Culture is the most significant factor in any society; it defines who and what we are. It is an all-pervasive influence on our actions and the way we live our lives. It is a key feature in Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’, and a dominant theme throughout, if not the most dominant theme throughout. The period that ‘A View from the Bridge’ is set in is one where America, especially New York was seeing immigration from Italy and the Mediterranean when it had always previously received immigrants from Western Europe.
They formed pockets of cultures, in which was a mix of aspirations to the American culture, but still the very strong foundations of the culture from whence they came. Two generations since the 1920s saw the height of immigration into America, with the Italian/American culture still receiving illegal immigrants from relatives and friends in the Mediterranean. ‘A View from the Bridge’ is a play about a personal tragedy, set under the conditions of a cultural clash, which defines the plot and prefigures the ending.
Although we are made very clear from the offset that all the characters work in low pay American jobs and aspire to Americanism, the Sicilian culture is the most prominent feature of the play. We hear from Eddie that while Catherine has been growing up, she has been adapting to American culture; she changes her hairstyle, her dress, her morals and her attitudes. She walks ‘wavy’ and wears short skirts, something that we see Eddie’s opposition to from the beginning of Act One onwards.
At the same time as Eddie dominating Catherine’s every move, she still is happy to be dominated by Eddie, who continues to establish and apply his own values of manliness. Eddie sees himself as the working man and head of the house. He is in charge of the entire goings on in the household; it is he that gives his opinion on Catherine’s clothes, and it is he that regulates the funds, as he is the family breadwinner. He is established as the most dominant person in the household, symbolised by his relaxing in his very own chair.
It is in this position that Beatrice and Catherine effectively wait on him. Eddie feels that as earner and man of the house he has absolute power over everything that goes on in it, very Sicilian values that of course are the root of the troubles to come. It is Eddie’s idea of being manly which leads to his dislike of Rodolpho, along with his own jealousy and quasi-paternal love for Catherine based on his experience. Eddie’s Sicilian values are both his foundation and his downfall.
On the one hand, he lives his family life Sicilian style, and believes in Sicilian values, but ironically, in the end it is the Sicilian idea of justice that is his downfall. The idea of Sicilian justice is one of the most dominant themes throughout the play. Although officially all the characters are under American law, this appears to be of little effect in the little Sicilian pocket, which is heavily dominated by the sense of Sicilian justice rather than American law.
We see Sicilian justice in all that goes on in the main plot. This was shown in the way that the dockworkers steal items from crates and break into whisky at Christmas, while still feeling that they are not doing anything wrong. The most obvious example of Sicilian ideas is the way that it seems right to help and protect relatives to get into the country, despite it being both illegal and expensive. By far the most prominent illustration of Sicilian justice, and relating directly to the plot, is the story of Vinny Bolzano.