Upon reading this last scene I felt as though conflict was to ensue between Eddie and Rodolpho. I was inadvertently influenced by Alfieri who believed that Eddie was a pawn of fate, saying that ‘he was like a dark figure walking down the hall towards the certain door’ ‘he never expected to have a destiny. Now there was a future, a trouble that would not go away’. Fate is a topic we must address, since it is an important issue in tragedy. I cannot prove for certain that Eddie Carbone had a choice in the course of events… but neither can I prove that he did not. Eddie had as much ‘free choice’ as is possible in that he was fully aware of the consequences of his actions, but one could argue that his choice was unfairly influenced by his abundant love and that in fact he had no choice at all.
The answer lies in whether you believe the philosophers and physicists’ opinion, that all our actions are the results of causes i.e. influences, or if you believe that the human mind is greater than the sum of its parts and that spontaneous creativity is possible. It would be naive of me to attempt to answer this question now, as there are whole schools of thought devoted to the subject, but I can hint at the probable solution.
Eddie Carbone is killed by his own knife, suggesting that it was he who was to blame for his downfall, blame is futile without responsibility, and responsibility cannot exist where choice is absent. Assuming Eddie had a choice, this concurs with Aristotle’s statement that ‘the protagonist’s demise must be his or her own fault, the result of free choice: irrespective of accidents, villainy, or some overriding malignant force’. It is necessary in tragedy for the protagonists to incriminate themselves, knowingly, in order that they are made to suffer for their crimes without leaving the audience with a sense of great injustice.
The next scene of tragic importance is the scene of the boxing match. By this point Eddie has become infuriated by Rodolpho’s conduct with Catherine. Eddie ‘has been unconsciously twisting the paper into a tight roll…he has bent the rolled paper and it suddenly tears in two’ the paper, it seems, represents Eddie’s restraint. What follows is the prophesied conflict between Eddie and Rodolpho, followed by unexpected conflict between Eddie and Marco. This conflict shows how Eddie’s character has degraded, and how he is beginning to fulfil his destiny. It highlights the protagonist’s demise.
Eddie has been lowered in stature and social standing because he has dared to strike the immigrant he houses under his roof: ‘he feints with his left hand and lands with his right’ such conduct was considered highly dishonourable in Sicilian New York. He is further degraded at the very end of act one by Marco’s actions: the fact that Marco- a passive, popular character, questions Eddie is important, since it strengthens the notion that Eddie is in the wrong. Again, this degradation is essential to the tragedy. The end of this scene serves as a warning to the audience of greater conflict to come; it also leaves them in intense anticipation of the next act.
Eddie’s demise reaches it’s climax with the phoning of the Immigration Bureau. The importance of this event is shown by the lighting in the stage direction ‘The phone is glowing in light now’, remember that the telephone has been there since the beginning of the play, but has until now been hidden, or shrouded in darkness. In contacting the Bureau Eddie goes against the rules of his community and betrays his wife Beatrice and niece Catherine, Marco and Rodolpho’s confidence and unknowingly, the Liparis. This immense betrayal is rooted in the principles of classic Greek tragedy.
The final stage of a tragic play, called Catharsis, asks that the protagonist be made to suffer for his sins. In order to invoke Catharsis Eddie must be shown to have done something sufficiently dastardly, this scene achieves this. The audience at this point, in accordance with Aristotle, are feeling the emotions of pity and fear: pity, for we know that the lead character was somebody of initial virtue, and fear, because the protagonist is a representative figure, and the idea arises that we could befall the same fate. It is the mission of Catharsis, at the end of the play to rid us of these feelings, by achieving justice.
Justice and the law play an important part in ‘A View from the Bridge’ as Alfieri states at the opening ‘justice is very important here’. In Red Hook, a community of immigrants, justice and the law are two separate entities and the conflict between them runs throughout the play. For the most part they live by the Sicilian code of honour and not by the law of the land (Marco even finds it a ‘new idea’ when Alfieri says it is not dishonourable to promise not to kill man). What makes this play intriguing is that Eddie’s main crime (phoning the Immigration Bureau) is not illegal by the law of the land, but it is deplorable by the laws of the community. When he switches from one set of laws to the next Eddie is acting selfishly, taking advantage of both laws to serve his own ends. The result is catastrophe as he fails to satisfy either… Alfieri is correct when he states that it is better to ‘settle for half’ rather than try for too much.
The end of this play is deeply tragic, because it contains the traditional Catharsis. Aristotle states that the protagonist must be made to suffer for his crime in order to cleanse the audience of their feelings of pity and fear. In this play this is accomplished by stripping Eddie of all that he hold dearest: he looses Catherine, he looses his name and honour and he looses his respect, ‘only Beatrice is left’, soon even this is taken from him as he looses his very life. This extreme punishment fits perfectly with tragic ideals since, as Aristotle states, in a tragedy the punishment must be harsh, exceeding the crime.
Alfieri’s closing speech lends itself well to a Greek concept: that plays should not be pure entertainment, they should have an educational aspect. Alfieri’s statement that ‘we settle for half now and like it better.’ is a lesson in restraint, that compromise is better than the traditional Sicilian extremes. The final response of the audience is meant to mirror that of Alfieri. When Alfieri says that ‘something perversely pure calls to me from his memory’ and that he ‘mourns him with a certain… alarm’ what is implied is that Eddie’s purity lies in his truth, he exposed his feelings and was not conceited, and for this he mourns his passage. The cause for alarm is the result of this purity… it suggests that purity in the human soul leads to dilapidation, that the human soul is not inherently good, but rather, bad… and raises the tragic fear, that this could have been him, if only he were ‘purer’.
‘A View from the Bridge’ is a tragedy in the sense that it has tragic aspects to its plot, as outlined over the past few pages. In this play Arthur Miller has taken old principles and masterfully adapted them to 21st century life, in the process creating an entertaining tale full of intrigue that fascinates the mind and stirs the soul. In writing a modern tragedy that deviates so minutely from the ancient ideology Miller forces us to realise the greatest tragedy of all, that (however much we may pretend otherwise) the human soul and it’s vices are eternal, a fact that no amount of ‘settling for half’ can ever change.