Fixed Gender Roles and Gender Tensions in A View from the Bridge

January 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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