduced thus far, drawing the attention of the audience.
The openings of A Streetcar Named Desire and A View From the Bridge are indeed presented very differently, yet ultimately have the same function. Williams chooses to create a vivid sensory image of his setting, with a semi-conceptual description of the set and opening dialogue that serves to bring about a specific atmosphere, while Miller immediately introduces his themes and characters, predominantly focusing on Eddie. Despite these contrasting styles, both openings serve as introductions to the complex personalities of each play’s main characters, and begin to guide the audience through the ideas and concepts explored through the following events, as well as crucially creating the realism needed for the audience to emotionally connect to the two tragedies.
The Balance of Power in A View from the Bridge and The Lion and the Jewel
Many plays use the balance of power as a theme to drive the plot forward and to define their characters. In A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, the patriarchal figure of Eddie becomes a tragic hero through his loss of power and reaction to this. The character of Baroka in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel displays a similar level of power at first, yet humorously feigns weakness in what is ultimately a show of strength. For both characters, the extent of their control is demonstrated by younger, female characters: for Eddie this is his niece, Catherine, and for Baroka it is Sidi, village belle and ultimately his wife. These characters and their interactions are defined by power, and its changing balance is key to both plays.
As the head of the household in A View from the Bridge, Eddie possesses a character that is defined by the power he holds. This is initially emphasised by Miller by the fact he is the only man in the family; the women, Catherine and Beatrice, are very submissive, even if only to his face. Eddie is essentially waited on by the two women, with Catherine lighting his matches and offering to “get [him] a beer”. Despite him not overtly demanding anything of them, his dominance is very clear, particularly when he forbids Catherine from getting a job that would allow her more independence from him, with her “almost in tears because he disapproves”. Eddie’s necessary downfall, as a tragic character, therefore centres entirely around his loss of power and the way this affects him. When Marco and Rodolpho, the Italian submarines, arrive in the household, Eddie is no longer the only male figure. This alone is enough to challenge his authority, and the perceived threat causes him to increasingly assert his dominance, ordering Catherine to change her attire with the simple command, “Do me a favour, will you?” However, the more he does this, the more power he loses. By becoming overly disrespectful towards Rodolpho, he incites Marco to display his own power by threateningly raising a chair above Eddie’s head “like a weapon”, and his exaggerated control over Catherine provokes her into rebelling against him and ultimately pushes her away. Although no weakness is necessarily exposed at this point in the play, a definite lack of power is demonstrated through the shows of dominance of the other characters. This culminates in the ultimate show of control of the play: Eddie reporting the two submarines, who are powerless against the law. By resorting to this Eddie goes against the values of his entire community, exposing his real weakness to be a dependence on power and a need for control.
The character of Baroka in The Lion and the Jewel is comparable to Eddie’s in that both men have patriarchal roles. This is exaggerated in Baroka as he is the village chief and possesses many wives. Soyinka demonstrates the wives’ submissiveness (and thus Baroka’s dominance) through the favourite wife, who performs tasks deemed degrading by Western culture, such as “plucking the hairs from his armpit”. In contrast to Eddie, Baroka clearly asserts his control, ordering around villagers and wives as he pleases. However, the greatest difference between the two is Baroka’s willingness to expose his own weakness, even if he does so falsely; he is unafraid to temporarily weaken his position as he is confident his power will be restored. The act of intentionally emasculating himself has the exact opposite effect of Eddie reporting the submarines: while Eddie shows weakness through desperately attempting to regain power, Baroka regains power having pretended to expose weakness. His lack of fear of weakness shows his strength and cunning and cements his role as the powerful leader of the village.
Returning to A View from the Bridge, we see that Catherine develops in the opposite way to Eddie as she discovers what power she has. Although she displays a lack of power initially through acts of deference such as “lower[ing] her eyes”, the more Eddie attempts to assert his dominance, the more power she gains as a character. She recognises with the arrival of Rodolpho that Eddie’s control is mostly superficial, as he cannot prevent her from “going with him”, and draws attention to this by dancing with Rodolpho in front of Eddie, “flushed with revolt”. This act of defiance does nothing to change the actual balance of power, but openly demonstrates how it has shifted, empowering Catherine and humiliating the helpless Eddie. Over the course of the play Catherine gains little power, but learns what power she has and how to lose it.
Catherine’s parallel in The Lion and the Jewel is Sidi, who serves to highlight Baroka’s strength and power. Her character develops in reverse to Catherine, beginning by quickly learning the power her beauty gives: she refuses to submit to Lakunle or Baroka, despite their dominant status as men, asking “why did Baroka not request [her] hand before the stranger brought his book of images?” Even though Lakunle is a ridiculed figure, he still has the benefit of his gender, and Sidi humiliates him by repeatedly rejecting him in demonstration of her power. However, much like Eddie, her love of power is exposed as her weakness. She visits Baroka for no reason other than to “mock” his impotence and thus to prove herself stronger and more powerful than him; yet Baroka predicts this and uses her arrogance and vanity to ultimately dominate her, causing her to finally submit to him and become his wife. Not only does this demonstrate Baroka’s power, it also allows Sidi’s character to be defined by her love of power and how, like Eddie, this ironically causes her downfall.
These two plays are ultimately centered around a shifting balance of power. In A View from the Bridge, Miller uses a threat to Eddie’s power to spark his inevitable tragic downfall, exposing his need for control; Miller therefore forcibly defines his character by alternating demonstrations of power and exposure of weakness. Yet with the main focus on Eddie’s control, it is therefore necessary for all other characters to demonstrate power so as to expose his loss of control in ever regard. The Lion and the Jewel is also centrally focused on power and this is mainly shown through Baroka and Sidi. The balance of power shifts very little during the course of the play; rather, Baroka is defined by his dominance, and Sidi is defined by her arrogance and unwillingness to be dominanted. Consequently, the characters in these plays are defined by their demonstrations of power and exposure of weaknesses, as a result of power being a main theme of the plays themselves.
Clarity, Perspective, and Tragedy in A View from the Bridge
Arthur Miller wrote A View from the Bridge, a work set in the late 1940s, as he became interested in the Italian immigration at the Brooklyn docks. Fascinated by the life of Pete Panto, a longshoreman who challenged the work of the Mafia, Miller wrote the play in the form of a Greek tragedy, of which Alfieri is the chorus. Annoyed by critics not capturing “the real and inner theme of the play,” Alfieri acts as an impartial, omniscient figure who helps us to fully understand the tragic demise of Eddie at the hands of the corrupt Italian-American society, “a bridge between the old and new worlds” (Stephen Marino).
Miller positions Alfieri as the chorus in this play, which adheres to Aristotle’s classic tragic structure. Under Aristotle’s scheme, that there should be a protagonist who suffers from a “tragic flaw” and hence falls from his earlier high status, a fall which “should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in the character”; in Miller’s case, Eddie falls due to his obsession with Catherine and with his own dignity. In terms of the chorus, Aristotle argues that “it should be an integral part of the whole,” contributing to the actual play, not simply providing “mere interludes.” And so Alfieri’s role here is crucial, for without him, Miller would not have succeeded in his aim of writing a traditional tragedy, and the play would, according to Aristotle, collapse; the internal occurrences and thoughts would be unknown to the audience. For example, Alfieri knew and told the audience that the narrative would “run its bloody course,” yet without him we would not know the end until we read it, undermining Miller’s desire: “the point is not what happens, but how it’s going to happen” (1987 interview). These internal occurrences and thoughts are crucial for understanding Eddie and granting him the pathos deserved by a tragic character. When Alfieri first meets Eddie, he says that his “eyes were like tunnels,” which suggests that the protagonist is tunnel-visioned. While one could believe that this is implicitly a negative connotation and infer an impending doom for Eddie’s character, it could more probably imply that Eddie isn’t thinking rationally, and is uncontrollably blinded by his unconscious desire for Catherine, and societal-driven desire for dignity: “Eddie may believe Rodolpho is gay but he’s compelled to, he has to, so he can distance his own issues” (1987 interview). Therefore, Miller enables Alfieri to act as the bridge between the world of the play and the audience, so that we can properly understand Eddie—“Eddie is more than a client – for Alfieri he represents something almost larger than life itself” (Stephen Marino).
Miller, however, wanted a modern take on the Greek tragedy, and wanted to realistically represent what was happening in Brooklyn. While traditionally the chorus would be suspended or on the side of the stage, Alfieri appears in both the interludes and encounters with other characters. In Act One, Alfieri begins in a usual interlude —“It was at this time that he first came to me”— but thereafter physically meets with Eddie to talk about his situation—“Eddie, I’m a lawyer”; the play almost becomes metafiction, with Alfieri’s omniscient apostrophes about the characters figuring prominently within the narrative. This is similar to tactics seen in The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, as Fowles talks to his characters in one chapter—“What the devil am I going to do with you?”—but in the next inserts himself into the narrative—“the prophet-bearded man began.” Hence, Miller achieves exactly what Aristotle described: “the Chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors.” Alfieri offers a crucial role in communicating with the other characters and listening to their thoughts and motives, and then in the interludes relays this information to the audience members so that they can listen, too.
