The Theme of Betrayal in Arthur Miller's Play A View from the Bridge
‘A View from the Bridge’ is written by American playwright; Arthur Miller and was first staged on the 29th of September in 1955. It is set in 1950s America and is revolved around an American Italian family whom live in Brooklyn and dominate the central theme of betrayal as well as the infamous Law of Omerta. Throughout this essay, I will be studying the diverse ways betrayal is presented by the different characters and the theme of unrequited love.
The law of Omerta is first introduced into the story when Eddie and Beatrice tell Catherine the cautionary story of Bolzano who “snitched” on his uncle, an illegal immigrant, which foreshadowed Eddie’s betrayal towards Marco and Rodolfo. Beatrice’s claim that “The whole neighbourhood was cryin’” depicts how snitching is not to be tolerated in their society and is a betrayal towards the whole community as Bolzano broke the Code of Silence which dictated the disassociation with authorities and exposed him to be a coward for not dealing with the problem independently. Eddie also eventually betrayed himself as he went against his strict views on the notion of snitching and staying loyal as well as going against his own advice of “keeping (his) mouth shut”. Even though the play constantly raises the question of whether the law plays a strong part in the Red Hook community, the fact that the play is being guided by a lawyer, Alfieri, highlights that issues of law and justice have a central importance. Alfieri even mentions in his opening speech that “Justice is very important here” as he explains the previous trades of “Al Capone” and the death of “Frankie Yale”, which infers how Red Hook was previously corrupt and how he himself felt vulnerable and had to keep a “pistol in the filing cabinet”. Although he claims that now people are more “civilised” and “settle for the half”, his constant references to Sicily and the Roman Empire foreshadows that the peace will eventually be disrupted and there will be “bloody” events to come that lawyers will be “powerless” to prevent.
Another form of betrayal is Eddie’s betrayal of Catherine as an uncle and father figure. Eddie’s love for Catherine is hard to analyse as the audience is unsure if he is acting as a fatherly figure or on his incestuous desire. At the start of the play, Eddie interrogates her with multiple questions based on her appearance in an accusatory tone such as “Where are you goin’ all dressed up?” and “What happened to your hair?” which shows an underlying suggestion of him appreciating her aesthetics as he notices subtle changes to her appearance. Furthermore, the use of the imperative “turn around” and constant use of second person pronouns highlights his control and overprotective behaviour over her. Eddie’s body language and disjointed sentences also reflect how he is struggling to control his emotions. He is described to be “somehow sickened” when hearing about Catherine’s job opportunity and the word “somehow” suggests that there is no logical reason for him to feel this way as the word is vague which can suggest that he is confused about his feelings towards Catherine. The emotive word “sickened” suggests his unnatural love for his niece and how it goes beyond protective feelings that would be expected of an uncle further emphasizing his betrayal towards his parental role.
Eddie’s incestuous love for Catherine leads to his betrayal of Beatrice as his wife. Beatrice is aware of Eddie’s feelings towards Catherine and constantly hints that “she’s seventeen years old” and emphasizes that Catherine can’t be his forever as she constantly asks rhetorical questions such as “you gonna keep her in the house all her life?” to make Eddie contemplate about his actions and emphasize how it’s wrong.
Eddie’s body language towards his wife portrays how he really wants her to be out of the picture as he constantly dismisses her by “turning his head away” when she tries to reason with him or is described to be “strangely and quickly resentful” which highlights the tension between the couple and juxtaposes the natural, affectionate and close relationship Eddie has with Catherine. Miller’s use of Beatrice as a background character reflects how Eddie treats her as he always puts Catherine as his priority. At a significant point in the play, Catherine emerges “from the bedroom” with Eddie’s cigar lights it for him. This scene is a phallic symbol as it is acted as a highly sexualised scene in other productions and is highly significant that during this intimate moment, Beatrice is in the background “clearing the dishes away”. Beatrice is given the dutiful role of a domestic wife and is an outsider to their intimate reaction which makes her a sympathetic character. Eddie’s comparison of “Madonna” to Catherine further highlights the juxtaposition between the aunt and niece. Eddie’s use of religious imagery suggests idolisation and religious worship towards Catherine and again shows the strong contrast to how he seems to regards his wife.
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