A View from the Bridge is a play by Arthur Miller originally produced as a one-act verse drama on Broadway in 1955. It was based upon an unproduced screenplay that Miller developed with Elia Kazan in the early 1950s, entitled The Hook, dealing with corruption on the Brooklyn docks. Though the movie was never made, Kazan's 1954 film On the Waterfront, written by Budd Schulberg, used similar ideas.
Though the 1955 one-act production was not successful, it was revised in 1956 to become a more traditional prose play in two acts, and it is through this version that audiences are most familiar with the work today. Interestingly, the play was adapted into an opera in 1999 by William Bolcom, thus bringing the story back into verse.
The main character in the story is Eddie Carbone, an Italian American longshoreman, who lives with his wife Beatrice and orphaned niece Catherine. His feelings for Catherine, however, develop from 'over-protective' into something more than filial as the play develops. These feelings are brought into perspective by the arrival from Italy of Beatrice's two cousins, Marco and Rodolfo. They have entered the country illegally, hoping to leave behind hunger and unemployment for a better life in America, and to help build a better life for those they've left behind. Rodolfo is young, good-looking and charming; Catherine instantly falls for him.
Predictably Eddie sets about pointing out all of Rodolfo's flaws and persistently complains that Rodolfo is "not right" (by which he means homosexual). He uses Rodolfo's effeminate qualities, such as dress-making, cooking and singing, to back up his argument.
In the end Catherine decides to marry Rodolfo and Eddie sees he has no choice but to confess to The Immigration Bureau that he is harbouring two illegal immigrants. He takes this action regardless of his earlier assertion that "It's an honour" to give the men refuge. His betrayal of the two men causes Eddie to lose the respect of his neighbours, his friends and his family.
In the final pages of the play the sense of crisis climaxes with a fight between Eddie and Marco which results in Eddie’s death. Eddie brandishes a knife which goes against his ideals of honour. He attacks Marco but Marco turns the blade onto Eddie. This could be seen symbolically as a projection of Eddie's self-destructive tendencies, as his sense of self-worth and his honourable character finally reach the bottom of their downward spiral.
In the final pages of the play, Miller uses stage directions more often to convey the sense of crisis and drama. Miller uses stage directions when it would be difficult to interpret what emotions should be shown. An example of this is when Eddie concedes to let Catherine work. The stage directions indicate that he relents with "a sense of her childhood, her babyhood and the years". Miller also uses his stage directions as a means of making clear to the production company his intended symbolism.
The play is set in New York, in the Red Hook neighbourhood in the borough of Brooklyn. Red Hook is a homogeneous community of Italian immigrants. Most of the people in Red Hook originate from Sicily and the Sicilian code of honour is a running motif in the play. Italy represents homeland, origin and culture to the citizens of Red Hook. But, Italy represents different things to the main characters in the play. For example, Catherine associates Italy with mystery, romance and beauty. Rodolfo, on the other hand, is actually from Italy, and thinks it is a place with little opportunity, and a place that he feels justified in escaping from. All of the characters appreciate the benefits of living in the U.S., but still strongly hold to Italian traditions and identify it as home. Italy is the basis of the cultural traditions in Red Hook, and it serves as a touchstone to unite the community, with their own laws and customs.
Miller's plays tend to be contemporary commentaries upon the major political issues of his time, told in allegory or metaphor. It is instructive to consider the playwright's motivations in writing this play.
Any reading of this play needs to be done in the context of the activities of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), as it is a direct response to the divisions that the HUAC created in American society, and between old friends, Miller and Elia Kazan.
The threat of Communism in the post-war era (that is, during the Cold War) created an environment where the pragmatics of the politics of fear empowered governments in Western nations to seek out Communists operating in the community. The HUAC was perhaps the best known of these investigations. Led by Senator Joe McCarthy, members of the entertainment industry were encouraged to turn over colleagues whom they suspected of being Communists.
The penalty for being discovered to be a Communist was to be 'blacklisted' - meaning that their name appeared on a list of people who were never allowed to work in the industry again.
Supporting McCarthyism was seen by some as a deep betrayal, and by others as one's natural duty as a citizen. Miller was of the former opinion.
Miller, Kazan, and the Blacklist
As mentioned in the introduction, On the Waterfront by Elia Kazan tells a story similar to Miller's "A View from the Bridge". In fact, On the Waterfront is believed to be Kazan's response to Miller's implicit commentary on those who assisted with the efforts of the HUAC.