Alfieri, in his monologues, deals with all issues concerning Eddie, either placing him as the instigator of his own tragic fall or a victim of society’s customs. Whenever Alfieri enters to provide introduction of a scene, the events are related through Eddie, a tactic which, certainly on an immediate reading of Eddie’s character, would lead to the conclusion that he is incestuous, homophobic, sexist, and blinded by a futile obsession. Alfieri says, “I saw it was only a passion that had moved into his body, like a stranger” and then just after Catherine and Rodolpho have perhaps had sex, Eddie “reaches out suddenly, draws [Catherine] to him, and as she strives to free herself he kisses her on the mouth.” Even Alfieri points out, “she can’t marry you, can she?” Equally, Eddie talks to Beatrice about Rodolpho, saying that “they’re callin’ him…Paper Doll…he’s a weird.” Then, Alfieri tells Eddie that “we all love somebody…but sometimes…there’s too much,” a statement which points towards Eddie’s role as a cruel protagonist. These elements of the text also, indeed, relate to established psychological theory. During research of “psychical impotence,” Sigmund Freud coined the phrase “Madonna-Whore,” which describes how men see women as either respected partners or degraded prostitutes. Hence, Eddie does “love…too much” and creates an unrealistic image of Catherine for her to live up to. And so, while Alfieri’s opening monologue juxtaposes themes of murder, betrayal, and redundant laws —“there were many here who were justly shot by unjust men” — with our introduction to Eddie —“This one’s name was Eddie Carbone”— Alfieri perhaps does not place him as a catalyst for the events unfolding, but as a victim.
While the audience can see Alfieri as omniscient, when he says that he “was so powerless to stop it…and so I — waited here,” we realize he is far from omnipotent. Though he repeatedly tells Eddie “you have no recourse in the law,” he is incapable of actually stopping him from calling the Immigration Bureau. In fact, when Alfieri forewarns us at the very beginning that he “sat there…powerless…and watched it run its bloody course,” he perhaps implies that if the social codes of the Sicilian-American society had not been present, and official laws more convincing, Eddie would not have died and Alfieri, a “man of the law,” could actually have prevented the tragic ending. After all, identity is formed by society. Perhaps Miller here wants the audience to strip away prejudices, just as Eddie fails to do, and to realize the horrors that street loyalty, violence, and identification create.
As a lawyer, Alfieri highlights the significance of justice and the law, although as he demonstrates, he is not confining himself to official law: moral, ethnic, social, traditional, Italian, American. At the beginning of Act One, Alfieri sets out law and justice as key themes —“I am a lawyer…and in Sicily…the law has not been a friendly idea since the Greeks were beaten.” The paradox here that “to meet a lawyer or a priest on the street is unlucky” positions a cultural specific custom based on self-preservation and self-action. Alfieri mentions Al Capone, “the greatest Carthaginian of all” and “Frankie Yale.” Both Brooklyn gangsters and friends, they were brought up on a Mafia code of justice, a code based on loyalty and revenge. For example, as part of The Chicago Outfit, the biggest criminal organization in the midwestern United States, they distributed illegal alcohol during Prohibition. At one time, the primary leader Big Jim Colosimo and his nephew Johnny Torrio had a falling out over Torrio’s insistence that they expand into smuggling over sea, a tactic with which Colosimo disagreed. In 1920, Colosimo was killed on Torrio’s order by Capone and Yale; for the Mafia, Colosimo had betrayed them and, as Miller explains, “there’s nothing more horrifying than betrayal”(1987 interview). Alfieri therefore grapples with the main issues of violence and betrayal right from the beginning and, by doing so, foreshadows the end before the audience has gotten there; we care less about the ending, and more about the tough situations in 1940s Brooklyn.
While the American custom is now to“settle for half,” when Alfieri enters the play in Act Two, he discovers that Marco is still fixed in a Sicilian idea of the law. As soon as Eddie calls Immigration on Marco and Rodolpho, Marco wants revenge —“He degraded…my blood”— but Marco does not “understand this country” because his custom is to fight for his own name —“In my country he would be dead by now,” Therefore, here Alfieri “is crucial in showing how civil law and its justice conflict with the morals operating in the Sicilian-American society”(Stephen Marino) and demonstrates the perversity of what we called justice. Alfieri highlights Marco’s ignorance of how society works and allows Miller to uncover the harsh social codes that guided the powerful Mafia leadership.
Arthur Miller thus offers a structurally sound play, with Alfieri positioned as the chorus to allow the audience to understand what it was like to grow up around the Brooklyn dockyards. By letting Alfieri suggest what the ending will be from the opening scene, Miller creates what he calls a “single arch narrative” whereby the audience can watch the characters encounter their dramatic end, having known what it would be two acts before. Alfieri deals with significant issues of violence, identity and betrayal to ask which law is absolute: Eddie’s American and moral, Marco’s Sicilian and social, or Alfieri’s traditional and official. Miller, however, leaves this question entirely unanswered, for even Alfieri, deemed the omniscient judge of character and rationale, leaves the play “with a certain…alarm.”
American Identity in Roth and Miller
In American Pastoral and A View From the Bridge, Philip Roth and Arthur Miller respectively present family life as a tense realm of activity where relationship ties are easily stretched and broken. By setting their novels in Rimrock, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, the authors offer local and interrelated drama to symbolize the tragedy which unfolds when families begin to turn on each other. American Pastoral revolves around the life of Seymour “Swede” Levov and his demise after his daughter blows up a post office in revolt against the Vietnam War. A View From the Bridge centers on Eddie Carbone and his desperate grapple at masculinity within the family, eventually leading to his murder. The novels juxtapose ideas of the perfect American Dream and parasitic relationships; betrayal eventually eats away at familial trust to demonstrate that arguments and tensions occur in vain and leave us with nothing. We are our greatest enemies.
Both novels argue that ultimately, within a family, we are fighting against ourselves and hence are our own downfalls. American Pastoral suggests that within a family there is a lack of trust and that, behind the facades, we do not really know what those closest to us are thinking. Roth writes that “you fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations,” which seems to imply that the pretenses are nevertheless present, but that they are being buried so as to appear non-existent, suggesting a duality among humans. This duality then presents a lack of trust, particularly among families, as we assume that loved ones’ appearances are earnest. Roth supports this argument with the motif of the glove, as Rita Cohen proclaims to Swede, “A whole family and all you really fucking care about is the skin. Ectoderm. Surface. But what’s underneath, you don’t have a clue.” Indeed, Swede owns the glove factory, a business based on covering things up, and Dawn undergoes a face lift to retain her earlier model-status appearance. However, while this does seem to confirm that there is no trust, rather the opposite is perhaps true: there is too much trust. In a family, growing up with people of the same blood, you take for granted a sort of faith, and this then leads to disruption. Roth writes, “they are crying intensely, the dependable father whose center is the source of all order…—for whom keeping chaos far at bay had been intuition’s chosen path to certainty…—and the daughter who is chaos itself.” This odd balance between order and chaos, father and daughter, resonating with yin and yang, emphasizes the fact that while the two fit perfectly together, they are in conflict. Though Merry believed she was revolting against America and the Vietnam War, she was in fact destroying the man who based his entire life on America and the dream it promised, providing the narrative with layers of order, manifested in the gloves, facelift and superficiality, and chaos underneath. Ultimately, however, Roth flips this entirely; though Swede can blame Merry and the bombing for his fall, the cancer inside him kills him anyway, which perhaps offers the conclusion that we can offload issues onto the close-knit family members but really, the issue is ourselves. And so this extends to American identity as a whole, in that it is its own biggest enemy. Dealing with the issue of terrorism, Merry, to rebel against American action in Vietnam, blew up her home town and killed an innocent man. Internationally, America is attacked by terrorists coming from countries attacked by America, offering a cyclical structure. Roth then suggests that families feign trust when, underneath, they’re attacking one another and offloading their own problems.
