A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller
This week my elder daughter got her A' Level results and wow did she nail them. I picked up this copy of Miller's play from the books she left behind and found scribbled notes in the margins and passages highlighted in neon pink. Reading and analysing texts is a skill we rarely use outside of academia, so following my daughter's thought processes and adding my own (perhaps more mature and worldly thoughts) in the process I decided to read this discarded text as if I was studying it for college. It isn't as natural as I remember it being at school and I found myself embroiled in the story rather than identifying the devices used by the author. Of course one reading is never enough to delve below the surface of a text, I relearned that lesson at least. The following discussion is probably more a review with spoilers than a literary analysis.
Many of us look at the mass incarceration and deportation of economic immigrants and asylum seekers today in horror, not only in America and the UK, but across Europe. Arthur Miller's play illustrates that there is nothing new in what is happening. Only the countries of origin of those affected have changed.
"A View from the Bridge" deals with the Italian and Italian American community in Brooklyn, NY. To provide for his family in Italy - Marco, and to build a more affluent future for himself - Rodolpho, two brothers arrive illegally in Eddie and Beatrice's home. While welcomed as family at first, tensions rise when Eddie's niece, Catherine, and Rodolpho develop romantic feelings for each other. Eddie's jealousy overcomes both familial and community loyalty. He attempts to justify his dislike by finding flaws in the young Rodolpho, a less masculine man in Eddie's eyes and thus unworthy and untrustworthy. Eddie believes Rodolpho is gay and using Catherine as a way to achieve American citizenship. He uses every trait, from Rodolpho's singing to his hair colour, as evidence to prove true his feeling that "he ain't right".
There is an underlying suggestion of an incestuous bond between Eddie and his niece, emotionally rather than physically, a desire rather than an act. Eddie is desperate to keep Catherine with him forever, and Catherine fails to learn the expected modesty as she grows into a woman, acting in ways with Eddie that Beatrice (Eddie's wife) interprets as flirtatious and provocative. With no outlet outside the home, Catherine's developing sexuality becomes problematic, but Eddie only recognises this when it is turned away from him and towards Rodolpho. And instead of relief he feels jealous - "He's stealing from me!" When Eddie complains that his wife's attitude towards him has changed is he really complaining about losing Catherine's adoration?
In desperation Eddie does something unforgivable, so underhanded and low that he is unable to admit it to his family and community and dies trying to deny fault. We don't know what happens to the family after the tragic conclusion. When Eddie's story ends so does the play.
The question of what is right versus what is legal arches over the story like the bridge of the title. Lives are lived out and lost in its shadows.