An Analysis of A View from the Bridge
April 10, 2015
There's a man named Joe Kelley and he has blood on his hands. He can't handle the guilt. In addition to that, you should know that Joe committed these sins for reasons you might not understand. No one can say for sure if Joe is a bad man or not but many will try like hell to. Before you judge him, though, you should know that Joe already did that for you. Why? Because he's a human being and human beings tend to do things like that. Frankly, we shouldn't have it any other way. In books or in life.
Arthur Miller has a knack for that—writing up human beings. We know this because we constantly find ourselves wrestling with the characters he hands us. Joe Kelley from All My Sons is responsible for the deaths of soldiers and yet we find ourselves understanding him. Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman was a detached father and an unfaithful husband and yet, somehow, we nearly root for him; we see his struggle—his human struggle—and we find ourselves shouting silently 'you're loved, Willy! You're loved and you can make it through this!' Why is this? A lesser writer would have answered this question in an easy to swallow manner ("Well, yes this character has flaws but look at him take care of his sick wife! Look at him have a flashback of twenty years prior when he lost his son" etc. etc.) Miller does not let us off so easy. He demands that we take his characters seriously and consider their motivations.
A perfect example of a Miller anti-hero is Eddie Carbone from the play A View from the Bridge. In the play Eddie, a longshoreman, lives with his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine (whose parents are deceased) in Brooklyn in the 1950s. In the First Act two cousins of Beatrice's come to stay. They are Italian immigrants. One of the cousins, Marco, is a strong family man who is coming to America to help support his family back home. The other cousin, Rodolpho, has come not for money but a desire to see America. He is blonde—odd for a Sicilian-and flamboyant. As the story progresses Rodolpho and Catherine become increasingly close and at the end become engaged. Eddie, however, takes exception to this and says that Rodolpho only wants to marry his niece to stay in America legally. In reality, though, Eddie takes such an opposition to the engagement because he himself is in love with Catherine. He found this out in a climactic scene where Eddie, in a drunken stupor, kisses Catherine.
The play ends with Eddie reporting Marco and Rodolpho to immigration and before being deported Marco, in a rage, stabs and kills Eddie in front of his home.
Firstly, notice something Eddie, Willy and Joe have in common: all three die at the end of the play. The big difference, though, is that while Willy and Joe commit suicide, Eddie dies at the hands of another man. Being murdered should garner Eddie more sympathy. Willy and Joe take their own lives, so we shouldn't feel as bad for them. Eddie, on the other hand, was murdered in front of his family—our hearts should break for him; and yet, they don't. The audience does not feel any worse for Eddie. One could argue this is because Eddie is to blame for his own demise just as much as Joe or Willy. After all, Eddie did prevent Marco from being able to feed his family; as Marco says in Act 2 (pg. 64): "He killed my children! [Eddie Carbone] stole food from my children!" But then again, Eddie had his motivations for turning in Marco and Rodolpho.
Eddie truly believed that his niece was being taken advantage by a bad man. For all intents and purposes, Eddie is Catherine's father. For example, in the beginning of the play, Eddie is arguing with Catherine that she should not be quitting school for a stenography job as she isn't ready and will meet unsavory people in the neighborhood where she will be working—"…most people ain't people." Eddie says at one point in the argument. This whole scene quickly establishes Eddie as the father figure; worried about the interests of the fragile girl he has taken such gentle care of. However, when it becomes more and more obvious to the audience-in very subtle ways and in one obvious way—the kiss—that Eddie has romantic feelings for Catherine, one has to wonder if this early scene does not foreshadow Eddie's more shameful motivation.
Eddie way, Eddie loves and cares deeply for Catherine; whether it be as a father or a lover (Probably both, as any Freudian psychologist would explain) and so it is nearly understandable when Eddie makes such drastic measures to "protect" his daughter. And so yes, this is a mistake. Even Eddie would admit that and seems actually to do just that when the gravity of the situation sets in toward the end of Act 2. But this mistake is a human mistake.
One should not take away from this essay the idea that Eddie's mistakes, or the mistakes of any of Miller's characters, are excusable—they are not. However, neither are yours, reader. Neither are any of our mistakes. As Arthur Miller writes in his introduction to A View from the Bridge:
Eddie is not a man to weep over; the play does not attempt to swamp the audience in tears. But it is more possible now to relate his actions to our own and thus to understand ourselves a little better
Note how Miller says we can "Understand ourselves a little better." That is, not understand Eddie a little better or understand other Miller characters a little better or understand modern literary characters in general a little better but rather to understand ourselves a little better. This is because with A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller helps us to understand the human experience a little better. Eddie Carbone is not an evil man, nor is he a misunderstood hero, but rather he is just a man; a hopelessly flawed, human man.
Arthur Miller did not have much of an interest in writing a play with clean cut answers: We do not know if Rodolpho really loved Catherine, or what was to become of them or Beatrice, or if Eddie had ever really accepted his love for Catherine as more than familial …but we do know for certain one thing: Eddie was wrong when he said "Most people ain't people." In fact, most people are just that; just people. And people will make mistakes, big and small. And because of this we find ourselves forgiving. We find ourselves, whether it be with our friends, families, characters from a play, or often times our own selves having to understand that we are human and we make mistakes. And we find ourselves not hating the person but rather hating the mistakes they made. And sometimes, sometimes, if we're very luck, we can make peace with that.
"Miller's People: An Analysis of A View from the Bridge" is the winning essay for the 2015 Pageturners Writing Award.
The copyright for "Miller's People: An Analysis of A View from the Bridge" is held by Pagerturners and it is reprinted with permission. Unlike most publications on Scholarly Voices, it has not been released under a Creative Commons license.