A view from the bridge – Spark notes Context



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A view from the bridge – Spark notes

Context:

In 1947, Arthur Miller was doing research on Pete Panto, a young Longshoreman who was executed by the mob for attempting to revolt against union leadership. He was told an interesting story about another Longshoreman in the area who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on his own relatives. The Longshoreman was attempting to prevent the marriage between one of the brothers and his niece. The man was scorned and ostracized in the community and soon disappeared. In the community it was rumored that one of the brothers had killed him. Eight years later, in 1955, the one-act version of A View from the Bridge, based on the story of that same Longshoreman, was produced. The play was presented with another one-act Miller play, A Memory of Two Mondays.

New York critics poorly received the evening of two plays and the production only ran for 158 performances. Miller believed the story was so complete and shocking that he did not wish to adorn the tale with subjective meaning, but rather lay out the facts in an action-oriented, objective tale. The result, according to critics, was a cold, un-engaging work. Miller admitted his play was an experiment, an attempt to stray from the psychological realism that dominated the American theatre, "I wanted to see whether I could write a play with on single arch instead of three acts I wanted to have one long line of explosion we have all forgotten that the Greek plays were all one-act plays, a continuous action." Not just the form, but also the actors were taught to consciously disengage themselves from the emotion of the work and, in a Brechtian sense, attempt to reveal abstract ideas about the human condition.

After two years, time that possibly allowed Miller to find an emotional connection with the work (Miller's condemnation as a Communist in the McCarthy era and his relationship with Marilyn Monroe), he revised the script. The new version was staged in London and received rave reviews. Miller enlarged the characters of Beatrice and Catherine, who played a greater role in Eddie's fate. The set was more realistic, a Brooklyn neighborhood scene, and Miller eliminated the use of verse. The relationship between Eddie and Catherine was played down and the final scene altered. Rather than at the feet of Catherine, Eddie dies in the arms of his wife Beatrice, and he reconciles the couple's relationship.

In the Paris production, Miller rewrote one more final ending to the play in which Eddie actually commits suicide. While this ending may be the most dramatically satisfying, Miller chose to publish the London edition in his collected works.

Arthur Miller was born in was born in New York City on October 17, 1915 to Isidore and Augusta Miller. At the time, Miller's father owned a successful clothing business and the family lived in a Harlem neighborhood. In 1929, the family business failed as a result of the depression and moved to Brooklyn. Miller was a very active child and hardly spent any time reading or studying. He only took an interest in academics in his final year of school, too late to make the grades to be accepted into college. Miller worked various jobs after high school, including one as a salesperson that inspired his later play, Death of a Salesman. Miller was finally accepted into Michigan State in 1934 and he studied journalism. While in college, Miller won several collegiate awards for his plays. Out of college, Miller's first successful work was All My Sons, which opened on Broadway in 1947. Miller is best known works are The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. In 1956, Miller was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but heroically refused to name the names of communist sympathizers. The following year he was charged for contempt, a ruling later reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1956, Miller also divorced his college sweetheart and married Marilyn Monroe.



Plot Overview:

Alfieri, an Italian-American lawyer in his fifties, enters the stage and sits in his office. Talking from his desk to the audience, he introduces the story of Eddie Carbone. Alfieri compares himself to a lawyer in Caesar's time, powerless to watch as the events of history run their bloody course.

Eddie Carbone walks down the street to his house. As Eddie enters the home two fellow Longshoremen, Mike and Louis greet him. Eddie's niece, Catherine, reaches out the window and waves to Eddie and Louis. When Eddie enters the house he gently scolds Catherine for flirting with the boys so blatantly. Eddie thinks she should be more reserved and not "walk so wavy." Beatrice, Eddie's wife, is also home. While Beatrice and Catherine set the table for dinner, they convince Eddie to let Catherine take a job as a stenographer down by the docks. Eddie informs Beatrice that her cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, will be arriving early from Italy and will probably be at the house that night. Beatrice and Eddie plan to hide Marco and Rodolpho while they work in the country illegally to send money home.

Marco and Rodolpho arrive at the house and have a brief reunion. They are both very gracious for the hospitality. Marco tells the Carbone's that he has three children and a wife back home that he will be sending money to. Rodolpho, the young blonde brother, has no family and intends to stay in the country as long as possible. Rodolpho entertains everyone with his version of the jazz tune, "Paper Doll."

