How does Arthur Miller use Eddie Carbone to create dramatic tension for the audience? Greek playwrights such as Sophocles invented the genre of tragedy. However, the person we most associate with tragedy is Greek philosopher and writer Aristotle. His definition of a typical tragedy influenced writers ever since. Aristotle’s base for a tragedy was that there would be a tragic hero who was usually a person of high social status and would lead a normal life until a crisis would reveal a fatal weakness in his character. Aristotle termed this the tragic flaw or harmatia.
The hero would think everything would turn out well but he would suffer a reversal of fortune, which would usually lead to his death. This would be called reversal or peripeteia. A View from the Bridge tracks the downfall of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman from Brooklyn who ‘ratted’ his wife’s cousins to the Immigration Bureau, in order to break up the engagement between one of them, Rodolpho and his niece Catherine. In the play A View from the Bridge Eddie Carbone is the tragic protagonist. Arthur Miller saw this play as a modern Greek tragedy “in which a central character is led by fate towards a destiny that cannot be escaped”.
Eddie is this central character and allows his heart to rule his head: blinded by his obsession for Catherine and his dislike of Rodolpho, he betrays and dishonours himself and in an attempt to redeem himself, he dies. Eddie’s character is the driving force of the tragedy. His character is flawed and this weakness: his passion for Catherine triggers the drama. Through Eddie, Miller creates tension as the audience, aware of the outcome, lives with Eddie and his inability to deal with the situation. This heightens the play’s drama till the very end.
Traditionally in a Greek tragedy a group of anonymous citizens informed the audience of events before the play, narrated off stage happenings, commented on characters, established norms of behaviour and guided the audience as to what would happen and what to think. This group of people would be called ‘the chorus’. Alfieri acts as the chorus in this play. He is slightly different to a normal chorus as he has an identity, an identity that blends a respected figure of two cultures; an American lawyer and an old Italian.
Acting as the Greek chorus Alfieri is able to draw the audience’s attention to the single line of the plot, which moves steadily towards the final tragedy, emphasising the inevitability of the ‘denouement’. As with all Alfieri’s speeches his opening words are full of warning. ‘Justice is very important here’. Justice and the law are not the same thing. He predicts that the characters’ Sicilian blood denotes passion and emotion with its own code of honour ‘many here who were justly shot by unjust men’. The implication that the law can be useless and direct justice more effective is a dramatic concept to present the audience.
Additionally, Alfieri prepares the audience for ‘every few years there is still a case’. Eddie’s own name, Eddie Carbone, ties him to these ancestors and their code and tragedy. Alfieri’s perspective, looking back at events in a series of flashbacks – intensifies the concept of the tragedy he was powerless to prevent. His final words warn the audience that the events they will watch will be bloody in their conclusion. ‘sat there powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody course. ‘ ‘[ALFIERI walks into darkness]’ this fading technique, also used in Greek tragedy, heightens the lawyer’s role as the chorus and heightens Eddie’s fate.
Immediately after this, ‘[EDDIE has appeared… is highlighted among them]’ this dramatic technique identifies Eddie as the central character of this tragedy. The lights then rise on the Carbone household. The tension begins and the audience awaits. The pace begins to pick up in Act One as Eddie faces the three problematic areas of his life: his relationship with his niece Catherine, the danger posed by the ‘arriving cousins’ and his relationship with his wife Beatrice. The audience’s first impression of Eddie and Catherine’s relationship is not so much of uncle and niece but rather father and daughter.
Catherine constantly seeks Eddie’s approval and tries to please him ‘You like it? You like it? You like it, huh? ‘ Catherine does things for Eddie like fetching his beer and lighting his cigar. Eddie notices Catherine, enjoys her attention and is very much aware of her beauty and how other men react to her. ‘You are walkin’ wavy’ ‘I don’t like the looks they’re givin’ you’. He is reluctant to let Catherine move on and grow up ‘you’re a baby. You don’t understand these things’. He has kept her as a child for longer than he should. She is always hanging around him, pleasing his every wish.
Perhaps this is why he is so opposed to Catherine taking up the job on the other side of town. It is through this opposition that the audience sees his forceful over protective side. This is again clear as Catherine, backed by Beatrice, pleads with Eddie for the job. His reaction is immediate, ‘[Strangely nervous]’ ‘she’ll be with a lotta plumbers? And sailors. ‘ ‘They’ll chew her to pieces if she don’t watch out’. The audience senses that Eddie has no real reason for Catherine not to take the job, just his own emotions. ‘I don’t like that neighbourhood over there’. Passion and emotion breed tragedy.
Throughout these first exchanges the audience also sense a slight ‘frisson’ between Eddie and his wife. Beatrice is anxious for Eddie in light of her relatives arrival ‘[looking into his eyes] I’m just worried about you’ and later when Eddie speaks ‘[quickly resentful]’ to Beatrice ‘you lived in a house all your life, what do you know about it? ‘ when she sides with Catherine. There seems to be an air of menace hanging over what should be normal dinnertime activities. The dramatic tension is beginning to collect around Eddie. He has unresolved issues, which he finds difficult to quantify and explain.
I think deep down he knows what is troubling him but is unable to face his weakness, which eventually becomes his demon. Eddie is also concerned that the women do not appreciate the threat that they are living under by hiding the two immigrants. ‘You’re makin’ me nervous again, both of you’, ‘This is the United States Government you’re playin’ with now’, ‘this is the Immigration Bureau’. In an effort to highlight their situation Eddie recalls the tragedy of Vinny Bolzano. The audience notes the dramatic irony of this tale, with Alfieri’s warning in mind.
Miller uses the technique of fading light in and out to emphasise what he wants to draw the audience’s attention to. In this case it is Eddie, in pensive mood, alone on stage at the end of the scene. Alfieri now prepares the audience for the drama that will unfold. He says Eddie was ‘a good man’, ‘worked on the piers’, ‘brought home his pay and he lived’ and lastly the finality of ‘the cousins came’. The arrival of Marco and Rodolpho changes the dynamics of the play. They represent the catalyst that triggers the tragedy. When Marco arrives we can immediately see he is the more mature of the two.
He treats Eddie with respect and gratitude. He understands their predicament. ‘[MARCO comes with a formal stiffness to EDDIE] Thank you! Thank you! ‘ Nevertheless, Eddie feels proud to house the ‘submarines’. Rodolpho is quite different. He is free spirited and views this as a big adventure. He always ‘ready to laugh’. He is blond, sings and enjoys having fun. Catherine is immediately attracted to him; she stares ‘[wondrously]’. He is different to the longshoremen she has been brought up around. Eddie senses this attraction and does not like it ‘[he is sizing up RODOLPHO and there is a concealed suspicion]’.
As in the Aristotelian tragedies, Marco and Rodolpho represent the external factor that will affect the status quo in Eddie’s life by taking Catherine away from him and set him on the path to tragedy. A perfect example of dramatic tension building, is displayed when Eddie publicly scolds Catherine for wearing her high heels which she put on to impress the visitors. Catherine is treated like a little child ‘[embarrassed now, angered]’ and Beatrice gives ‘[EDDIE a cold look]’. Even though these are only small gestures, the audience can sense the tension rising in the Carbone household.