“A View from the Bridge” is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1955 when he was living in New York. In the 1950s New York was a very showbiz and glamorous place back in the days and was known as the centre of the world, it attracted thousands of illegal immigrants from all over the world, especially from countries like Italy. The people who came to America were looking for a better quality of life which is the case for two of the characters within this play. Miller uses various techniques and storylines to create tension for the audience such as the threat of the discovery of the two illegal immigrants, Marco and Rodolpho. The unusual tension in-between brings terror to a tragic protagonist. Miller wrote this play as a Modern Greek tragedy. Arthur Miller uses a true story he previously heard to grab the audience. Re-written in his own words, Arthur Miller bought the controversial ideas of incest, culture and masculinity. Based on Arthur Miller’s play, I am going to analyse the dramatic tension built up in Act 1 and it follows on to Act 2. I will be looking at uses the characters, stage directions, props, lighting, language, and setting as these dramatic devices help to build up the dramatic tension for the audience.
The play is set in a ghetto community of Sicilian Italians. It is known as the Red Hook Community. Most Italians at that time lived in poor areas rather than regular Americans who lived in richer areas or upstate. During the 1950’s the Italians that lived in America had working class jobs. They had work such as being dockworkers and longshoremen in Brooklyn harbour. The characters in the play also work as dockworkers. However the women stayed at home cooked, cleaned and raised the children while the men worked and they would take lead of the family like a patriarchal figure. The idea of women ruling was frowned upon in the Italian culture.
Alfieri an old wise lawyer is the main narrator of this play. He tells the play as a review from the very beginning and informs it is not what but how means that even though we know the end result it’s how the end result happens in such an unexpected but inevitable way that it grips us and leaves us in shock even after the end. Alfieri speaks mostly fact, so the audience automatically believes his sown opinion. The playwright presents him in the role of a chorus, from an ancient Greek play. The chorus was a figure who watched the action and commented on it, addressing the audience directly. Alfieri is a vital part of the play. He adds grandeur to the play and sets it in a wider context and broadens the subjects of people, humanity, and our society. Alfieri clarifies the real meaning of events for the audience. He raises the many issues of the play. Alfieri does this by delivering a speech after a dramatic event and makes the audience reflect on this episode. He also prepares the audience with a speech for an upcoming incident. Alfieri also symbolises God. He looks down on the carelessness of others but he is powerless to stop any events in the play.
The play is divided into two acts. The first act establishes the tensions between Eddie, Catherine, Rodolfo and Beatrice. The second act activates these tensions and gradually builds until the altercated climax. Alfieri breaks up these acts into short episodes and does this by providing a commentary on events.
The characters are a vital element in the play, and are the basis of the drama. Eddie is portrayed as a well-respected, hardworking, ordinary man. He is loyal to his family and is presented as a kind character. “He was as good a man as he had to be in a life that was hard and even.” Alfieri explains this at the beginning of the play, and this emphasizes that Eddie is an honorable, decent person. However, as soon as a catalyst is introduced, another side to Eddie is revealed, and his true feelings for Catherine exposed. “What are the high heels for Garbo?” Eddie says this to Catherine, in front of the cousins, to deliberately humiliate her. Eddie sees Catherine’s attention towards Rodolfo and becomes jealous. This sexual jealousy grows throughout the play and the audiences realize that what did seem like over-protectiveness is in fact romantic obsession for Catherine. This disgusts the audience and so they begin to turn against Eddie. Eddie’s connection to Catherine is his flaw. Eddie’s actions for Catherine become too obvious.
“His eyes were like tunnels.” Alfieri says this to describe Eddie. It suggests that Eddie only focuses on one thing which is Catherine. This is obvious when Eddie calls Immigration to snitch on Marco and Rodolfo. It highlights Eddie’s desperation and loss of rational thinking as he acts on the contrary of his own strong beliefs, which he outlined at the beginning of the play with the consequences of Vinnie Banzalo’s betrayal.
The characters are all involved in very tangled relationships and this brings a lot of confusion. Beatrice is jealous of Eddie’s love for Catherine. “When am I gonna be a wife again Eddie?” She is very frustrated with her husband, but he will not face the reality of the situation. Eddie expects Beatrice to support him, as wives were supposed at that time. So when Beatrice defends Catherine Eddie cannot understand why his wife is deliberately defying him as he believes he is being perfectly reasonable.