In the coming weeks, Rodolpho and Catherine spend a great deal of time together, which worries Eddie. Eddie thinks that Rodolpho is untrustworthy and Eddie becomes jealous of the time he spends with Catherine. Eddie tells Catherine that Rodolpho just wants to marry her to become a citizen, but she does not listen. Rodolpho develops a reputation at the docks for being quite a joker, which further embarrasses Eddie. Beatrice, more aware than ever of the attention Eddie is giving Catherine, talks to Catherine about being a woman and tells her she must grown up and make her own decisions. Beatrice encourages Catherine to get married to Rodolpho if that is what she wants to do. Catherine agrees to try. Eddie, still frustrated with Rodolpho and Catherine, even visits Alfieri and asks if there is any way he can get rid of Rodolpho by law, but Alfieri assures him there is not. Alfieri tells Eddie that he needs to let Catherine go.

The situation escalates and Eddie becomes increasingly jealous of Rodolpho. Eddie resents the fact that Rodolpho thinks Catherine is looser than Italian girls. Eddie threatens Rodolpho in a pretend boxing match held in the living room of the house, stopped by Catherine and Beatrice.

As Act II begins, Alfieri narrates and it is evident that time has passed. Rodolpho and Catherine are left alone in the house and have sex in the bedroom. As they are leaving the bedroom, Eddie comes home drunk. Eddie violently kisses Catherine, pins Rodolpho to the floor and kisses him also. Eddie visits Alfieri once again, who repeatedly tells him to let Catherine go. Immediately after leaving Alfieri's office, Eddie calls the Immigration Bureau and reports Marco and Rodolpho.

Immigration comes and arrests Marco and Rodolpho. As he is being taken away, Marco spits in Eddie's face. Alfieri pays bail for the two men and arranges the marriage of Catherine and Rodolpho. On the wedding day, Marco returns to the house for revenge. Eddie lunges into Marco with a knife. Marco turns Eddie's arm and kills Eddie with Eddie's own knife. Eddie dies in Beatrice's arms.



Character list:

Eddie Carbone - A Longshoreman. Eddie lives with his wife, Beatrice and orphaned niece, Catherine, in Red Hook Brooklyn. Eddie is an inarticulate character and is powerless in the face of his tragic fate. He harbors a secret lust for his niece Catherine which causes his eventually destruction.

Eddie Carbone is the tragic protagonist of The View from the Bridge. He is constantly self-interested, wanting to promote and protect his innocence. Eddie creates a fictional fantasy world where his absurd decisions make sense—where calling the Immigration Bureau in the middle of an Italian community that prides itself on protecting illegal immigrants has no repercussions. In Eddie's world, he imagines protecting Catherine from marriage or any male relationship and wants her for himself. While Eddie wavers and switches between communal and state laws and cultures, his motivations do not change. Eddie constantly looks out for himself at the expense of others and is ruled by personal love and guilt.

There are several moments in the text where the audience is given clues that Eddie's love for Catherine may not be normal. For example, when Catherine lights Eddie's cigar in the living room, it is an event that gives Eddie unusual pleasure. This possibly warm and affectionate act between niece and uncle has phallic suggestions. 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 immediately makes this meaning clear. Although Eddie seems unable to understand his feelings for his niece until the end of the play, other characters are aware. Beatrice is the first to express this possibility in her conversation with Catherine. Alfieri also realizes Eddie's feelings during his first conversation with Eddie. Eddie does not 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 does not realize his feeling for Catherine because he has constructed an imagined world where he can suppress his urges. This suppression is what devastates Eddie. Because he has no outlet for his feelings—even in his own conscious mind—Eddie transfers his energy to a hatred of Marco and Rodolpho and causes him to act completely irrationally. Eddie's final need to secure or retrieve his good name from Marco is a result of Eddie's failure to protect Catherine from Marco. Eddie fails in his life, but seeks redemption and victory in death. By avenging Marco, Eddie believes he will regain his pride in the community—another wholly self-interested act. Eddie escaped restraint because he escaped all thoughts of other people or the community at large. Eddie's "wholeness" is a whole interest in himself. Eddie's tragic flaw is the bubble, the constructed world he exists within, but is unable to escape or recognize.



Catherine - The niece of Eddie Carbone and Beatrice. Catherine is a beautiful, smart, young Italian girl who is very popular among the boys in the community. Catherine seeks approval from her uncle and struggles when Eddie does not approve of Rodolpho, the man she intends to marry.