A View From the Bridge tackles the issue of offloading in a similar way by placing taboos of improper love, homophobia, and xenophobia as causes for Eddie’s death, when really the issue is his own ideology. When Eddie dies, the most obvious reason appears to lie in the reporting of Marco and Rodolpho to the Immigration Bureau and the tensions caused by Rodolpho’s relationship with Catherine. At the very beginning of the play, Eddie is portrayed as an overprotective uncle as he tells his niece “don’t aggravate me, Katie, you are walkin’ wavy!” and when her engagement with Rodolpho begins, Eddie professes that “he gives me the heeby-jeebes.” Particularly when Eddie “kisses [Catherine] on the mouth,” a psychoanalytic reading might reference a reversed Oedipus complex, in which the father desires possession over the daughter. Again, when Eddie reasons that Rodolpho “sings, he cooks, he could make dresses …” and hence determines he is homosexual, a clearly homophobic reading can be drawn; together, these interpretations seem to offer enough evidence to suggest that Eddie falls due to both his improper love for Catherine and homophobia. However, just as Roth showed that the fall of the Swede was not due to the Vietnam War or even terrorism, but the destruction from within the family, Miller shows that Eddie’s death is due to his own obsession with masculinity and control over the family.
In a BBC interview in 1987, Miller said that Eddie “may believe Rodolpho is gay, but he is compelled to, he has to, so he can distance his own issues” which in fact evaluates both books perfectly: the characters offload their issues onto the closest family members around them to protect themselves. Indeed, Miller wrote many of his plays during the 1950s, at a time when communism was supposedly at large in America and Senator Joseph McCathy’s attempts against it ran rampant. McCarthy issued a blacklist of all communist sympathizers in America, conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and to gather such a list, he issued investigations and interrogations, one being that of Arthur Miller himself; Miller however defied the court to name anyone. And so just as his play The Crucible can be read through this scope in that the Salem Witch Trials correspond to the trials in the 1950s, A View From the Bridge can be read similarly. Eddie betrays his family by reporting Marco and Rodolpho and the other cousins to the police, which angers Marco, leading to Eddie’s murder. So in fact, by characterizing Eddie as a man who acts antithetically to Miller himself, by betraying family, Miller emphasizes that when we turn on our own family, we bring about our own demise. Merry did not rebel against America’s involvement in Vietnam but against her father’s life, and Eddie did not act morally in reporting the cousins but killed himself; Alfieri found “his death useless.” And so Miller and Roth reinforce the idea that the biggest issue in our life is not terrorism, or homosexuality, or immigration, but our own prejudices and ideologies, brought about by ourselves.
Both novels then question the realism of obtaining the American Dream: to lead a perfect family. In American Pastoral, Roth opens by portraying the Swede as the perfect American man: “the name was magical, so was the anomalous face…none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask…as Seymour.” Indeed, even in the Chapter entitled “The Fall,” the Swede remains stereotypically perfect. The repetition of simple active verbs in “he’d walk a bit and stop, walk a bit and stop…and that was how it went for hours” suggests a basic and relaxed life, owning land and cattle, which was the pinnacle of the American Dream. This is evaluated in the anaphoric list “Got to marry a beautiful girl named Dwyer. Got to run a business my father built…Got to live in the prettiest spot in the world”; for the Swede, up until the point when Merry committed terrorism, “he’d made it.” However, Roth also comments on the realism of obtaining this condition, implying that beyond the lures of the 1960s, the American Dream was a facade. Throughout 1960s America, President Lyndon B. Johnson, after the failures of Kennedy, promised to initiate reforms to give “a hand up, not a handout”: ‘Medicare’ for elderly, ‘Head Start’ for children, ‘Job Corps’ for the unemployed. However, beyond the seemingly dreamlike society, the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive suggested America would lose the Vietnam War and large riots tore apart America.
And so, with the novel set in this time, Roth questions the surface. He writes that the Swede “was now far and away the stronger partner, [Dawn] was now far and away the weaker,” appearing to emphasize the stereotypical masculinity of the American family; however, the irony is that Dawn is moving on from the Swede by having an affair with Orcutt and so she is in fact the stronger partner. Again, later on when the characters are at a dinner party, the reader is told that “The Orcutts had three boys and two girls, all grown up now, living and working at jobs in New York,” information which appears especially reminiscent of the Swede at the beginning of the novel: “He had brought photographs of his three boys…which boy was better at lacrosse…which was as good at soccer as at football.” The reader here sees a dramatic shift from the relaxed and family orientated man to by the end of the novel, “being a captive confined to a future-less box where he was not to think…not to think…not to think”; this repetition and diction emphasizes the constricting of the Swede’s life after he trusted Dawn and settled down. The motif of trust circulates Roth’s novel immensely, and is especially apt during the 1970s Watergate crisis. in 1972, President Nixon ordered the break-in at the Democratic National Committee to place a tap on the phone of the party chairman, Lawrence O’Brien, sparking a constitutional crisis over not trusting the US president. Hence, as the characters sit around the dinner table in “the summer of the Watergate hearings,” Roth suggests that trusting is a vulnerable and ultimately fatal action. The Swede begins his life setting out for the American Dream with Merry and Dawn, only for his daughter to turn to terrorism and her whereabouts be covered up by the woman he was having an affair with, and for his wife to commit adultery in their kitchen with her plastic surgeon, and for them to build a house while Dawn is planning to divorce the Swede. Roth then evaluates that this Dream is flawed; the perfect family life will break down when those we trust turn against us.
Similarly, in A View from the Bridge, Miller indicates that the perfect American family is equally difficult to obtain. He begins by characterizing Eddie as the stereotypically dominant male with Beatrice a passive wife. Alfieri says that Eddie “was a good a man as he had to be in a life that was hard and even. He worked on the piers…he brought home his play, and he lived” and this simple repetition of basic verbs emphasizes the simple life Eddie was leading, with the repetition of “he” reinforcing that he was head of the family, characterized as the Italian-style family-man. This then extends to ensuring Catherine dresses within his expectations, telling her “you’re the madonna type,” and while this character’s views seem unnecessarily restrictive, Miller portrays him as the typically superior father-figure in the family in the 1950s, aiming for the American Dream. However, just as Roth did, Miller begins to imply how unobtainable this Dream is. Beatrice asks, “When am I gonna be a wife again, Eddie?” leading Eddie to “already weakening…Pause. He can’t speak.” Clearly, in his obsession over Catherine and Rodolpho, he has neglected Beatrice and their relationship. Likewise paralleling the situation in American Pastoral, Eddie’s dreams align perfectly with Rodolpho’s, just as the Swede’s did with Orcutt’s. Rodolpho says, “I would like to go to Broadway…I would like to walk with her once where the theatres are and the opera,” and this statement epitomizes the American Dream in aiming for New York. However, though both Eddie and Rodolpho are searching for the perfect family life, Eddie believes that if he cannot have it, no one can, and so turns to claiming Rodolpho’s homosexuality to cover. Similarly, Roth writes, “Welcome to the fucked-over-by-America human race!” and this statement emphasizes that for capitalism to work, some people have to have more. In both works, the authors suggest that society is dog-eat-dog and no matter the family connections or consequences, each person is solely after his or her own aspirations; though family may be perceived as self-less, behind human’s facades, animalistic hedonism lurks.
In American Pastoral and A View from the Bridge, then, the authors comment on the pretenses of society and on whether we can actually trust anyone. In the former narrative, Roth creates the Swede as the pinnacle of America: perfect house, perfect wife, perfect family. And yet those exact things turn against him, as his daughter destroys his life and his wife has an affair. In the latter, Eddie’s values of his dignity and identity seem moral and upstanding at first; however, when he decides to report the cousins and upset Catherine, the principles turn against him. At the very beginning, he says “Believe me, Katie, the less you trust, the less you be sorry,” a quotation which aptly summarizes the message from both authors: don’t trust anyone. And yet of course this works both ways, as by professing “Believe me” Catherine should turn and ignore Eddie, for “the less you be sorry.” Roth writes a novel as a social commentary on sociology, and yet behind everything, Zuckerman narrates the novel, entirely making up the Swede’s disastrous life: we can’t even trust the narrator. And so both books conclude that family is flawed, and that those nearest and dearest to us are most likely to turn hostile; we cannot trust anyone, particularly not, especially not, our families.
“A View From the Bridge explores the difficulties migrants face in adapting to a new culture.”
