Honour is Shown to be Very Important
Honour is Shown to be Very Important, Especially to Eddie. It Means Far More to him than the Law. Explore this Theme and Eddie’s Character in Miller’s play, A View from the Bridge
In this essay, I will be exploring honour as a theme in Miller’s play A View from the Bridge, and how important it is to the characters in the play; especially Eddie. Additionally, I will be discussing how Eddie is portrayed in the play. The author of the play, Arthur Miller, was born into a Jewish family, and believed in blind persecution. Although he was not a communist, he was a communist sympathiser- which is important as he was alive during the Red Scare and the rise of McCarthyism. He wrote the play to demonstrate the harshness of the Red Hook culture of Italian immigrants. Another inspiration for writing the play was that he had worked as a longshoreman himself, and most men in Red Hook worked as longshoremen, as there was no other work. During the 1950s, Italian Americans encountered prejudice and were seen as negative stereotypes, due to their association with the Mafia. In the play we see the a strong honour code amongst the Carbone family, which is also part of the Italian American stereotype. Miller’s play tells the story of an over-protective uncle (Eddie) and his niece (Catherine). However, when his niece falls in love with an illegal immigrant who is staying in the Carbone household, Eddie slowly begins to realise his incestuous feelings for his niece. However, Eddie visits Alfieri (a lawyer who also acts as the mediator in the play) for legal advice. After being told that “Morally and legally he has no rights.” (P60) in the situation, he goes against his moral code of honour and calls the immigration bureau on the immigrants. This ends in a messy dispute, brings out the harshness of the Italian- American community in Red Hook, and depicts a man’s descent from a loving father to a typical tragic hero through a single hamartia: his incestuous love for his niece.
The first point I will be focusing on is how the structure of the play helps develop the honour theme throughout. There are many key structural features in the play, most of which imitate the style of a Greek Tragedy; such as two acts, dramatic irony, a commentator with a choral effect and a tragic hero. An example of the use of dramatic irony which is demonstrated when the immigration officers are waiting outside the house and Eddie and Catherine are arguing about where Marco and Rodolpho will go (P66-67). This technique gives the effect of making the audience feel like they are involved in the action, and makes them feel implicated; as we know that their argument is pointless, whilst they do not. Another key feature of Greek Tragedies which is also implicated in A View from the Bridge is having a narrator who acts as a choral element; in this case, Alfieri. His chorus-style character explains the action after each significant scene; he observes the action without intervening (for the most part), and he acts as a neutral character, similar to a mediator. The only ways in which he is not archetypal of this role, is the fact he tries to change Eddie’s fate, and he intervenes with getting Marco out of jail by telling him “To promise not to kill is not dishonorable” (P73). Furthermore, the Greek Tragedy feel is deepened by the fact that Eddie is portrayed as a tragic hero throughout the play, which is one of the key features of a Greek Tragedy. A tragic hero is the main character of a Greek Tragedy, who always has a tragic flaw; or hamartia. In Eddie’s case, this could either be seen as his incestuous love for his niece or his denial of his own thoughts. Despite this, some people disagree with the fact that Eddie is a tragic hero and believe that he is an anti-hero; however, in my opinion, Eddie is a tragic hero as not only does he have a hamartia, but he slowly descends from a smart, hardworking longshoreman with a strict moral code which outstrips his view of the law, to an obsessive uncle who goes against his own- and the communities- moral codes, to turn in the immigrants living in his house.
In addition, the stage directions throughout the play give us, as readers, vital clues to the characters’ actions and emotions, helping to develop the key themes. A significant example of this is at the end of act one, when we are told that “Eddie’s grin vanishes as he absorbs his Marco’s look.” (P52). This gives strong imagery for the situation, and implies that Eddie is not only scared, but has been humiliated by Marco and has had his honour torn from him, as he had failed to lift the chair. The word vanished also foreshadows that Eddie never regained his honour from that point forward; as his grin ‘vanishes’, implying that it is permanent. This helps us understand the importance of honour to Eddie as he is frightened by the fact that he has been humiliated. Furthermore, the first stage direction has great significance to the portrayal of Eddie’s honour, in that it describes the telephone booth. This is an important prop as its appearance on the stage is very symbolic. As it can be left on or off stage, there are two meanings behind it. The first (if it is left on stage), is that the temptation of calling the immigration bureau is always present for Eddie, something he would be reluctant to do as it would strip him of his honour. Additionally, the glow moving from Alfieri to the phone booth towards the end of the scene shows he feels drawn to it over Alfieri as a solution to his problem, at which point his morals have been abandoned, and he is desperate to get back his niece. However, the second meaning (if it is left off stage) could mean that the temptation had never crossed Eddie’s mind until the end of the play when the telephone box was beckoning him to it. The Greek tragedy structure, along with use of stage directions help the theme of honour and the law develop throughout the play.
