‘A View from the Bridge’ is a play written by Arthur Miller. Miller’s inspiration for this play is close to his heart. He grew up in New York City; his parents were illegal immigrants into the United States looking for work. Alfieri is a key component, not only is he a character he is also a narrator. He acts as a chorus to the play and an aid to the audience.
Alfieri plays many small roles to combine and create a depth and understanding to the play such as the connection to the title of the play, how he is utilises time-switches and the effectiveness of them, how he behaves as a chorus of the Greek tragedies and how he is an aid to elevate Eddie’s position to that of a tragic hero. Also how Miller applies Alfieri to use both monologue(narrator) and dialogue effectively. The title ‘A View from the Bridge’ suggests that someone is looking down on both communities to seek a higher meaning from this viewpoint.
Allfieri is metaphorically standing on the bridge attempting to merge American law with Italian cultural practises. However, he is a man of the law as was clearly shown to us in the opening speech, for example, ‘A lawyer means the law, and in Sicily, from where their fathers came, the law has not been a friendly idea’. This conveys that Alfieri is American-Italian who tries to undertake the task of negotiating a place between the two. It is very apparent when Eddie says (when talking about Rodolfo) ‘Yeah, but if he ain’t right, Mr Alfieri, you mean to tell me-‘ and Alfieri replies ‘There is nothing you can do, Eddie, believe me. This shows that he is abiding by American law however there is something Eddie could have done. He could have turned Rodolfo into the Immigration Bureau but it is a tribal loyalty that a member of the Sicilian family could not do that and it would not be acceptable.
This is a perfect example of the merge between American legal statutes and Sicilian family and tribal loyalties. Alfieri narrates the story from the present looking back at what has already happened. This leverage point gives him the same overview as if one was looking down from the bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge represents a symbol of the extent of difference between ivilisations. It measures from Brooklyn, Red Hook neighbourhoods brimming full with labourers and immigrants with the ‘worldly-wise’ Manhattan, presently populated by bankers, financiers and others of high social status. Alfieri is the character and narrator whose function it is to portray this and that is his link to the title of the play. Miller uses Alfieri’s character to move on time. A quotation from the text is: “On the twenty third of that December…” This indicates that Alfieri is effectively moving time because in life it is not always fast pace and interesting.
Alfieri has moved on time to prevent the play from getting boring and losing the captured mood of the audience. This is one of Arthur Miller’s uses of Alfieri as a dramatic device. Throughout the play the time is moved on, this establishes to the audience an event is about to occur as the assumption can be made that Alfieri has skipped to this moment in time for a purpose. This creates tension and anxiety as to what may happen next, however, Miller does not let your mind wander, he delves deep into action quickly to keep the mood and the atmosphere of the audience.
The time-switches have a significant effect, they go from the action of the play to juxtaposing Alfieri’s thoughts and the more emotional calm moments of the play. Allowing the audience to link up what is happening during the action packed parts of the play to the much calmer and reflective parts. The audience is aided to comprehend the deeper themes of the play and then challenged to make a judgement. Alfieri is also shown as a friend, who gives truthful advice.
Eddie visits Alfieri for legal advice, Eddie knows that his feelings and remarks will be kept confidential because not only do they have the bond of family friendship, Alfieri is also a well respected lawyer. He takes on a dual role of the lawyer and commentator. He alerts Eddie that he ‘won’t have a friend in the world’ if he keeps pushing the boundaries, he already knows Eddie’s tragedy is inevitable and builds a sense of foreshadowing. Miller has three purposes in this scene for Alfieri: to reveal the acceptance of Eddie’s feelings towards Catherine, to convey how it might affect Beatrice and to be the voice of reasoning.
He bluntly tells Eddie that there is no positive way out. When Eddie implies he may have feelings for Catherine Alfieri is already aware and implies that this will be his fatal flaw. ‘he never realises it, but though the years-there is too much love for the daughter, there is too much love for the niece’. This explicitly tells Eddie to let the feelings go, Alfieri is conscious about the fact Eddie does have strong feelings towards Catherine and he is also a perceptive character which Eddie is not, but Alfieri is alert that this will be Eddie’s downfall.
