Arthur Miller was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee to name names of communist sympathizers in 1956, the height of the McCarthy Era. Miller refused to do so and was heralded by the arts community for his strength of conviction and loyalty. In 1957, Miller was charged with contempt, a ruling later reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Miller, like Eddie Carbone, was faced with the problem of choosing to be American or not, specifically by naming names of people who were doing (what were considered then) unlawful acts. Miller's own struggle with this issue is very present in A View from the Bridge. Unlike Eddie Carbone, Miller chose to be loyal to his fellow artists, but like Carbone, Miller went against the cultural consensus at the time. Miller, in the play, has reversed the scene—rather than the mass culture supporting the extrication of possible communists, Miller chose to script a community that accepted and protected unlawful people. The consequences and eventual repercussions of naming names, for Eddie Carbone, are drastic. Miller used this play to strongly condemn the McCarthy trials and those who named the names of innocent artists.
The irrational human animal
Eddie looses control of his actions in the play. Driven and possessed by incestuous love for his niece, Eddie resorts to desperate measures to protect his identity and name in the community. Alfieri's commentary often remarks on this theme. Alfieri seems constantly amazed by Eddie's actions and his own reactions to the events of the play. Alfieri sees his own irrational thinking, just as he recognizes Eddie's irrational behavior. Irrationality is also how Alfieri defines acting wholly. The human animal becomes irrational when he acts fully on his instincts—just as Eddie does in the play. Alfieri proposes that humans must act as a half, or restrain some of our instinctual needs or wants for reason. Nonetheless, Alfieri still admires the irrational—the unleashed human spirit that reacts as it will.
Allegiance to community law
There is great conflict between community and American law in the play. The community abides by Sicilian-American customs protects illegal immigrants within their homes, values respect and family, is hard working and know the shipping culture, has strong associations with names, believes in trust and wants revenge when a member has been wronged. Some of these values, however, come in conflict with those of the American system of justice. Eddie Carbone chooses to turn against his community and abide by the state laws. He looses the respect of his community and friends—the name and personal identity he treasures. Eddie Carbone, with a stronger allegiance to the community, reverts back to another custom of Sicilian-Americans: revenge. Not only is Eddie pulled back to the values of his community, but the final victor of the play is symbolic of community values—the Italian, Marco. Thus, the small community is stronger than American law.
More main ideas from A View from the Bridge
A View from the Bridge tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman, whose incestuous love for his niece drives him to his own destruction. Playwright Arthur Miller first heard the story while doing research in Red Hook, Brooklyn for a totally different project. It wasn't even a play. The celebrated director, Elia Kazan, Miller's long time friend and collaborator, had hired Miller to write a screenplay. It was to be called The Hook, and was supposed to expose all the corruption going down in the docks of Red Hook. It was a bad scene – evil mob bosses, corrupt union leaders, you name it. Miller didn't end up writing the screenplay, though, because his arch nemesis, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), led by Senator Joe McCarthy, pressured Columbia Pictures to turn the evil mob bosses into evil communists. Miller said, heck no, and quit the project. Kazan ended up going ahead with a different screenwriter. The film became the famous On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando. (Learn more here.)
HUAC actually caused a lot more trouble for Miller. He was called before the committee and asked to name names of suspected communists. He refused and has been lauded by the artistic community ever since. Kazan was called too, but unlike Miller, he named names when asked to do so. This caused a major falling out between the two. They didn't work together again for many years after that.
Some say that Miller and Kazan are metaphorically fighting it out with A View from the Bridge and On the Waterfront. In Miller's play the protagonist, Eddie, chooses to call Immigration on his wife's illegal cousins. He's reviled for this naming of names just like Kazan. In On the Waterfront, though, Marlon Brando's character, a dock worker like Eddie, ends up blowing a whistle on all the corruption. Unlike Eddie, when he names names he's viewed as a hero. Coincidence? We think not. If you want to learn more about the notorious HUAC check out Shmoop History's "Cold War: McCarthyism & Red Scare." For more information on Arthur Miller and his views on the HUAC, take a look at Shmoop's guide to Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
Catherine is a beautiful seventeen-year-old. She's kind and sweet. Catherine's uncle, Eddie, is probably one of the most overprotective father figures in the history of American drama. He's stubborn and aggressive. He tries to control everything about her life.
Have you ever felt like your parents were a bit overprotective? Maybe they gave you a ridiculously early curfew. Maybe they disapproved of the person you were dating. Did you ever feel like they were afraid to let go? If any of this sounds even vaguely familiar, you'd have a little something to talk about with Catherine from A View from the Bridge.