As the main character in the play, we see Eddie’s moral values and code of honour twist and become tainted as the scenes progress. At the start of the play, it is made clear to us that honour is a very important value to Eddie, being part of his Italian culture. We can see this when he asks Catherine “Why didn’t you ask me before you take a job?” (P10). This quote shows that Eddie wanted to be the man of the house, and thought that his wife and niece should respect and honour him. This demonstrates a strong honour code, as he is offended by the fact that his niece had done something without asking him first. Another key moment where he shows his moral code is when he tells Beatrice to tell the story of Vinny Bolzano, and how he was rejected by society for snitching on an immigrant. Despite the significance of the story, the fact that he told Beatrice to tell the story is perhaps more important, as it shows he treats her as his inferior, and often tells her what to do. However, the story itself highlights a strong sense of hypocrisy in Eddie’s character, as he does the very thing that he had told the women not to do at the end of the play. In addition, the act of Eddie turning in the immigrants also demonstrates the fact that he abandons his code of honour for personal gain. To come to this decision, he spoke to Alfieri at various intervals throughout the play, and being told essentially the same thing each time; that he had no legal case, and that he should “let her Catherine go” (P42). After being told that “Morally and legally, he has no rights” (P60), he ignores this and takes matters into his own hands. This shows that he holds his moral code as more important than the law as he keeps attempting to fix his problem, instead of doing what he was advised to by his lawyer. However, a more convincing example of this is when he pulls a knife on Marco because he spat in his face and called him an “Animal” (P78 and 79); demonstrating that he would rather kill Marco (hence breaking the law) to regain his (name and hence his) honour, than accept that he as lost his family honour by calling the immigration bureau.
Despite this, Eddie’s moral values of not snitching on immigrants and similar ideas are not the only honour codes which are broken. Another way in which Eddie’s honour is twisted, is when his reputation itself is damaged, which occurs in key scenes throughout the play. The first scene when we see this happening is when Rodolpho starts walking around town and going to the pictures with Catherine. Eddie feels insulted as he believes that a man should “… ask your Catherine’s father’s permission before he run around with you like this?” (P34). He feels that Rodolpho does not respect him enough as he as Catherine’s Uncle and not her father. Rodolpho also taunts him at numerous points in the play with the ‘Paper Doll’ song, as its lyrics reference “A doll that other fellas cannot steal”. This could reference the fact that Rodolpho is trying to “steal” Catherine from Eddie; which aggravates Eddie because not only is Rodolpho dancing with Catherine in front of Eddie, but the lyrics of the song are also subtly taunting him. However, it is not until the end of the play when Eddie takes legal action to try and get rid of the immigrants by calling the immigration bureau. This shows that Eddie has snapped and given in to the temptation of the phone box that has been hiding in the corner throughout the play. Furthermore, Eddie ignores the law to regain his honour from Marco, as he claims that “Marco’s got his name” as he “…spits in Eddie’s face” (P70) and calls him a rat. Eddie even tries to kill him- bypassing the law- to try and take back his dignity. During the fight, Eddie is killed, and it could be said that he regains some of his honour by dying in an honourable way.
Despite Eddie being the focus of this essay, there are also many other male characters who are defined by their moral codes, as we would expect in a large Italian ‘family’, who believe to be honourable is to be respected. One of the most prevalent examples of this is Marco. We first get a sense of how close he holds honour to himself when he begins to talk about his family in Italy, and says that “… if he stayed there, they would never grow up” (P22). This shows his honour as he has left his children and his wife for 4-6 years so that he could continue to feed them; as he feels that it would be the only honourable thing to do. Later on, we see him threaten Eddie as he feels his honour is at risk. He does this at the end of act one, when he challenges Eddie to lift a chair. When Eddie fails to lift the chair, Marco raises the chair “like a weapon” (P52), to attempt to scare Eddie, and it works. There are multiple reasons behind Marco doing this. The first was that he was worried for his little brother (Rodolpho), who had just been punched by Eddie under the pretense of being taught to box. Another motive could have been that he was concerned that his honour was at risk from Eddie, due to his passive aggressiveness and hostility towards the immigrants. Marco lifting the chair when Eddie could not was a way of telling him not to try anything. However, later on, Marco lashes out in anger due to his honour being stripped from him by Eddie, when reporting him to the immigration bureau. He responds to this offense by spitting on him. A way in which Marco shows that he also holds his honour code above the law is when he kills Eddie and calls him an animal. This shows that he holds his moral code of higher importance than the law, as he felt dishonoured by Eddie, and so breaks his promise to Alfieri of not killing, to regain his honour.
In conclusion, A View from the Bridge is a play which discusses the Italian-American culture in America, and displays the story of a tragic hero who ends up betraying everything he believes for personal gain. The play is based in the style of a Greek Tragedy, as it includes features such as a choral style narrator, dramatic irony and a tragic hero with a hamartia. The main theme of the play is honour, and most characters in the play hold honour as an important value in their lives. An example of this is Eddie (the main character), who, at the start, holds a strong moral code of honour at the centre of his life, and often tells his family about why they should too- such as with the Vinny Bolzano story. However, throughout the play he strays further and further from his moral values, and eventually ends up calling the immigration bureau, which he said he “… wouldn’t do nothin’ about…” (P42). This could be seen as either because of his lust for his niece Catherine, or because his honour is repeatedly insulted throughout the play, for example with the use of the Paper Doll song. In the end, Miller depicts Eddie as a character who- despite having revered his honour over the law throughout the play- is shown to hold his honour as more important than the law, and in the end he even attempts to kill a man to try and regain his name, however, although failing, regained some of his honour in death.