Arthur Miller is best known for his play, ‘Death of a Salesman’ and was a celebrity in his own right alongside his star wife – ‘Marilyn Monroe’.
A View from the Bridge echoes the familiar sentiments of the writer – let us take a decent average Joe from the street who is all about hard work and honour and then tempt him to expose his feet of clay. The outcome of the play was never uncertain and yet the reader is fascinated like an insect caught in a Spider’s web. One can’t quite crawl away from Eddie’s misery and his actions eventually alienate our sympathies for him. And yet the dénouement does make a mention of him being true to his own ideas and grudgingly admit to a possibility of having genuinely lost a hold on his judgement.
The opening scene is quite cheerful – we meet Eddie Carbone who is a longshoremen staying off the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. He occupies a modest flat and has worked off long years to provide for his family. Beatrice is an affectionate wife while Catherine’, his niece, is a ‘child-woman’ who is longing to enjoy her youth. In the background is the announcement of couple of Beatrice’s cousins – Marco and Rodolpho – entering as illegal immigrants from Italy.
The writer shows the underlying tensions in a deft manner – Catherine enjoys being petted and protected by Eddie while Eddie’s ego swells up in ‘babying’ Catherine and his interest is obsessional though its exact nature is a bit imprecise. Beatrice is exasperated by this pattern and in a manner jealous as well though she is both a loyal wife to Eddie and a ‘motherly’ figure to Catherine. She tries to improve things by trying to get Eddie and Catherine to correct their deficiencies.
Marco and Rodolpho make a quiet entry though they narrate a moving tale about the poverty and desperation in their homeland. They are determined to make their fortune and to take care of their families. Eddie is very welcoming and supporting. He clearly feels that the family takes precedence over even law and he narrates a telling tale about a youth who betrayed his family to the immigration officers thus earning endless opprobrium in his community.
Things take a proper twist when Catherine falls for Rodolpho who is a strikingly handsome and blond youth. He can sing and dance; is ever cheerful and brightens up life wherever he goes. He is interested in becoming an American citizen and make a life for himself. He makes a mistake on not treating Eddie with adequate respect and sets up a series of antagonistic episodes with him. Eddie is prejudiced enough to see him as a wastrel character and even thinks he is gay – this blinds him to the fact that his chief grudge is that Catherine is in love with him.
Eddie consults a lawyer, Alfieri, who quickly senses the situation and spots trouble ahead. He appeals to Eddie’s conscience and advises him to reconcile to the fact that Catherine will go away from his life. Eddie is not able to digest this and sets about trying to separate the loving couple. In the process he increasingly alienates his family.
Things comes to an ugly turn when he learns that the couple have spent together an intimate evening and are planning to marry. In his blind rage he denounces Marco and Rodolpho to the immigration authorities. The family and the neighbourhood can spot this piece of deception and rather ironically he ends up being a pariah just like the boy he narrated in his tale earlier. Marco spitting on his face at the time of his arrest is the ultimate loss of face for the protagonist.
Things seem to end as well as possible – Catherine and Rodolpho are finally getting married. Marco is scheduled to be deported but he decides to avenge himself. Eddie too is seething in anger and humiliation. He invites his downfall by taking a knife to Marco who is vindicated in returning the fire and vanquishing his rival.
The chain of events has moved inexorably to its natural end – the writer makes is clear that no other scenario was justified given Eddie’s failing at managing a compromise and being able to come to terms with his weakness. Earnest Eddie was a good in many respects but his inflexible attitude led to his inevitable destruction.
Man being a social creäture who has to suffer if he can’t make peace with his fellow beings is a classic story exploited by many writers – Vijay Tendulkar’s ‘Sakharam Binder’ is one more such instance that comes to mind. Herein again a protagonist who is no hypocrite and morally far superior than his mates is simply destroyed as he refuses to respect the social compact that is the order of the day.