The heart of conflict in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is the struggle to reconcile the array of conflicting social, moral and legal laws to which an individual is bound and to determine which of those deserves one’s primary allegiance. This struggle exists, to a greater or lesser extent, in all individuals, yet becomes far more apparent and problematic for those encountering the challenge of trying to acclimatize to a new culture. In this play, that new culture is the complex one of Red Hook and its new inhabitants must “settle for half,” learning to accommodate Sicilian tradition with US law. Alfieri represents the successful negotiation of such a combination, understanding the balance between American legislation- a “specific,” rational law- and Italian customs, which value loyalty, integrity, honour and, above all, community. However, the play demonstrates that adapting as Alfieri has is not such a simple task, and much conflict arises between Marco and Eddie, both of whom are inextricably bound to Italian traditions and seek indiscriminate punishment, which the law of the land has not been designed to provide. It is this inability to “settle for half,” to become “civilized, quite American” and accept US law over primal justice that spurs the two men on towards a tragic conclusion.Alfieri firmly dictates that “it is better to settle for half- it must be!” As a man of Italian descent, he understands and respects the rich traditions of Italian society, remembering a time when people were “justly shot by unjust men,” acknowledging the seedy mishaps that occur on the docks (with cases of whisky “slipping” from the nets as they “are inclined to do”) and turning a blind eye to the illegal smuggling of submarines that the community supports. Yet Alfieri has studied and practices American law- he is firm that this must be the overruling authority in society, declaring that “there is no other law,” and tries to coerce Eddie to accept that “the law is very specific;” it is based on rationality rather than emotion. At the same time, Alfieri seems to acknowledge that US law can never really achieve justice in the traditional sense- “only God makes justice,” he explains, “I’m only a lawyer.” He has found a balance that allows him to be “quite civilized, quite American,” and he “likes it better.” While Eddie initially seems to have successfully negotiated the combination of roles of being an Italian and an American, a husband and an uncle, and a family man and a longshoreman, it soon emerges that he is inherently unable to reconcile the conflicting moral and social laws that simultaneously demand his allegiance. As an American citizen, Eddie is bound by the law of the nation, including laws in which he does not believe, but he is comfortable with pushing the boundaries of such legislation, clearly viewing authority as the enemy as he asserts “this is the United States government you’re playin with, this is the Immigration Bureau.” Indeed, Red Hook is a society in which “the law has not been a friendly idea,” an attitude stemmed from a rich history of “three thousand years of distrust,” and both petty and organized crime are an accepted part of daily life, as reflected as Eddie supports the captain’s right to be “pieced off” and promises to “bust a bag” of coffee for his family from the ship that he is unloading. For Eddie maintains an intense commitment to an unwritten subcultural law demanding communal conduct, a tradition that values loyalty and honour and takes pride in supporting illegal immigrants. Eddie demonstrates his fervent belief in such traditions through the parable of Vinny Bolzano, asserting that the boy deserved to be treated so harshly for his betrayal- “a guy do a think like that? How’s he gonna show his face?” This is emphasized later as Alfieri reminds Eddie that the only legal issue regarding the cousins is “the way they entered the country,” and Eddie’s emphatic reaction “oh Jesus, no, I wouldn’t do nothing about that,” reflects how strongly he values his allegiance to subcultural laws.In addition to this, Eddie endorses traditional familial values, a domestic law that binds him to his wife and niece, illustrated through the way in which Eddie has “worked like a dog…walked plenty of days hungry” just to provide for his family, and he respects a natural law, which prevents him from acknowledging his improper feelings. The conflicting demands of all these laws, each fighting for his primary allegiance, create such intense confusion that Eddie ultimately succumbs to the law for which he has the least regard. As he reports Marco and Rodolpho to the Immigration, the very institution that he views as the enemy, Eddie ultimately betrays every other law that he values.Marco exists as a symbol of primitive justice, dissatisfied with American law and refusing to accept that “if (Eddie) obeys the law, he lives.” He is in complete disbelief that US legislation cannot provide justice, asserting bitterly “I do not understand this country” and challenging bellicosely “all the law is not in a book!” although Alfieri firmly assures him that “there is no other law.” Marco, like Eddie, feels that justice is inextricably intertwined with honour, and the Italian values entrenched within him dictate that honour is worth killing or dying for. He considers it “dishonourable” to allow Eddie to live, but he has given his word not to kill. Marco finds a loophole in this agreement in the ensuing fight with Eddie, and the older man dies by his own knife, restoring “justice” in Marco’s eyes yet allowing him to keep his word. Rodolpho, in contrast to his older brother, is eager to embrace American culture; he is enthralled by “all those lights” and enthusiastically spends his hard-earned money on records, movie magazines and American clothes, which Eddie scorns as “a snappy new jacket…a pointy pair of new shoes.” He declares “me, I want to be an American!” and his language leans towards the flamboyant, lyrical expression that he admires, likening Catherine to a little bird. However, Rodolpho’s enthusiasm for a new culture inculcates much suspicion in Eddie, who views such extreme and rapid adaptation to America as inappropriate, for this is something that even he, who has lived here all his life, has been unable to do. Thus Eddie uses Rodolpho’s zeal for America as a base for a campaign against the younger man, claiming that he is “only bowin to his passport” and suggesting that he is using Catherine simply to gain the rights to be an American citizen. His enthusiasm for New York is turned against him- his desire to visit Broadway causes Eddie to later accuse “he’s got bright lights in his head, Broadway…he’s lookin for his break, that’s all.” In reality, it appears that Rodolpho’s enthusiasm is simply his way of making the most of the little opportunities that he has. In an uncharacteristically somber and candid outburst of emotion, Rodolpho shouts “only work we don’t have!…That is the only wonder here, work!, but his unusual zest for life and his overflowing optimisim, claiming that he will “start to be something wonderful here” are enough to cause suspicion and contempt in the jaded inhabitants of Red Hook, who are resigned to their hard, monotonous lifestyle, no longer aspiring for romantic dreams of a better life as Rodolpho does.
“Ultimately, the tragedy of a View From the Bridge is the inability of the main characters to articulate their feelings.”
In Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, Eddie’s death is made all the more tragic because it stems from his inability to understand – let alone articulate – his feelings. The play depicts the downfall and death of a decent man due to a fatal flaw. While Eddie’s incestuous desire for Catherine is the impetus of his downfall and the threat of Rodolpho the catalyst, what ultimately causes his destruction is his inherent inability to understand or express what he feels. As a result Eddie suffers confusion and inner turmoil that lead to extreme overprotection of his niece, an intense hatred of Rodolpho, and problems within his own marital life. All of these problems stem from Eddie’s inability to understand or express his feelings, and eventually they culminate in his death.The play is carefully crafted such that the audience becomes aware of Eddie’s feelings for Catherine gradually, initially accepting his protectiveness as natural paternal concern, then growing increasingly uneasy as hints of a deeper inappropriate attraction emerge, until by the conclusion of the first act there is little doubt in the audience’s mind that Eddie has found himself consumed by a forbidden desire. The interaction between Eddie and Catherine at the beginning of the play emanates subtle undercurrents of uneasiness- without actually being lovers, they share many moments of mild flirtation and affection beyond the regular levels of intimacy commonly shared between uncle and niece. Catherine fawns over Eddie, “walking him to the armchair,” “taking his arm,” and lighting his cigar for him, an action that, while perhaps lost on a modern audience, would have a more uncomfortable effect on an audience of the fifties, as in films of this period such a gesture was used to distinctly convey sexual attraction, and, though the audience never sees this, Beatrice’s speech reveals that Catherine often walks around in her slip in front of Eddie, or sits talking to him while he shaves in his underwear. The stage directions often indicate the obsession that Eddie himself cannot himself express- despite how troubled he is, he “can’t help smiling at the sight of her,” and whenever Catherine is not present his gaze lowers or turns away. At one point, when Catherine leaves the room, Eddie “stands looking towards the kitchen for a moment,” his gaze lingering after her, and he is “pleased, and therefore shy about” the attention that his niece pays to him.These small indications accumulate to establish a realization of the truth in the audience’s consciousness, which is then emphasized by the affirmations of both Alfieri and Beatrice, who can also sense what Eddie cannot. Alfieri tries to gently advise Eddie that “every man’s got somebody that he loves, but sometimes there’s too much…there’s too much and it goes where it mustn’t,” and urges him to relinquish his possessive hold over Catherine. Later, he more blatantly challenges him, “She wants to get married. She can’t marry you, can she?” but, rather than absorbing this suggestion, Eddie’s frustration explodes into rage, shouting “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” Similarly, Beatrice’s speech often reveals an awareness of Eddie’s feelings that he lacks. She warns Catherine to behave appropriately for her age (“You’re a grown woman and you’re in the same house with a grown man. So you’ll act different now, heh?”), suggesting that she is aware of the effect that Catherine’s overly affectionate behavior is having on Eddie. She gives a “quiet, sad laugh” as she comments wryly that Catherine should have considered Beatrice’s jealousy before. She grows impatient with Eddie, snapping