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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Arthur Miller was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee to name names of communist sympathizers in 1956, the height of the McCarthy Era. Miller refused to do so and was heralded by the arts community for his strength of conviction and loyalty. In 1957, Miller was charged with contempt, a ruling later reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Miller, like Eddie Carbone, was faced with the problem of choosing to be American or not, specifically by naming names of people who were doing (what were considered then) unlawful acts. Miller's own struggle with this issue is very present in A View from the Bridge. Unlike Eddie Carbone, Miller chose to be loyal to his fellow artists, but like Carbone, Miller went against the cultural consensus at the time. Miller, in the play, has reversed the scene—rather than the mass culture supporting the extrication of possible communists, Miller chose to script a community that accepted and protected unlawful people. The consequences and eventual repercussions of naming names, for Eddie Carbone, are drastic. Miller used this play to strongly condemn the McCarthy trials and those who named the names of innocent artists.
Eddie looses control of his actions in the play. Driven and possessed by incestuous love for his niece, Eddie resorts to desperate measures to protect his identity and name in the community. Alfieri's commentary often remarks on this theme. Alfieri seems constantly amazed by Eddie's actions and his own reactions to the events of the play. Alfieri sees his own irrational thinking, just as he recognizes Eddie's irrational behavior. Irrationality is also how Alfieri defines acting wholly. The human animal becomes irrational when he acts fully on his instincts—just as Eddie does in the play. Alfieri proposes that humans must act as a half, or restrain some of our instinctual needs or wants for reason. Nonetheless, Alfieri still admires the irrational—the unleashed human spirit that reacts as it will.
There is great conflict between community and American law in the play. The community abides by Sicilian-American customs protects illegal immigrants within their homes, values respect and family, is hard working and know the shipping culture, has strong associations with names, believes in trust and wants revenge when a member has been wronged. Some of these values, however, come in conflict with those of the American system of justice. Eddie Carbone chooses to turn against his community and abide by the state laws. He looses the respect of his community and friends—the name and personal identity he treasures. Eddie Carbone, with a stronger allegiance to the community, reverts back to another custom of Sicilian-Americans: revenge. Not only is Eddie pulled back to the values of his community, but the final victor of the play is symbolic of community values—the Italian, Marco. Thus, the small community is stronger than American law.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A View from the Bridge!