Arthur Miller: Tragedy and the Common Man

Why are some heroes more believable than others?  What makes us care about them when we see how very flawed and human they are?  Read this.  It sheds light on Miller’s mindset and the reasons his protagonists are the way they are. (Thanks to A Dead Man’s Dickens for sharing the link to this.)

Advertisements

‘A View from the Bridge’ Revision Tasks

Make sure you allow enough time to complete each of the following tasks in plenty of detail.  Review your class notes before you begin.

  1. Think about the structure of the play.  Identify the events that happen at each stage of the dramatic arc:  i) the initiating conflict or exposition, ii) the rising action, iii) the climax, iv) the falling action and v) the dénouement.
  2. Think about the story of Vinny Balsano.  Why has the playwright included Eddie’s retelling of the story of what happened to him?  Explain with reference to the ideas of foreshadowing and irony.
  3. Consider the character of Eddie Carbone.  What are his character traits?  Create a spidergram with descriptions of his character. Add to each leg of the spidergram with explanations of how you justify each of your descriptions. Provide quotations to support your comments.
  4. Eddie is not a particularly likeable character but he is the play’s protagonist. How does the playwright make Eddie someone we care about?  Give at least three ways he does this.  Explain each one carefully, using quotations to support the points you make.
  5. Think about the play’s central themes: codes of honour, justice and the law and love.  Explain how the play explores each one.  The BBC Bitesize website has some very helpful resources if you feel the need to remind yourself of the details before you begin.

Conflict in ‘A View from the Bridge’

Conflict is at the heart of drama and ‘A View from the Bridge’ is full to the brim with it. Eddie Carbone, middle-aged, working class and suffering from a trouble he can’t name, is at odds with almost everyone that he interacts with during the course of the play.

These notes are for revision purposes.  Read through them, then pick out quotations from the play that support the points being made.

Eddie’s Conflict with Beatrice

Eddie’s wife makes it clear almost from the outset that she and Eddie have been having marital troubles.  When she asks him when he will treat her like a wife again, she is telling the audience that Eddie is not, and has not been for some time, giving her the attention she is used to from him.  She feels as if she is being sidelined and we quickly come to see why.  Eddie’s thoughts and feelings are engaged elsewhere, with his niece, Catherine.

Beatrice is, by nature, a sensitive and emotionally aware woman.  She understands what her husband is struggling with better than he does himself.  Towards the end of the play, she tells him that his feelings for Catherine are misplaced and can never come to anything.  She supports Eddie throughout the play’s events and is always honest with him.

Although there is conflict between Beatrice and Eddie, it is resolved by the end of the play as Eddie turns to Beatrice for solace with his dying breaths.   In spite of all that he has put her through, Beatrice’s love for him weathers the storm and she is with him when he needs her most, and when everyone else has turned against him.

Eddie’s Conflict with Catherine

Although Catherine is the youngest and arguably the most innocent character in the play, she is unwittingly at the heart of the play’s central conflict.  She is not aware of the fact that her uncle, Eddie, has developed inappropriately strong feelings for her.  She does not know that her growth into womanhood is problematic for Eddie.  She behaves as she always has around him, wandering into the bathroom in her slip when he is shaving, offering the kind of intimacy that is difficult for him to ignore.

As the play goes on, she does not understand Eddie’s actions towards her or Beatrice’s Italian cousins.  She sees only that something has changed and the uncle she idolises is becoming a stranger to her.  It is not until Eddie happens upon her with Rodolfo that she begins to appreciate the depth of Eddie’s confusion.  She is traumatised by the events in the kiss scene.  Beatrice says she is constantly shaking.  She has been forced to see what Eddie cannot hide from her and it shocks her.

Catherine turns on Eddie when she discovers his betrayal of the Italian cousins.  This is the worst of all outcomes for Eddie, who has done everything in order to protect Catherine in his own way.  Her refusal to accept his actions leads to Eddie’s desperation in the final scenes of the play.  He takes the knife to his final confrontation with Marco, seeking to reclaim his lost reputation, and Catherine’s love, and is ultimately killed with his own weapon.

Eddie’s Conflict with Rodolfo

Eddie’s conflict with Rodolfo is apparent almost immediately after the Italian cousins arrive at the Carbone’s home.  Rodolfo is flamboyant and charismatic as well as good-looking.  Eddie sees that Catherine is instantly attracted to him and it fuels Eddie’s dislike and mistrust.

Rodolfo’s personality sets Eddie on edge.  Rodolfo sings, he has unusual skills such as the ability to sew and he is a larger than life character.  Eddie also holds Rodolfo’s hair colour against him, as if being blond is a sign of his unnaturalness.  All the things that Catherine enjoys about Rodolfo are the things that Eddie despises.

As Rodolfo’s attentions to Catherine become more marked, Eddie tells Catherine that the only reason Rodolfo is getting close to her is so that he can marry her to obtain citizenship in the US.  Later, when his poisonous words have not succeeded is splitting the couple up, he attempts to show Catherine that Rodolfo is ‘not a real man’ in the kiss scene, after first kissing Catherine.  This is his penultimate attempt to split the pair, and his desperation when it is unsuccessful leads him to call the immigration bureau and inform on the Italians.

Eddie’s Conflict with Marco

Eddie’s conflict with Marco begins when he makes the error of showing his dislike of Marco’s younger brother with physical aggression.  Marco, who has been respectful towards Eddie since arriving, must intervene to show Eddie that he supports his brother, and that to attack Rodolfo is also to attack Marco. He demonstrates his superior strength to Eddie in the chair scene.

After Eddie informs on the Italians, Marco’s livelihood is ruined. He cannot earn money to send back to his starving family in Italy if he is deported.  Eddie’s vendetta with Rodolfo has ruined Marco’s future and that of his children.  Marco sees this as cause for revenge.  He shouts out Eddie’s guilt in front of the entire neighbourhood and eventually comes to fight with Eddie man to man.  In the ensuing struggle, Marco turns Eddie’s knife back on him and Eddie is killed.

Eddie’s Conflict with Alfieri

Alfieri, as the narrator of the tale, is a reasonably impartial observer over the events but he cannot help but come into conflict with Eddie as the play goes on.  He is a lawyer and stands for the law.  When Eddie seeks help from Alfieri, saying that the law must be able to help him, Alfieri tells him that the problem is not a legal one and offers him advice of a more personal kind.  This advice is similar to Beatrice’s.  Both tell Eddie to let Catherine go, as there is nothing he can do, no matter how he feels, about his niece growing up and wanting to marry.

Eddie does not take Alfieri’s advice.  The law was his last hope and it has let him down. Now the only possible alternative is for Eddie to betray all his principles and inform on the Italians.

Eddie’s Conflict within Himself

Eddie suffers from inner conflict throughout the play.  Initially, his conflict concerns his relationships with Catherine and Beatrice.  He cannot help his shifting feelings and does not know how to cope with Catherine’s growth into womanhood.

His inner conflict is what leads him into conflict with all the other characters – it is the source of the play’s central problem.

Later, when he sees that Catherine is about to be lost to him, he struggles within himself to know what to do to prevent the inevitable.  Ultimately, he betrays his own code of honour and becomes someone he despises.  He lies to himself, saying that Marco has stolen his reputation and has to be made to give it back.  In the end, his denial leads to his death.