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.
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