During Eddie’s confession time he confides his fear that Rodolpho is homosexual and is pretending to love Catherine as an opportunity to obtain a green card. Eddie says ‘He’s stealing from me! ’ and ‘it’s breakin’ my heart’. This really allows the audience to feel the intensity of the frustration Eddie feels. The scenes have now created a cathartic effect because the tension has been released now that Eddie’s feelings are in the open from the audience’s view. A further outlook on Alfieri is his behavior, similar to that of the chorus of the Greek tragedies; he narrates, comments and sometimes participates in the play.
When Athens was the theatre capital of the world, it was the chorus’s job to aid the audience in collecting evidence to make a final judgment. Alfieri’s many roles are all spoken in a different language to the other characters. All of the characters talk in New York slang the exception being Alfieri who talks in formal English. He is obviously well educated, and through his use of spelling and grammar Alfieri sets himself apart, a well-represented outsider. Every time a scene ends Alfieri makes a conclusion and creates implications for the audience to infer.
A great example of this is in his first speech when he comments ‘Frankie Yale was cut precisely in half by a machine gun on the corner of Union Street, two blocks away’. By doing this it allows the audience to imagine what it is like. Miller uses strong words, which forces the audience to be more affected by the impact. He connects the play with social implications. This makes Alfieri a unique component in creating the plot. Alfieri is created as a narrator to offer ideas to the audience to set them thinking about the main message of the play and to explicitly show the main themes.
Another example where Alfieri is hinting to the audience is when he says ‘humans must act as half or restrain some of our instinctual needs or wants for reason’. If Alfieri had not stated that then it may be even more ambiguous to the audience that Eddie cannot control his feelings for his niece and anger towards Rodolpho. Alfieri is the feeder of information to the audience so when Eddie eventually commits his crime, the audience have evidence and understanding to make a judgment of their own. Furthermore Alfieri is an aid to elevate Eddie’s position to that of a tragic hero.
A tragic hero is a man or a woman of great importance and distinguished personality traits and crashes into a disaster of his own personal faults and other aspects around him in which he cannot control. In this case the love between Catherine and Rodolpho or even just the fact Catherine is growing up and Eddie finds it hard to let go because of his intensive feelings for her. The tragic hero was invented by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, he said the tragic hero is one who “is neither villainous or exceptionally virtuous, moving from great happiness to great sadness and misery through some frailty or error in judgment”.
A tragic hero is classed as neither good nor bad and can be disputed, however, he has a fatal flaw, but he only realizes it when it is too late and the damage has already been done. Miller uses Alfieri once more to predict the outcome of tragedy, ‘To meet a lawyer on the street is unlucky. We’re only thought of in connection with disasters’. Alfieri predicts the outcome of a violent ending, “and watched it run its bloody course”. These are all examples of foreshadowing implying that something bad is going to happen.
This is used because Alfieri is pre-warning the audience of what is to come so they can stop exploring in their own minds what might happen and concentrate on the play to receive the main message. Alfieri is used by Miller to fully emphasise the idea of fate and that his destiny was to die, the sense of having no control reflects the audience’s failure to prevent what is already going to happen. This sense of helplessness amplifies Eddie’s suffering and the overall sense of tragedy. This is made credible by the end of the play, as the audience can comprehend the things Eddie cannot: his love for Catherine and Beatrice’s desolation and envy.
Overall I feel that Alfieri’s dramatic function is to frame the play. He is the aid to the audience that gives them a better insight into what the characters are feeling. This is one way he allows us to delve deeper. He is a lawyer meaning he is confidential and when Eddie goes to Alfieri it is almost as if the character Eddie feels safe to free his emotions and feelings which gives us more information, therefore making it easier to create a judgment. Another way in which he does this is he will be the transition from one scene to the next.
He creates a summary of events and Miller utilises him as a narrator for foreshadowing and implications that we consciously arrange. Alfieri’s closing speech is Miller’s final view on human nature and instinct. Human nature is to be greedy and to want the best for yourself and when things do not go your way you either fight or flight, in this case Eddie’s instinct was to fight. I feel that Alfieri’s main dramatic function was to convey the main themes of the play and emphasise the other messages imbedded in the subtext of the underlying layers of the play and make them more apparent.