Beatrice - The wife of Eddie Carbone and aunt of Catherine. Beatrice has raised Catherine from the time she was very young and acts Catherine's mother. Beatrice is a warm and caring woman, more reasonable than Eddie. Like Catherine, Beatrice is not a very well-developed character in the play.

Marco - The cousin of Beatrice. Marco comes to the U.S. to work and make money to send back to his wife and children in Italy. Marco is a hard working Italian man who is a powerful, sympathetic leader.

Rodolpho - Beatrice's young, blonde cousin from Italy. Rodolpho prefers singing jazz to working on the ships. To Eddie and the other Longshoremen, Rodolpho seems effeminate because he also cooks, sews and loves to dance. Rodolpho desires to be an American and have all the privileges of Western society including wealth and fame.

Rodolpho, the platinum blonde is a cooking, sewing, and dancing full-blooded Italian, and the greatest threat to Eddie Carbone. The play really does not fill out the character of Rodolpho as an individual, whose motivations are left as unknowns. Unlike Beatrice and Catherine, who we hear talking together about their thoughts and feelings, Rodolpho reveals little about himself. There are many questions left unanswered including his sexuality, his love for Catherine, and whether he actually forgives Eddie at the play's conclusion. Much depends on the actor playing Rodolpho to make clear character choices for this character because he is rather vague in the script.

The audience really never even knows if Rodolpho truly loves Catherine. Their romance is curiously devoid of passion. Unlike his Italian brother Marco, Rodolpho does not seek revenge on Eddie for calling Immigration or abusing his fiance in front of him. It is very clear that Rodolpho wants to be an American citizen at all costs and there is a great possibility that he does not love Catherine. Like Eddie fears, Rodolpho may only want to gain citizenship through their marriage. The conversation between Rodolpho and Catherine in the beginning of Act II does little to clarify this issue. Catherine does ask him whether he would marry him if they had to move to Italy, but Rodolpho does not seem sincere. Rodolpho never once describes why he wants to marry Catherine, he just wants to get married to someone in the U.S. where there is work. Rodolpho is a complex character and seems more a montage of conflicts to heighten the action of the play rather than a full person. Rodolpho is constructed as a foil for Eddie Carbone, but like the women of the play, he has little life of his own.

Alfieri - An Italian-American lawyer. Alfieri is the narrator of the story. He speaks directly to the audience and attempts to make clear the greater social and moral implications of the story.

Alfieri is the symbolic bridge between American law and tribal laws. Alfieri, an Italian-American, is true to his ethnic identity. He is a well-educated man who studies and respects American law, but is still loyal to Italian customs. The play told from the viewpoint of Alfieri, the view from the bridge between American and Italian cultures who attempts to objectively give a picture of Eddie Carbone and the 1950s Red Hook, Brooklyn community. Alfieri represents the difficult stretch, embodied in the Brooklyn Bridge, from small ethnic communities filled with dock labourers to the disparate cosmopolitan wealth and intellectualism of Manhattan. The old and new worlds are codified in the immigrant-son Alfieri. From his vantage point, Alfieri attempts to present an un-biased and reasonable view of the events of the play and make clear the greater social and moral implications in the work.

From his narration, it seems that Alfieri has decided to tell the story for his own reasons as much as anyone else's. He does not find a conclusion after telling the Carbone story, but tells it nonetheless and he speaks and reveals his honest view of the facts. He is cast as the chorus part in Eddie's tragedy. Alfieri informs the audience and provides commentary on what is happening in the story. The description of the people within the play and narration at the beginning of every scene change helps to distinguish the short chapters of the tale. Alfieri is fairly inconsequential in the action of the play in general, but more importantly frames the play as a form of a modern fairy tale. Alfieri admittedly cannot help Eddie Carbone, but must powerlessly watch the tragic events unfold before him. There is no illusion of reality, Alfieri purposely breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience during the re-enactment of the story. Alfieri is in many ways like Arthur Miller, when he first heard the tale of the Longshoreman. He is the teller of and incredible story that he cannot change.

Mike - A Longshoreman and friend of Eddie's. Mike is often seen with Louis outside the Carbone home.

Louis - A Longshoreman and friend of Eddie's. Louis hangs out with Mike outside Eddie's home.

Tony - A friend of the Carbones. He assists Marco and Rodolpho off the ship and brings them safely to Beatrice's home.

First Immigration Office - One of two officers from the Immigration Bureau who comes to look for Marco and Rodolpho at Eddie's request.