The characters all have different personalities and lifestyles. The biggest contrasts are the two brothers. Rodolfo represents a fun, carefree, ambitious, entertainer. However, Marco is a serious and hardworking person who is in America to earn money for his family. This variety of characters adds depth to the play and allows the audience to relate to each of them. Eddie hints that Rodolfo is homosexual due to his feminine characteristics. “He sings, he cooks, he could make dresses.” Eddie says this as a bitter response to hurt Rodolfo. The reason he mentions this is because, he feels threatened and thinks Rodolfo is stealing Catherine from him.
The set, properties, and lighting also increase the dramatic tension in the play. The set is not real, although it does need to show some reality. The set arrangement enables the inside of the apartment, the street outside, and Alfieri’s office all to be represented without any scene changes. This arrangement means that the lighting is essential as it indicates which part of the set is in use. The lighting is also important as it is used to draw focus to a particular character or event. ‘A phone booth begins to glow on the opposite side of the stage; a faint, lonely blue.’ This is an example of when light is used to symbolise a characters thoughts. As the light grows brighter, it represents Eddie’s determination to call the immigration office. This lighting effect acts as a viewpoint for the audience and emphasises the phone, making the whole event more dramatic. ‘The lights have gone down, leaving him in a glow.’ This stage direction occurs after Eddie’s death. The darkness signifies and end, and also the sorrow felt by Eddie’s loved ones. The lighting creates a very intense atmosphere.
The props on set add realism and interest to the play. The characters can interact with the props so there is more action and a greater impression of everyday life. They add texture to the scene and give the characters something to react with. ‘Beatrice is taking down Christmas decorations and packing them in a box.’ The props in this scene are much explicated as they inform the audience of the time of year. This could be interpreted as if the joy and excitement of Christmas is over and this so is the end of the happiness in the family as the immigration officers are about to arrive.
The language in the play allows the audience to know the characters’ relationships, emotions and thoughts. It is the most obvious feature of drama. The dialogue in the play also separates the characters. Alfieri is the only clear, powerful speaker in the play as the other entire characters converse in slang. They use the wrong tenses and shorten words, for example; “sump’m” and “talkin'”. Miller uses this language to create a working-class, poor environment. Pauses are a very effective way to create dramatic tension. The audience is not used to silence, so when the characters are quiet it has great impact. The silence is usually due to a dramatic event and it allows the audience to absorb the full impact of the situation. These pauses create suspense and the audience wants to know what will happen next. Eddie uses language to distance Rodolfo as he is jealous of him.’ He is coming more and more to address Marco only.’ This shows how Eddie disregards Rodolfo and tries to exclude him from the conversation. Eddie uses language to subtly show his contempt for Rodolfo. How the character performs the dialogue is an important factor as devices such as sarcasm can change the meaning of the speech. Eddie often says things, concerning Rodolfo, which have a different meaning. “He sings, he cooks, he could make dresses.” Eddie says this to humiliate Rodolfo, implying that he is homosexual, even though it is in fact a compliment as these are his talents. The actor’s tone of voice also has a great effect on the meaning of the speech. The language of a character gives the audience an insight into their personality. Marco seldom speaks. This could be due to his poor English, but it could also show that he is a man of action, not words and he spends most of his time deep in thought.
Each part of the set suggests particular themes in the play. Alfieri’s office represents the law. The apartment symbolises family links, and the apartment above is not seen and therefore it means the unpredictable events. The street is where feelings are released, the fight occurs in the street and Beatrice’s conflict with Eddie.
The stage directions are the most essential dramatic device in the play. They bring the play to life and show how the characters interact
‘Eddie is pleased and therefore shy about it.’ This stage direction displays Eddie’s true feeling which there is no dialogue to express. Some matters cannot be openly discussed, so are shown in gesture and action. When Catherine serves Eddie’s food, or lights a cigar for him, this illustrates the relationship they have. For a 1950’s audience, the lighting of a cigar would be a very symbolic action.
Stage directions can also show a buildup of tension. For example when Lois and Mike talk to Eddie about Rodolfo, Eddie tries to infer that Rodolfo is homosexual and he wants them to support his accusation. However, Lois and Mike do not submit to this. They try and disguise Eddie’s suggestion with gradual laughter until they finally ‘explode in laughter’, showing the release of tension as they leave. In the scene where Eddie kisses both Rodolfo and Catherine, the kisses are a very effective way of generating drama. For an audience in 1955, the double kiss would have been scandalous. Eddie kissing Catherine proposes incest and Eddie’s kiss with Rodolfo is demonstrating his supposed homosexuality. Both kisses repel the audience and Eddie loses the audience’s sympathy further when he calls immigration.