at him “I want you to cut it out now, you hear me? I don’t like it!” but Eddie dismisses her coldly, refusing to even contemplate any deeper cause of his feelings.Eddie knows that something in his life is wrong, that there is something distressing him and causing him such a confusing spectrum of emotions, yet he cannot decipher the cause of such feelings. As he lacks the ability to reflect insightfully on his emotions and figure out what the problem is, he transfers the real issue to whatever else he can. Initially, his suppressed desire manifests itself in an intense overprotection of Catherine, fretting about the dangers of her new job. He rants about the location being unsafe, snapping “I don’t like that neighborhood over there,” and warning that “near the Navy Yard plenty can happen in a block and a half,” concluding that he wants her to be “with a different kind of people.” While his concern for her safety is surely genuine, Eddie deludes himself that this is the primary cause of his panic. In fact, his desperation is more likely to be stemmed from a desire to keep Catherine within his sight, worried about her slipping away from him, both physically (“Where’s she going?” and “Then you’ll move away”) and emotionally (“Why didn’t you ask me before you take a job?”). Similarly, he grouches about Catherine being “out on the street twelve o’clock at night” and even resorts to waiting outside for her and Rodolpho to return from the movies, believing his distress at her being out with another man to be merely concern for her safety. The arrival of Rodolpho and Marco instigates a new outlet for Eddie’s projected feelings, and as Catherine grows increasingly “enthralled” with Rodolpho’s eccentric appearance and exuberant personality, Eddie comes “more and more to address Marco only.” His initial “concealed suspicion” of the younger man soon develops into an intense and irrational hatred that Eddie justifies through a range of different accusations and slights on his character. In his first campaign against Rodolpho, he disparages what he perceives to be excessively effeminate qualities, suspicious of his blond hair, slight build and talent for singing, cooking and making dresses. “He’s like a weird,” he scorns, unable to clearly articulate what he means, explaining simply that “the guy ain’t right.” Secondly, he convinces himself, and tries to convince Catherine, that Rodolpho is “only bowing to his passport,” using her to gain the right to be an American. When these verbal attempts fail, Eddie resorts to articulating his feelings through action, attempting to humiliate Rodolpho by “mildly staggering” him in a supposedly playful boxing game and later, in a drunken rage, kissing him to “show [Catherine] what he is.” Finally, the “passion that had moved into his body like a stranger” drives Eddie to commit the ultimate betrayal- reporting Marco and Rodolpho to the Immigration. Eddie similarly transfers his frustration onto Beatrice, periodically blaming her for being “mad at [him] lately” and victimizing him, interpreting his own dramatic change in character as a change in Beatrice. “You used to be different…you had a whole different way,” he complains, and asserts that he is being continuously attacked by her arbitrary reprimands, claiming “it’s a shooting gallery in here and I’m the pigeon.” Beatrice’s lament “When am I gonna be a wife again?” reveals the extent to which Eddie’s desire for Catherine has affected the couple and how estranged from each other they have become. Eddie’s physical impotence becomes a symbol for his inherent powerlessness and inability to express what he is feeling. Eddie exacerbates this problem by refusing to search for a deeper cause. Instead he dismisses the issue defensively, initially claiming “I haven’t been feeling good since (Marco and Rodolpho) came,” then refusing to discuss the matter (“I cant, I cant talk about it…I got nothing to say about it!”) and finally declaring that it is his right as a husband to dictate “what I feel like doin in the bed and what I don’t feel like doin.” Although Beatrice accepts these explanations, Eddie continues to project his anger onto her, interpreting his tumultuous feelings as offence due to a lack of respect. “I want my respect, Beatrice, and you know what I’m talking about,” he commands, and chastises her angrily with “I don’t like the way you talk to me.” When Beatrice finally confronts Eddie with the truth, screaming “You want somethin else, and you can never have her!” his reaction is not that of one who has been finally enlightened, but rather “shocked, horrified, his fists clenching,” and he responds typically with anger: “That’s what you think of me- that I would have such a thoughts?” Moments later Eddie dies by his own knife, a clear manifestation of his self destruction, but the true tragedy of his demise is that it occurred before he had the chance to work through his feelings, to properly absorb what Beatrice has told him and to at last understand the reasons for his downfall. In Marco’s eyes, justice is restored; he believes it “dishonorable” for Eddie to live. Alfieri describes the death more aptly as “useless,” for it came before Eddie had the opportunity to understand himself and his motivations.
“Alfieri’s commentary gives a depth and complexity to what might otherwise have bean a sordid and uninteresting story.”
Alfieri’s commentary on the action of the play is integral to Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, communicating directly to the audience and presenting the events from a more impartial and credible perspective, forcing the viewer to consider the play’s greater social and moral implications. Yet while his speech contributes depth to the play, to dismiss the actual story as banal is vastly incorrect. Sordid it certainly is- repugnant currents of tension and squalor pervade the entire play- but if the action is lacking in any element, it surely is not intrigue. Alfieri’s commentary offers not additional colour and excitement to an uninteresting story, but, on the contrary, momentary relief from the passion and intensity of the action, interjecting a tense and highly emotional narrative with moments of clarity in order for the audience to reach a greater understanding of the events that have transpired.Miller establishes Alfieri’s credibility as a narrator by presenting him immediately as an educated, articulate and insightful man, able to perceive and explain the action with greater clarity than those more closely involved in it. As a lawyer, Alfieri gains the audience’s trust that he is rational and logical, thus his judgment of character and morality holds some credibility. He refers to a memory of the 1920s, indicating that Alfieri is older than many of the characters, inculcating wisdom and worldliness in his character. Unlike the Carbones, Alfieri can see that Red Hook is the “gullet of New York,” the “slum that faces the bay,” suggesting that he has seen different areas. Other characters involved in the action live in a very confined, insular society, whereas Alfieri has seen more and knows more about the world, giving his perspective on the events a broader view.The insularity of Red Hook ensures that the Carbones are bound to the traditions and customs of Sicilian culture, which Alfieri, an Italian man himself, both understands and respects. However, Alfieri has studied and practices American law- he has “settled for half,” accommodating Italian tradition with US legislation, understanding the balance between law and justice that the inhabitants of Red Hook, a town that takes pride in supporting illegal immigrants and places extreme value on loyalty and community, cannot comprehend. In this sense, Alfieri’s view is “from the bridge”- he acts as the bridge between the audience and the stage, between the old and new worlds (small ethnic communities full of longshoremen and sailors and glamorous Manhattan, separated by the Brooklyn Bridge), and between Italian tradition and US law. He is cast as the role of the chorus in a classical Greek tragedy, addressing the audience directly and commenting on the action, making clear the greater moral and social implications. While the audience responds to the action with the passion and intensity with which it is performed, Alfieri’s speech forces the viewer make judgment. His role is thus indispensable in leading the audience towards a rational interpretation of events, but the events in themselves are by no means uninteresting- rather, the necessity of Alfieri’s interludes stems from the fact that the action is too interesting, too intense to be fully digested without him.It is reasonable to argue that there are several sordid elements to the play. Red Hook is, as described by Alfieri, “the slum that faces the bay,” a shabby, rundown workers’ community founded upon a rich tradition of organized crime. As a legacy of this history, petty crime is an accepted element of daily life, with Eddie casually promising “we’ll bust a bag tomorrow, I’ll bring you some,” and warning that “this is the United States government you’re playing with now, this is the Immigration Bureau,” presenting US authority as the enemy, and references to “the syndicate” emphasizes the seedy subculture of society. In addition to the frequency of illegal activity, the underlying theme of incestuous desire in the Carbone household creates an uneasy atmosphere in the play. Without actually being lovers, Eddie and Catherine share subtle moments of flirtation and the intimacy that only lovers should have- Catherine fawns over Eddie, “walking him to the armchair,” “taking his arm,” and lighting his cigar for him, an action that, while perhaps lost on a modern audience, would have a more uncomfortable effect on an audience of the fifties, as in films of this period such a gesture was used to distinctly convey sexual attraction, and, though the audience never sees this, Beatrice’s speech reveals that Catherine often walks around in her slip in front of Eddie, or sits talking to him while he shaves in his underwear. As Catherine leaves the room, Eddie “stands looking towards the kitchen for a moment,” his gaze lingering after her, and he is “pleased, and therefore shy about” the attention that his niece pays to him. These undercurrents of inappropriate behaviour and forbidden desire help to build a tense, sordid environment, causing the audience to feel uneasy.However, it is this very sordidness that contributes complexity and interest to the play. The intensity and immediacy of such tension is crafted carefully throughout the action to create a passionate, highly emotional story, relieved only by Alfieri’s reflections. One clear example of this is the final scene of the first act, in which the action is choreographed in three distinct stages- Catherine and Rodolpho dancing, Eddie teaching Rodolpho how to box, and finally Marco raising the chair “like a weapon” over Eddie’s head. The prevailing tension is intensified through the first action, as the movement both allows physical closeness between Rodolpho and Catherine, while Eddie watches edgily, his “eyes on (Rodolpho’s) back,” powerless to stop them, and seems to represent Rodolpho symbolically taking Catherine from Eddie. The intensity of the scene is conveyed through Eddie’s frighteningly ominous anxiety, and the stage directions declare that he is “unconsciously twisting the newspaper into a tight roll” until “it suddenly tears in two.” The audience is thus already uneasy when Eddie casually offers to teach Rodolpho to box, a sensation that reaches its climax when Eddie’s supposedly playful fighting “mildly stagger(s)” the younger man, an attempt to humiliate him in front of Catherine. It is the final action however that trumps Eddie, leaving him as the humiliated one- Marco, who has been watching silently visually demonstrates the danger he invites by threatening Rodolpho, a “strained tension” in his eyes as he raises the chair over Eddie’s head, ominously presaging the impending judgment on Eddie as he “transforms what might appear like a glare of warning into a smile of triumph.” At the emotional height of this action, the audience remembers Alfieri’s speech that prefaces the episode. Alfieri, quietly and resignedly, laments the sense of tragedy that is yet to come, reflecting on the inevitability of Eddie’s fate- “it wasn’t as though there was a mystery to unravel, I could see every step coming.” Yet, he is “powerless to stop it,” suggesting that this is an almost predetermined path, warning the audience that Eddie’s actions will undoubtedly incur tragic implications. “There are times when you want to spread an alarm,” he says, “but nothing has happened.” Thus, Alfieri, being a perceptive observer, is able to provide the audience with a deeper understanding of the seriousness of Eddie’s plight, presenting a view removed from the emotion and immediacy of the action.Similarly, the interrelation of the passionate events and Alfieri’s reflection can be demonstrated in the final scene of Act Two- the public fight for honour between Marco and Eddie, resulting in the death of Eddie by his own hand. The desperate terror of Beatrice, sensing the danger that is about to ensue, urging him “let’s go someplace…I don’t want you to be here when he comes,” and screaming finally “the truth is not as bad as blood!” is exacerbated by Eddie’s stubborn determination to fight, raging almost insanely “I want my name!” The passion and dread in this scene explodes in two distinct cataclysms. Firstly, Beatrice distraughtly confronts Eddie with the truth, the first time he has been made aware directly of his feelings for Catherine as she shouts “you want somethin else Eddie, and you can never have her!” causing “horror” in Catherine and Eddie to be “shocked, horrified, his fists clenching,” a highly emotional response that resonates throughout the stage. Following this, tension accumulates even higher as Marco and Eddie stand facing each other, ready to fight. The stage directions indicate that Eddie is “incensing himself and little bits of laughter even escape him as his eyes are murderous,” creating a terrifying sense of insanity, suggesting here that Eddie has become entirely consumed by “the human animal,” the basic primal instinct that most have learned to suppress, emphasized through Marco’s shout of “anima-a-a-l!” Eddie’s death brings the play to a climactic end, a passionate, highly emotional explosion of all the tension and uneasiness that has been simmering ominously throughout the entire play. Alfieri’s reflection on the events that have transpired is thus critical in the recapitulation of the narrative, forcing the audience to step back and make a judgment on Eddie’s character, viewing his downfall from a more dispassionate perspective. Alfieri acknowledges “how wrong (Eddie) was” but urges the audience to remember that his death is “useless” and somewhat vindicates the passion and integrity of Eddie’s character, “for he allowed himself to be wholly known,” never backing down from his perception of the truth. Through this evaluation, Alfieri presents the audience not only with the facts, but some insight into the greater philosophical implications of the story, placing it in a broader context and inviting the audience to reach their own rationalized judgment.
Fixed Gender Roles and Gender Tensions in A View from the Bridge
A View From the Bridge was set in the 1950s and reflects how men and women had set roles in society. Men, in the case of Eddie and Marco, are the breadwinners and paterfamilias of the family. Whilst on the other hand women should be demure, domestic, ladylike, and the caring heart of the family. They were supposed to orient themselves around the domestic sphere; their job was to stay at home to cook, clean and nurture the children. However, Miller challenges these expectations and fixed roles in his play, and does so in a manner that moves along the core conflicts and dramatic outcomes that his characters face.
There is a sense of escape from this stereotypical role when Catherine reveals that she has been offered employment from a plumbing company, the height of her aspirations to be “someday…a secretary”. In addition, it is clear that in the Carbone household, nothing is done without Eddie’s say; hence whether Catherine takes the job hinges on Eddie’s approval. Neither of the women can challenge the right of Eddie to decide they can only encourage him. Attitudes shown by Catherine such as “what right does Eddie have to decide my future” are the sort of things that would encourage change. However at the sacrifice of a peaceful coexistence, Eddie and the male dominance in the Carbone household is not initially challenged. The play is ended with a typically masculine fight over the macho concept of honour with the women passively looking on which personifies the typically perceived gender roles of the 1950s: that men are active, strong providers while women are passive and weak nurturers. However, with Miller perhaps implying that the fixed gender roles lead on to this tragic end, he is using the story as the evolution of gender roles and how the older generations are struggling to adapt to these changes. The outcome of the play is Miller’s over-exaggeration of what could happen if the friction between new and old ideologies continues and heightens. At the beginning of the play Miller introduces the characters by using the older generation as a means to set the norm. Miller from the outset portrays Eddie as a stereotypical paterfamila. The first time we are introduced to him he is immediately shown as a breadwinner who works manually on the docks, ”Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman working the docks from Brooklyn Bridge to the breakwater where the open sea begins”; longshoremen are usually associated with qualities such as being strong and brave. Eddie’s character is quickly known to be irascible; this may be because of the building tensions between the different genders and generations.
Eddie feels responsible for Catherine as he has taken on the ‘ia loco parentis’ position over her because her parents have died; this makes him over protective and controlling – as Alfieri states later in the play there can be “too much love”- some may argue that his love for her goes past a parenting point. ”Katie, I promised your mother on her deathbed. I’m responsible for you. You’re a baby, you don’t understand these things” This shows how loving Eddie is to Catherine but how he is also under pressure by the past, he would feel responsible if anything happened to her. Catherine is the child Eddie and Beatrice never had. Eddies metaphoric perception of Catherine as a “baby” implies that he believes that Catherine isn’t fully capable of completing tasks that the same aged boys would be able to complete. Furthermore, Eddie acts as if she will be young forever and that he will be able to provide for the family forever. In this sense he is naive in not adapting and accepting the changing times. Eddie also uses a patronising tone when he states, “you don’t understand these things” suggesting he is undermining his role as leader of the family by making Catherine feel small and insignificant. Through this opening duologue and dynamic between Catherine and Eddie, Miller establishes the seed of tension that will inevitably lead to conflict. This is due to Eddie’s inability to change. Beatrice is Eddie’s wife and has never worked before; she has a fixed gender role as the domestic figure in the household. She does not say much but her actions paint a real picture of the happenings; ”Beatrice enters [from the kitchen] wiping her hands with a towel.” In this singular stage direction we understand that she is stuck in traditional roles. Miller shows this by using the setting as symbolism, the entrance from the kitchen and the action of wiping hands shows that she is still stuck in the cycle of doing stereotypical female roles. She cooks and cleans and worries she hasn’t ”washed the walls” of the apartment before the ”submarines” arrive. Eddie being the breadwinner who works is appalled and angered when she questions him, he shouts ”whaddaya you know? You lived in a house all your life”. Women were inferior in intelligence, strength and power under men and were told to revolve around the domestic sphere.
On the other side there is Catherine, part of a new generation of teenagers. One of the expectations of a new teenager was not to conform to their parents’ rather fixed ideas about what they should be doing and instead take their independence. This was also the beginning of a desire for equality amongst women and men. However there is still symbolism of the male gaze throughout the play, “(Eddie to Catherine) now don’t you aggravate me, Katie you are walkin’ wavy! I don’t like the looks they’re giving you in the candy store; and with them new high heels in the sidewalk – clack, clack, clack. The heads are turnin’ like windmills.” This makes it obvious that she is beautiful but it also emphasises how women have been objectified. Miller’s use of the symbolism of the “candy store” to represent the street full of boys staring at Catherine can also be seen as a sign of the light in which Eddie perceives her; candy stores are where children hang out not adults. The simile of “like windmills” is used to describe of how often head are turning to look at her; it is also a juxtaposition from candy store, comparing the colourful sweet candy store to the worker like conditions of a windmill is Eddie trying to show how she is not turning the right heads. The onomatopoeia “clack, clack, clack” also emphasises the childish approach Eddie has towards Catherine as using sounds before adjectives is what one would do to an infant. From early on in the play, Miller establishes tensions building and the tragic outcome of the play is inevitable with so many disagreements and collisions between characters beliefs and personalities. After Miller has established the setting of the Carbone household, the second episode of the play introduces the arrival of the Italian cousins. When these two characters arrive we start to see how this unbalances the established dynamic of the family.