Kazan himself, of course, named names for the HUAC, seeing it as his duty to inform on suspected Communists. Miller was outraged by this, seeing it as a dishonourable act by his former collaborator. Miller, suspected of being a communist sympathiser, refused to name names, and risked imprisonment for his ideals.
Thus, in Miller's play, Eddie Carbone is degraded from a respectable man to a shameful animal because of his wild mistrust of Rodolfo, a mistrust that lead to his turning in of Rodolfo and Marco to the Immigration Bureau. Carbone here is clearly representing the actions of Kazan in turning friends in to the HUAC, and Miller is giving his opinion on what he considers a shameful betrayal.
On the Waterfront tells a similar story, but the analogous protagonist (Terry Malloy) is portrayed as a hero who does his duty for the greater good. Kazan is defending his honour through this character.
Miller's The Crucible is considered the first of the three exchanges in this very public dispute over allegations of dishonour and duty.
Sources of suspicion in the play
With this play, Miller hoped to explore the origins of suspicion in the human heart. It is, in a way, a meditation upon how the 'witch-hunts' of McCarthyism could have been supported by men who would normally think of themselves as honourable.
Suspicion often arises from a fear that one will be betrayed, or the feeling that one has been betrayed without one's knowledge. Betrayal, then, is a major causal factor in suspicion, and central to the concept of betrayal in human relations is sexual betrayal.
A number of times we see insinuations of sexual infidelity. Marco's wife back home in Italy, for example, has the cloud of suspicion cast upon her by association, and in an almost off-hand way.
By contrast, Eddie establishes his 'ownership' of Catherine, in much the same way an Elephant Seal protects his 'harem' - by bluster:
The chiefmost sexual betrayal, though, is clearly the courtship of Catherine by Rodolfo. Eddie, who has grown an unwholesome affection for his adopted 'daughter', resents being replaced in her affections by someone he sees as an unworthy interloper, and he suspects Rodolfo's motivations as well: he feels that Rodolfo is using Catherine to gain citizenship.
When Eddie returns home to find Rodolfo emerging from Catherine's bedroom, she having just emerged before him, straightening her dress, he suspects they have been engaged in intimacies, loses his temper, and orders Rodolfo out of his house.
This culminates in Catherine's 'declaration of independence' - she is so fearful of Eddie now that she feels she has to escape him.
At this point, Eddie explodes. The violence that erupts is a realisation of implied violence in the scene in the previous Act where his barely-contained suspicions of Rodolfo's homosexuality were exposed in accusation after accusation:
He then challenges Rodolfo to attend a boxing match, assuming this will expose him, as he believes no effeminate person would be interested in the manly sport of boxing. He uses this topic as a pretext to punch Rodolfo, while 'teaching him a lesson', ostensibly a lesson about boxing, but actually about who is the alpha male. This symbolic beating will turn into a true beating in the next Act.
It has been asserted by some commentators that there are homo-erotic tensions between Eddie and Rodolfo. This stems from when Eddie kisses Rodolfo. He claims to have done this to prove that Rodolfo is homosexual, or “not right” as he puts it. He did this to prove that Rodolfo could have no sexual desires for Catherine and was only marrying her to live in America.
Clearly, however, the kiss is intended to mock Rodopho, not to express any latent sexual feelings for him. Taken in the context of the belittlement that Eddie is dealing out to Rodolfo, the kiss can mean nothing other than a slight on his masculinity, and therefore on his right to claim Catherine.
Such is his contempt for Rodolfo's (he believes) feigned sexual conquest of Catherine, that Eddie reduces the dispute to simple "bestial dominance" - he, Eddie, is the bigger animal, and he therefore deserves the prized female.
This need for "bestial dominance" is clearly desperation, and lacks the nobility of the show of strength by Marco, who raises the chair in a show of stength to put Eddie in his place. The desperation arises not only from the sexual betrayal that he feels he has suffered, but also from the fact that Eddie sees himself as the patriarch, and yearns for control of every situation and everyone around him. Note that all the conflicts in the play escalate whenever Eddie loses control. This hypothesis is further supported in the final pages when Marco repeatedly calls Eddie an “animal”.
The play is a tragic one, as Miller himself said that Eddie possessed all the qualities of a tragic hero:
Essential to the Tragedy is a sense that the ultimate end of the tragic character is inescapable, and that his fate is set from the very first moment we meet him. Some commentators assert that the very first line spoken by Eddie in the play - "Well, I'll see ya fellas" - shows that he is ultimately saying farewell to all his friends before his life is changed for ever.
Cast of Characters
The play was first performed at the Comedy Theatre, London, on 11th October, 1956.