Everything Apart From Coloured Leg Warmers

Friday, November 03, 2006

my essay *tadah*

here's my essay:

Does Arthur Miller fail in his indictment of American political policy to intervene in the lives of citizens regarding their choices? Base your answer on Eddie’s betrayal of Rodolpho considering Eddie a representative of the law.

“A View From The Bridge” is a play set between the early and the mid twentieth century and it follows the lives of an Italian family living in an Italian-dominated community in Brooklyn during the time when McCarthyism was most prominent. McCarthyism describes the period in American history (roughly spanning from the late 1940s to the 1950s) during which there was intense anti-communist suspicion. Senator Joseph McCarthy, an extreme rightist, encouraged the aggressive investigations and questioning of any citizen upon whom the slightest suspicion (about having leftist associations or beliefs) had been cast. During this time, the phrase “guilty until proven innocent” seems most apt as suspicions were often given legitimacy despite inconclusive and shaky evidence. McCarthy tried his best to suppress freedom of expression and he urged people to expose communists even if they were their friends. Miller fought passionately against McCarthy and even served time in jail as he believed that people used McCarthy’s warped ideas of ‘patriotism’ to serve their own ulterior motives for betraying others.
In, “A View From The Bridge,” Miller uses Eddie Carbone as a representative of the law and shows him betraying his wife’s cousins (who were illegal immigrants from Sicily) because he is jealous of one of the brothers (Rodolpho) to exemplify his beliefs. The play is based on an actual even witnessed by Miller where a longshoreman handed over his relatives to the Immigration Bureau as a way of preventing a marriage between on of the brothers and his niece. The community scorned and then ostracized the man and after his disappearance it was rumored that he was killed by one of the brothers. Miller translated this story into a one-act drama, but his original script was poorly received because of its “coldness” and “lack of human emotion”. The rewritten version, which was more popular, increases the roundness of the female characters and adds a more human touch to Eddie. Therefore, at the end of this process, if Miller wished the audience to feel hatred towards Eddie as he embodies the evils of McCarthyism, then I feel he fails as the strong psychological undercurrents revolving around sexual and platonic relationships partially divert our attention from the legal and political aspects. The audience find themselves empathizing with Eddie instead of loathing him and the law.
Miller himself called by the government to name names of leftist sympathizers in 1956 and he refused to do so. By doing so he was honored by the artist community for his strength and loyalty. Unlike Eddie, Miller chose loyalty but like Eddie, he went against the community’s beliefs. In his drama, Miller reversed the scene, making the community supportive of the unlawful cousins. The drastic consequences and repercussions Eddie faced after betraying Rodolpho and Marco was a tool employed by Miller to condemn McCarthy trials and those who betrayed innocent people. I feel Miller failed in this intent because according to the law, Eddie had every right to alert the authorities as illegal immigration is a legitimate national crime even today. Eddie Carbone's suppressed feelings for his niece and rage at (and perhaps desire for) the newcomer who seems to have won her heart have little or nothing to do with the complex political situation existing in America during that time. At the height of McCarthyism, people took advantage of the unjust law to achieve their means. Here Eddie isn’t taking advantage of an unfair law per say. Therefore, the “unfairness” of Marco and Rodolpho’s arrest isn’t as impacting as it would have been if their arrest had been to suppress freedom of expression, for example.
Eddie is also painted as a very full character and we can’t bring ourselves to see him as being “bad”. He is confused by his sexual orientation. He extends a kind of incestuous affection towards Catherine, which stems from his over-protective nature. For example, when Catherine first appears, the stage directions say, “Eddie is pleased (after seeing Catherine) and therefore is shy about it” and after that he dives into an argument during which he chastises Catherine for her short skirts and “wavy walk”. This exchange betrays his over protective personality but not his incestuous feelings. As the play carries on and Eddie grows more and more agitated with Catharine’s relationship with Rodolpho, the latter starts getting confirmed. This relationship is climaxed when Eddie, in a drunken state, kisses Catherine. Whenever confronted with this, however, Eddie gets extremely upset. Therefore, in his personally constructed reality, Eddie believes that what he is doing is right and for Catherine’s own good. Seeing these complex emotions and the poor emotional state which washes over Eddie, (Alfieri always describes him as having ‘hollow, black and tunnel-like’ eyes) the audience cannot help but feel pity after his eventual demise.
Eddie’s suspicions of Rodolpho being gay and only marrying Catherine to become an American citizen aren’t completely unjustified. The stereotypes of a homosexual man are extremely prevalent in the text as Rodolpho sings, cooks and sews a dress for Catherine. Louis and Mike, when talking about Rodolpho, clearly think there is something wrong with him and Eddie speaks directly to Alfieri about the specific things that bother him about Rodolpho. The audience is never sure about Rodolpho’s sexuality, but we definitely question it. Also when Catherine asks Rodolpho whether he would still marry her if they moved to Italy, he is extremely evasive with his answer and gets angry, finally shouting, “No; I will not marry you to live in Italy. I want you to be my wife and I want to be a citizen.” The audience might therefore be able to understand Eddie’s reservations about Rodolpho and why he is so against the marriage.
As the play isn’t directly connected to McCarthyism or even to the spirit of arresting people on unfair grounds, I feel Miller doesn’t bring out the totalitarian aspects of the anti-communist society. The play is instead, a deep exploration of human emotions and behavior and it really delves deep into motives and intentions. Miller’s hatred for McCarthyism is better brought out in his other play, “The Crucible” which is about the Salem With Trials, a period of time where again people were arrested, condemned and executed on unfair and un-scientific grounds. Eddie’s betrayal, on the other hand, in no way embodies the betrayals characteristic during the era of McCarthyism because even though he did it for his personal reasons, both the Italian brothers were doing something legitimately illegal and their arrest had solid bases. Though Carbone is ultimately wrong in what he does, because of the way his multi-layered character is built up, we find the husky longshoreman slowly worming his way into our hearts and therefore we feel strongly for him when he dies, stabbed, at Beatrice’s feet, just a poor lonely man with latent feelings of incest and homosexuality which he tried so hard to suppress that it eventually ended up killing him.


mr.koshy's comments:
although you have argued powerfully for eddie - i feel your backing argunments aren't solid enough - miller does make eddie look in the wrong - i for one do not sympathise with handing over relatives even if they are immigrants who are "illegal" - to this extent eddie is a typical mccarthyist, using the law for his ends although the law is clearly on his side - where miller defeats himself is not in the mistakes eddie makes - like mistaking rodolpho as gay - but in making eddie a character who finally " lets himself be known purely/fully" - as someone who loved catherine so much that he thought it was better that this love destroyed him completely than that he live facing a reality in which his love would end up being permanently counted as hatred/evil.destructive/betrayal etc...

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