From this point on we can see how fixed gender roles that get blurred cause the family’s closeness and functionality to unravel. The first cousin we are introduced to is Marco, the elder. We are given the idea that he is the leader and more mature of the two of them as he does all the talking for the opening confrontations between Tony and then Eddie. Miller introduces him through the detailed, descriptive stage directions. “He is a square-built peasant of thirty two, suspicious, tender and quit voiced” This image of a ‘square’ is a metaphor for his physical appearance, as Marco is stocky, strong and good for manual labour. Similar to Eddie, his masculinity is directly associated with his physical strength. Marco is a typical Italian man. On top of his appearance, we also find out that he has a family to support, ”my wife, she feeds them from her own mouth. I tell you the truth, if I stay there they will never grow up”. Miller presents Marco as a dedicated husband and father. The way it is phrased in an emotive tone allows the audience to sympathise and respect him. Miller puts a lot of emphasis on the similarities between Marco and Eddie; they are both paterfamilias and protective over their family. They see hard work as their duty. However, Miller will turn this into a clash rather than a relationship that compliments each other. The other cousin we are introduced to is Rodolfo. From the outset we can tell that he is slightly different but the main clue is his hair colour, ”how come he’s so dark and you’re so light”. This is an antithetic presentation of Rodolfo as a “blonde” to Marco as a “dark”. The use of a physical difference is used by Miller to show he is the odd one out; this is significant as in that time period masculinity was associated with a large build and without this he is not seen as completely masculine so inferior. As well as that to Eddie’s dismay Catherine has taken a liking to Rodolfo and there is a flirty exchange between the two, ”do you like sugar? (Catherine) yes! I like sugar very much! (Rodolfo) (Eddie is downstage, watching…his face puffed with trouble)” The use of the symbolism of sugar is associated with sweetness and desire. Through his euphemism Miller implies quite obviously here that Catherine and Rodolfo are attracted to each other. Also when Rodolfo is asked to sing by Catherine he makes the symbolic choice to sing ‘Paper Doll’. Even at this early stage of the play Miller foreshadows Eddies feelings for Catherine; this song directly relates to Eddie’s emotions. ”I’ll tell you boys it’s tough to be alone. And it’s tough to love a doll that’s not your own…I’m gonna buy a paper doll that I can call my own, a doll that other fellow cannot steal”. These words show how Eddie feels towards Catherine. The idea of her growing up makes him feel lonely; she isn’t his and as much as he tries he can’t have her. Also, he tries to treat her like a doll: dress her up in girlish clothes and not let anyone play with her. He wants her to be a pure and innocent object so he can feel in control. Rodolfo singing this is directly opposing and making fun of Eddie to hid face in defiance. From the outset there is tension between the two figures that are so different but both have the same focus: Catherine.
Eddie has a very set view of masculinity; he associates being a man with physical strength. It is symbolic that Eddie would choose boxing, as it is another way to show his dominance over Rodolfo. In the final episode of the first act, when he asks if Rodolfo has boxed before, “betcha you have done some, heh?” it is almost a rhetorical question, as he already knows the answer. Then when he offers to teach him, Eddie is showing Rodolfo up for lacking skills that a ‘normal’ male should be able to perform. From then on in this concluding episode of the act there is an emphasis on actions over dialogue. This is a motif of Eddie’s repetitive disgust of Rodolfo’s lack of stereotypical male requirements. Furthermore, whilst teaching him, he treats him as a child, using sarcastic gestures, “sure, he’s terrific! Look at him go!” At the end of Act one there is a stand off between Eddie and Marco. After seeing how Eddie treats his younger brother, Marco is determined to stamp authority to show that Eddie is no longer the only paterfamila in the household and that he should treat Rodolfo with respect. “Can you lift this chair?” was a direct question of Eddie’s strength, “Gee, that’s hard” was Eddie’s show of failure in the challenge and then when Marco lifts the chair over his head, “and with strain slowly raises the chair higher and higher, getting to his feet now, Rodolfo and Catherine have stopped dancing as Marco raises the chair over his head.” it is a threat; all of Eddie’s stereotypical manly values have been crushed – in his own home and domain – showing that he is inferior. The act ends with a face off where “Marco is face to face with Eddie…the chair raised like a weapon over Eddies head.” The symbolism of the simile “like a weapon” is proleptic irony as it foreshadows the tragic outcome of the play – between Marco and Eddie. This scene summarises the building up of tension between the two men and even though at the beginning of the play Eddie thought he could relate to Marco and would make some kind of alliance against Rodolfo, he is now aware of Marco’s loyalty to his brother. Miller uses the end of the first act to set the tone for the next act. The gender roles are to blame for this increase of tension at the end of the first act as it provides a basis to segregate and discriminate people based on values that are pre-historic.
The second act opens with Catherine and Rodolfo having an argument about what Rodolfo’s motives are to marry her. She asks the question “Suppose I wanted to live in Italy.” which is her way of asking the question Eddie planted in her head in Act 1, “he’s only bowin’ to his passport…he marries you he’s got the right to be an American citizen…the guy is lookin’ for his break, that’s all he’s lookin’ for.” Rodolfo takes great pride in this accusation and immediately realises that this is not completely her idea “This is your question or his question?” There are now tensions between them, as Eddie seems to get into both their heads trying to pull them apart. Miller uses a duologue here to isolate the relationship between Catherine and Rodolfo; it reveals the shadows of doubt that would not come to light if Eddie was present, almost because both the younger characters enjoy disagreeing with him. Without Eddie’s presence Rodolfo takes greater pride in is man hood and takes a stand for what he believes in, something that would not happen if Eddie were here. This could either be because of an underlying respect he has for Eddie or that he is scared of him. The first episode of Act two relies equally on the stage action – where the end of Act One left off – as the drunken Eddie kisses both Catherine, to show how a ‘real man’ kisses, and Rodolfo, to show he enjoys it and also to humiliate him. The first kiss, which is near incestuous, and the second kiss, when a man kisses a man, will repel the audience. In 1955, when the play was first performed, the double kiss would be very shocking.
Eddie has already lost the audience’s sympathy, and loses it further when he calls the immigration office. The feeling of disagreement with Eddie will turn into hate as he is clearly made the villain of the play. Miller uses peripeteia at the end of the opening episode of Act 2. Eddie is losing the respect from his family and the audience – largely due to his excessive male pride and need to be right. The play has been building towards Eddie’s boiling point and when he goes to see Alfieri but can’t accept the truth because of his tunnel vision, which is his hamartia; the audience assumes that it will lead to the tragic outcome. Furthermore, it is ironic that Eddie is the one to be dishonourable as earlier in the play he was the one warning people about the Vinny Bolzano story, “The family had an uncle that they were hidin’ in the house, and he snitched to the Immigration…they grabbed him in the kitchen and pulled him down the stairs…And they spit on him in the street, his own fathers and his brothers.” Linking to this story when Marco is being taken away there is further dramatic irony, “(Marco suddenly breaks from the group and dashes into the room and faces Eddie; Beatrice and first officer rush in as Marco spits into Eddie’ face)…(as he is taken off, pointing back to Eddie) that one! He killed my children! That one stole the food from my children!” These actions show hatred that is the contrast from the beginning of the play when they first met. Marco has gone from respecting Eddie to dishonouring his name. Marco has maintained his role as paterfamila and still his selfless character remains when he only focuses on his children’s loss not his own. It is very symbolic that he would spit at Eddie, as this is the same as the Vinny Bolzano story. The story is also used at the start of the play to represent Eddie’s pride and moral status that he holds over Vinny, however as the play progresses Miller uses this as any direct and obvious comparison between Vinny and Eddie to show that they are now on equal levels. A figure that was once ridiculed by Eddie is now the person that he has ended up becoming.
