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A View from the Bridge

Arthur Miller

Act I

Themes, Motifs and Symbols

Act I (continued)

Opening to Eddie telling Catherine to take off her high heels

Summary

The play opens in Red Hook Brooklyn, an Italian-American community, right on the New York City waterfront. Two longshoremen pitch coins against a building. Alfieri, a lawyer in his fifties, enters the stage and goes to his office that is visible on stage. After fixing some papers on his desk, he pauses and directly addresses the audience. Alfieri explains that he is a lawyer, born in Italy and that he immigrated when he was twenty-five years old. He describes the Red Hook neighborhood, the slums on the seaward side of the Brooklyn Bridge, where Sicilians will now settle for half (they are forced to accommodate Sicilian culture with American law)—he no longer keeps his gun in his filing cabinet. Although his wife has warned him that the neighborhood lacks elegance as it is filled with Longshoremen and their families, Alfieri reminisces about the rare cases, received every few years, where he can feel great impending tragedy. Alfieri compares himself with a lawyer in the time of Caesar, powerless to watch the events of that tragedy run its bloody course.

Eddie walks by the men in the street and up to his apartment on the second floor. As he enters, his niece, Catherine, waves out the window to him. She is dressed in a new skirt and has done her hair in a new style. Eddie examines her and tells her she looks beautiful, but goes on to lecture her about her new wavy walk down the street. Eddie is disturbed by all the attention the boys are giving her in the community and wants Catherine to stop waving out the window and be more reserved. Eddie calls his wife, Beatrice, into the room and announces that her cousins have landed. The cousins have been smuggled over on a ship from Italy and will be given seamen's papers to get off the ship with the crew. Since the cousins have arrived early, Beatrice is alarmed because she thinks the house is not clean enough, but Eddie assures her the cousins will just be grateful for any place to stay. Eddie teases Beatrice about having such a big heart that he will end up sleeping on the floor while her cousins rest in his bed.

While Eddie sits at the table and Beatrice and Catherine ready the table for dinner, Catherine tells Eddie that has been offered a job as a stenographer. Eddie is very resistant to the idea, but Beatrice finally convinces him to let her take the job. As the threesome eats dinner, Eddie warns Catherine and Beatrice about housing Beatrice's cousins. Eddie and Beatrice recall the story of a boy who snitched to the immigration police about his own uncle staying in the house. The uncle was beaten and dragged from the family's home.

The stage lights focus on Alfieri, who forwards the time to ten o'clock and reflects on Eddie as a good, hard-working man. The stage focus switches back to the home where Marco and Rodolpho have just arrived. The family warmly receives the cousins, who are two brothers. Beatrice is overjoyed to see her cousin, and Catherine is stunned by the younger brother Rodolpho's blonde hair. The cousins talk about their lives in Italy and dreams for living in the U.S. Marco is married and has three children and he wants to send his earnings home to his children. Rodolpho, unmarried, would like to become an American and own a motorcycle when he is rich. Rodolpho also brags about his brief career as a singer and even serenades the house with "Paper Doll." Eddie is disturbed at Catherine's interest in Rodolpho and suddenly asks her why she has high heels on and makes her go to the bedroom to change.

Analysis

A View from the Bridge is a play largely concerned with discovery. As Alfieri warns, no one can ever know what will be discovered. There are two secrets in the play: Eddie's incestuous desires for his niece and the two illegal immigrants hiding in the Carbone home, Marco and Rodolpho. The gradual exposition of these secrets destroys Eddie, as he is incapable of dealing with either discovery. An inarticulate man, Eddie is unable to realize, speak or understand his own feelings for Catherine and cannot forgive himself for exposing Marco and Rodolpho. Eddie's feelings toward Catherine manifest themselves into fierce protectiveness and eventual rage at Rodolpho. Because of his inability to deal with his feelings, Eddie instinctively reveals his second secret—Marco and Rodolpho—which completes his undoing.

The relationship between Eddie and Catherine seems very normal at first. Eddie is an overprotective guardian of his niece. However, through the Eddie's actions and various clues from other characters, Eddie's romantic feelings toward Catherine are revealed. The first indication of Eddie's sexual desires is Eddie's delight as Catherine lights his cigar. The warm and affectionate act between nice and uncle has an obvious phallic meaning in this context. Depending on interpretation by the actors, this moment many have more or less sexual undertones. Eddie's great attention to his attractive niece and impotence in his own marital relationship makes this association clear. Although Eddie seems unable to understand his feelings for his niece until the end of the play, other characters have an awareness of his thoughts. Beatrice is the first to express this possibility in a later conversation with Catherine ("You think I'm jealous of you, honey?"). Alfieri's also realizes Eddie's feelings during his first conversation with Eddie, who says, "There is too much love for the niece. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?" Eddie, himself, does not seem to comprehend his feelings until Beatrice clearly articulates his desires in the conclusion of the play, "You want somethin' else, Eddie, and you can never have her!"

Eddie's jealousy of Rodolpho causes him to reveal his second secret. Eddie betrays Rodolpho and Marco out of his love for Catherine, but will not acknowledge this love. Because Eddie never completely denies his feelings to either Beatrice or Alfieri, but rather brushes them off, it seems he may be unconsciously aware of them. This unconscious knowledge of sexual taboo drives Eddie into a self-serving and destructive madness that he cannot control. Eddie's greatest fear is not Marco, Rodolpho, or even the loss of his name. What Eddie fears most is the disclosure of his secrets—he fears his own being.

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