The Significance Of Law In Arthur Miller’s Tragedy A View From The Bridge
This essay is going to explore the significance of law in Arthur Miller’s tragedy, A View From The bridge. The play is set in an Italian-American neighborhood near the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1950s America. There are many types of law presented in the play, in different situations, and by different characters, like the written law, community law or Italian law. All of these contrast with each other in various ways, as one of the Italian Mafia’s priorities is revenge, while the actual law is more objective.
Alfieri, a social class lawyer, is portrayed as the chorus of the tragedy. At the beginning, Alfieri opens the play with a monologue making connections between Ancient Rome and the United States, which suggests that human problems (that require law for fixing) never change over time. The quote, “The thought comes that in some Caesar’s year, in Calabria perhaps or on the cliff at Syracuse, another lawyer, quite differently dressed, heard the same complaint and sat there as powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody course.” The quote suggests that in a part of Italy, a very long time ago, there was a lawyer who was being told the same complaint as Alfieri, which shows that human problems are and will be the same, even if time goes on. Moreover, he makes a connection between himself and all Italian immigrants to the Roman empire, and it suggests that all Italians are and were part of it. Since the beginning the audience can perceive how important community is for these Italian immigrants, as they still feel they belong to a group that existed thousands of years ago.
Alfieri talks about Italian lawbreakers and gangsters that were part of Mafias, who died in gun encounters. This is shown by the quote,“In those days, Al Capone, the greatest Carthaginian of all, was learning his trade on these pavements, and Frankie Yale himself was cut precisely in half by a machine gun on the corner of Union Street, two blocks away”,
Frankie Yale was a Brooklyn gangster. He was Al Capone’s chief, where Al Capone took all of his influences from whom he set up his own gang. He uses the word “Carthaginian” in order to describe Al Capone. Carthage was a very powerful and strong city, but then was conquered by the Roman Empire. This way of describing him means that Al Capone became very strong and started building his own “kingdom” but was beaten, as he was put in jail in the 1940s. This may be a comparison linking the Roman empire with the police and Carthage with Al Capone, as Al Capone was defeated by the police, and Carthage, which represents Al Capone, was defeated by Rome. This shows that Miller had a small admiration for him, probably because he started as no one and worked hard to be someone important, although he did not agree with his ferocious way of killing people and his bloodthirstiness. The fact that Miller presents this admiration towards Alfieri, who is a lawyer, builds up a contrast to the written law, as lawyers are meant to practice or study the law, which was continuously broken by Al Capone.
Furthermore, Alfieri then says,”Oh, there were many who were justly shot by unjust men.” This quote seems like an oxymoron, as it is saying that some people did the right thing but they had to pay for it. This quote is divided in two parts, the first one, “Justly shot,” represents Italy, as that is how people solve their problems there. The place is full of Mafia’s who continuously fight in skirmishes to get revenge over the inadequate people. The second part “…by unjust men” is the representation of America, as in Italy, these people could get away with the killing, but in America, they could not, as there was an actual written and more advanced law, which did not take into account any moral issues.
Moreover, the quote, “But this is Red Hook, not Sicily. This is the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world. And now we are quite civilized, quite American.” shows that the bridge in the play links New York and the rest of the world, and the neighborhood, representing the fusion between the traditional and modern Italy. Red hook is more civilized, with law, while Sicily is more primitive, as shown by Marco. However, ironically, Eddie is sometimes more Sicilian than American, if we refer to his character, for example, he hates that American law can do nothing for him, and he insists on getting his “name” and reputation back from Marco, which is one of the most important things in Italy, and in the neighborhood, reputation is taken into account massively, it is part of the community law. It is clear that in certain cases, he prefers the Italian law, which is more primitive. This shows a contrast in Eddie’s personality, as he is an American-Italian, living quite a modern life, but in terms of law and justice, he is more basic.
In addition, Eddie breaks the community law between the Italian neighborhood by reporting Marco to the authorities. Marco, furious, pursues to find revenge on Eddie. Shown by the quote, “In my country he would be dead now.” This shows how different the old world (back in Italy) is, compared to the new world (America), hence the differences in the law, as the quote shows that in Italy, family and community are more important than the written law, which is the opposite in America. The word “dead” makes a link to the Italian Mafias and suggests that in Italy, this community crime would have resulted in death. Moreover, in the quote “The law? The law is not in a book,” Marco sees that the American law is somewhat useless. To Marco; Eddie has acted dishonestly and unjustly towards him, therefore he thinks it is natural that he should go after Eddie to punish him without even involving the legal authorities, as they would do back in Italy. The audience’s sympathy for Marco convert to fear, due to his furious character. However, in Italy, this would have been seen as a normal thing to do. This again shows the contrast between the two types of law, and this is reflected in their characters.
Finally, community law is met, as Eddie, presented as a tragic hero, dies due to his mistake and his breaking of family law. Furthermore, law is also imposed and presented by Eddie, as he is continuously prohibiting Catherine to wear certain types of clothes or giving her orders. The quote, “You’re the Madonna type,” shows Eddie is overly compassionate but suddenly, this changes into distress and rage when he knows about Catherine getting a job, as he cannot imagine what it would be like if Catherine went away, he thinks she belongs to him. Moreover, he encourages her to walk and dress in a certain way. This comment becomes more arguable and controversial, as he is infantilizing her. He is like her guardian who tells her what to do. Also, the quote, “I don’t know… he was just humorous,” shows that Eddie believes Rodolpho is a homosexual, even though he isn’t. He does this, because he doesn’t want to admit that Catherine is becoming a woman, and that someone else is taking her away from him. He cannot believe he will not be able to control her anymore, and that he would not longer mean the law for her. This also shows, that family is taken extremely seriously in Italian houses. Moreover, Eddie questions Rodolpho’s sexuality and masculinity various times. As shown by the quote “I’m ashamed now, they call him Paper doll. Now Blondie!” This quote again shows Eddie’s jealousy towards Rodolpho. The audience may think this comment belongs to a person with a basic cultural background, however, Italians at that time seemed okay with it, as being homosexual was a shame, and against the community and even written law, in Italy. This shows the different rules in both America’s modern culture, and Italy’s closed-minded culture.
Finally, law is also presented as family and community. “You won’t have a friend in the world, Eddie! Even those who understand will turn against you, even the ones who feel the same will despise you!” This quote enclosures the problem with Eddie’s choice to turn the cousins in to Immigration, and to the extent to which Eddie’s obsession has taken over. First, it may be the legal thing to do to turn over illegal immigrants to the authorities, but it violates the policies and norms of the community. This builds contrast as the Italians in Red Hook are like family, they only have each other as they work and fight and try to save out a living. They have to work together and look out for each other because life is difficult. It does not matter what personal wrong Eddie he has suffered, he should not have turned them in. Also, the fact that Eddie has even gotten to the point where he is considering this shows how frustrated and perplexed he is with how his life is getting out of control. His path is laid before him; destruction is imminent, as he is a tragic hero.
In conclusion, I think law is a very important theme in Miller’s play, and it is presented in different ways, through different characters. The most important law presented is community law, and it is like Miller is trying to send the audience a message to let them know family is more important than anything.