The idea at the beginning of the play of these two characters looking and behaving very similar acted as a double edged sword in Eddie wanting to start a close friendship but instead, having a rivalry with him now. From Eddie’s view these are outrageous accusations to be made. Miller sets the scene between Eddie and Marco on the street. This public setting in front of the community of Red Hook is used by Miller to show that in a close-knit neighbourhood betraying one is the betrayal of everyone. He has been publically humiliated and everyone has disowned and abandoned him apart from Beatrice and even she is not in full support of him, “He’s gonna take that back. He’s gonna take that back or I’ll kill him! You hear me? I’ll kill him!” Emotions have come to the top and Eddie has lost control in his words and actions. This is almost a precursor to what is to come. The fact that fixed gender roles means that the women are less powerful and influential means that the dispute between the two paterfamilias is left down to raw emotions and rash decisions. No outside view is provided because no one feels that they have the standing to voice their opinions directly. This leads to the outcome of the play. As the play begins to draw to an end the family seems to be divided. After the actions of the arrest and Eddie losing his honour and Marco being arrested, when the occasion of Catherine’s wedding to Rodolfo comes around it is obvious that there would be tension and disagreements. The first clue is how Beatrice approaches Eddie when telling him she was going out, “(with fear, going to Eddie)”. Miller’s presentation of fixed gender roles are shown here as Beatrice feels intimidated and less powerful than Eddie down to the difference in sexes, the adjective “fear” shows that she is worried that something might happen to her and feels in danger. This attitude is one that many other characters in the play have towards Eddie which allows him to keep his role in charge, if the gender hierarchy was not a thing Eddie could of had his opinions challenged earlier on in the play. Eddie is almost in a depressive mood and where as usually would shout he is drained of energy, “(quietly, almost inaudibly, as though drained)”. — Eddie is presented with a dilemma: allow Beatrice, his only ally and friend right now, to attend her nieces wedding or risk losing her and spend his time alone looked down on by everyone? Miller presents Eddie as being the antagonist but also the protagonist. Eddie actively opposes Catherine’s wedding and is being very hostile to Beatrice, “You walk out that door to that wedding you ain’t comin’ back here, Beatrice”. At the same time he is the centre of attention and other people are coming to him as the protagonist, everyone is coming to him and every time his narrow minded approach is denying a peaceful outcome.
Eddie’s tragic flaw is the thing that leads to his death and the outcome of the play. He cannot accept that he may be at fault, as well so nothing short of an apology from Marco will do. “I want my respect. Didn’t you ever hear of that? From my wife?” Even his closest and dearest wife is in disagreement with him, which does not bode well for when he sees Marco again. “I want my name!…Marco’s got my name…he’s gonna give it back to me in front of this neighbourhood, or we have it out”. Eddie’s repeated use of the imperative “I want” suggests that he has become very selfish, his mind set of only caring for the family has gone and now is fixated about his image and his needs. This is dramatic irony as the audience are aware that Eddie is to blame and therefore do not sympathise with him and his inability to forgive. This demand was savagely declined by Marco who on contrary believes that the only person who should apologise is Eddie for being a snake “Animal! You go on your knees to me!” For Eddie this is the last straw and the only way to reclaim his honour is to kill Marco. But there is now a sense that honour is not the main priority and this is a hatred and revenge crime. In the concluding scenes the tension reaches boiling point and “Eddie lunges with the knife. Marco grabs his arm, turning the blade inward and pressing it home as the women and Louis and Mike rush in and separate them, and Eddie, the knife still in his hand, falls to his knees before Marco. The two women support him for a moment, calling his name again and again…He dies in her arms and Beatrice covers him with her body.” The use of the public setting confirms that Eddie doesn’t care about reputation. It shows how as gender roles would suggest the women are on the side watching on and are not the protagonists. After this act there is a cathartic feeling towards the outcome. “Eddie, I never meant to do nothing bad to you.” This implies that Eddie for the first time in the play feels guilt and accepts his wrongdoing. Miller uses fixed gender roles at the beginning of the play, however, this attitude towards women starts to cause friction with the younger generations as the play progresses. This is where the teenager is born and where the black and white of stereotypical roles in society starts to blur. (Women, such as the suffragettes, have started to rebel and gain supporters, even though not directly in America) there is a feeling of a change have tide.
There are multiple themes of the play, the different types of coinciding love such as love in the family between Eddie and Catherine colliding with romantic love. This is supported by the brotherly love between Marco and Rodolfo. Then the idea of justice and law over shadows the play because even though there are other issues the undermining thing is the law, which controls everything. Fixed gender roles act as a catalyst of the tension in the household; they provide a point of disagreement, which are used to cover up other emotions. Eddie pointing out Rodolfo’s lack in ‘manliness’ was an attempt to cover his jealousy of someone who Catherine could pay more attention to over him. This clash of love between Eddie and Catherine and Catherine and Rodolfo leads to the tension between Eddie and Rodolfo. The love Marco shows for Rodolfo changes it from a case of jealousy to a case of pride of who is right and who controls the house. The house represents the women; whoever has the women’s respect and loyalty holds the role of paterfamilias.
How is the theme of “Love” portrayed in the play?
Love serves as a crucial element in “A View from the Bridge”, and is arguably the main force which drives the events of the play. Undoubtedly, the inappropriate love of Eddie towards his niece, Catherine, and his unwillingness to let her mature due to it, is what leads to his ultimate downfall and death. However, love is also prevalent between the other characters of the play, and is the main motivation behind majority of their actions. Through the theme of love, Miller creates a drama which is able to draw upon the empathy of the audience, allowing the audience to become emotionally invested with the characters of the drama.
Firstly, Miller shows incestuous love. Eddie feels a romantic attraction towards Catherine, a fact pointed out by Alfieri who says “sometimes, there is too much love for the niece”. The phrase “too much”, on its own, already implies the unhealthy nature of this love, and Miller effectively shows the audience that such a love is overbearing, possessive, and dangerous. This harmful form of love is the center drive of the play which causes Eddie to struggle with his own identity and beliefs. His frustration and refusal to accept his own inappropriate feelings is taken out on Rodolpho, and it is used to fuel his aggression towards Rodolpho. Eddie is in clear denial, but it is ironic how his feelings for Catherine becomes increasingly apparent as he tries more and more fervently to deny them. The audience feel an odd sense of pity as they watch Eddie become tangled in a love he feels yet does not accept nor understand, and continuously rejects his true emotions by showing aggression to those around him.
Furthermore, Miller displays the marital love, or lack thereof between Beatrice and Eddie. Their marriage is clearly deteriorating due to Eddie’s attraction towards Catherine. Eddie no longer does his duty as a husband, as seen when Beatrice asks him “when am I going to be a wife again?”. As someone who highly values his masculinity, it is surprising that Eddie is not performing his duties as a husband and a man, showing the true extent of his feelings towards Catherine. Beatrice, however, still loves Eddie despite this, and defends Eddie when Catherine calls him a “rat”, and even listens to him when he demands her to not attend Catherine and Rodolpho’s wedding. As Beatrice is aware of his attraction towards Catherine, one would expect her to be resentful, but she still chooses to stay with him, highlighting her love for him. Thus, the audience are able to see the one sided nature of their marriage and feel pity for Beatrice. However, Miller does give their marriage a last moment of redemption when Eddie dies in Beatrice’s arms, crying “My B!”. In the end, Eddie realizes his mistakes and returns to his wife, but it is, unfortunately, already too late. The love between Beatrice and Eddie is undeniably tragic, and emphasizes how Eddie’s actions ultimately ended up hurting not only himself, but those who love him as well.
Moreover, Miller portrays romantic love through Catherine and Rodolpho. Catherine’s love for Rodolpho develops from a shallow fascination for his “blond hair”, or namely, his attractive looks, to wanting to marry him. Rodolpho is also shown as loving Catherine as he encourages her to be brave and step into adulthood. He is also willing to apologize and kiss Eddie’s hand to obtain his blessing for marrying Catherine as he understands how important Eddie is to Catherine. However, the love between them is also questionable, as it is revealed that Catherine had never dated anyone else before, and their marriage also seems rushed due to the need to make Rodolpho an official American citizen as soon as possible. Some of the audience may question the strength of their love. Regardless, their relationship is sufficient to spike Eddie’s frustration, and one cannot help but wonder if his opposition is what ironically brings them together. This argument can be supported by the fact that the Catherine and Rodolpho end up sleeping together as Rodolpho tries to comfort her regarding her struggle to mature and stop relying on Eddie. Miller uses the love between Rodolpho and Catherine to catalyse the latter’s maturity and transition into adulthood — something which Eddie tries desperately to prevent and stop.
Besides that, Miller showcases brotherly love. Marco’s love for his brother, Rodolpho, is the final cause of Eddie’s death. Marco, at the end of the first act, had warned Eddie to leave Rodolpho alone, when he “raised the chair like a weapon over Eddie’s head” and through this, showed his superior masculinity. The fact that Marco, as a character who had always been quiet and grateful towards Eddie for allowing them to stay in his home, does so is uncharacteristic of him. His love for his brother is what prompts him to take action after Eddie punched Rodolpho after under the guise of teaching him boxing. Through this, Miller causes Eddie to feel threatened and emasculated, leading to him becoming desperate to the extent of calling the immigration. Thus, Marco’s brotherly love, though honorable, spurs him into actions which indirectly leads to the death of Eddie.
In conclusion, Miller portrays various forms of love, and showcases the impact it has in the actions of people. Love, although on its own, an emotion which is regarded as pure and good, also causes people to make rash, desperate decisions which can lead to tragedy. Thus, Miller shows the darker, more grey side of love, leading the audience to realize that love ultimately bears the power to make people blind to both logic and reason.