Second Immigration Officer - One of two officers from the Immigration Bureau who comes to look for Marco and Rodolpho at Eddie's request.

Mr. Lipari - A butcher who lives upstairs from the Carbone's. Eddie blames Mr. Lipari for the arrest of Marco and Rodolpho.

Mrs. Lipari - The upstairs neighbor of the Carbone's. Mrs. Lipari agrees to give Marco and Rodolpho a room in her home when Eddie kicks the men out of his house.

Two "Submarines" - Two illegal immigrants hiding upstairs from the Carbone's in the Lipari house.

Themes

Naming Names

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.



The irrational human animal

Eddie loses 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.



Allegiance to community law

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.



Motifs

Homosexuality

Although specifically articulated, homosexuality or what makes a man "not right" is a persistent theme of the novel. Eddie obviously identifies Rodolpho as homosexual because Rodolpho sings, cooks and sews a dress for Catherine. Eddie also questions Rodolpho because he does not like to work and has bleach blonde hair that makes him look more feminine. Eddie gives Rodolpho several tests of his masculinity. In the first he teaches Rodolpho how to box and the second, more blatantly, Eddie kisses Rodolpho on the lips. Many critics think that this kiss is a sign of Eddie's own suppressed homosexual feelings, an easy parallel with his kiss with Catherine. Miller seems to take no stand either way, and the sexuality of Rodolpho or Eddie is unclear. However, the stereotypes of the gay man and societal implications of being gay are obvious. Louis and Mike, when talking about Rodolpho, clearly think there is something wrong with him and Eddie speaks directly to Alfieri about the specific things that bother him about Rodolpho.



Womanhood

The idea of what makes a woman or what defines a woman is very prevalent in the text. Catherine and Beatrice talk specifically about the terms in their conversation in Act I. Beatrice thinks Catherine needs to grow up and become a woman. To do this she needs to decide by herself whether she wants to marry Rodolpho. She needs to stop walking around the house in her slip in front of Eddie, and not sit on the edge of the tub while Eddie shaves his beard. In essence, being a woman means reserve and modesty in front of men, and independently making decisions. The idea of independence or separation from Eddie is coupled with the decision to find another male to attach to, a husband. Catherine's attempt at womanhood is deciding to marry Rodolpho and follow his rules rather than Eddie's.



Community

Community is a powerful context for the play; it dictates very specific norms and rules for the family that controls the actions of the characters. All of the characters are forced to reconcile between American culture and the Italian community culture that surrounds. The cultural and moral difference between the two provides one of the great conflicts in the play. The tight community around them also creates great tension in the Carbone family because they are constantly being watched. The neighbors knew when Marco and Rodolpho arrived, saw Marco spit in Eddie's face and Eddie die by Marco's hand. The community is the watcher; the group controls and monitors the behavior of every member. Although Eddie takes a substantial turn away from the community by calling the Immigration Bureau, he still needs acceptance and spends his last moments fighting Marco for his good name in the community.



Symbols

High Heels

For Catherine, high heels are representative of womanhood, flirtation and sexiness. She has just started wearing high heels around the community and to school and obviously enjoys the attention she gets from men. They are also symbolic as a rite-of-passage to womanhood. As Eddie strongly disapproves of her wearing them, Catherine purposefully rebels against her uncle every time she puts them on. The high heels give her sexual power over men—they look, stare and gawk at her beauty. Eddie thinks the heels are threatening for the same reasons Catherine loves them. Eddie is fearful that, if she looks attractive, some man will ask her out and she will leave the house. Eddie has a powerful reaction when she wears the high heels, as if she must take them off so they do not arouse him or anyone else.



Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is symbolic of a pathway of opportunity to Manhattan and also the linkage between American and Italian cultures. The bridge, which is very close to the Red Hook community, is a constant reminder of American opportunity and industry. From the bridge, one can see the community below and, like the title of the book, one can see the entire community and seek greater abstract meaning from his viewpoint. Alfieri is symbolic of the person on the bridge looking down upon the Red Hook community or, perhaps, he is the bridge himself, allowing the people to cross into Manhattan and modern, intellectual American culture. Alfieri attempts to unite the American laws with Italian cultural practices and negotiate a place in between the two. Alfieri, narrating the story from the present looking back to the past, has the same vantage point as one looking from the bridge. After some time passes, he is able to process the events and see the greater societal and moral implications it has for the community as a whole.




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