Arthur Miller first heard the story of a Brooklyn longshoreman that would become the basis for his play, A View from the Bridge in 1947. He would not write it until 1955, when it was produced on Broadway as a simple, unadorned one-act. Miller would then develop and expand it into a full-length production with director Peter Brook in London in 1956. The incubation period of A View from the Bridge, spanning from 1947 to 1956, straddles and absorbs a host of major events both on the national landscape and in Miller’s own life. In his autobiography, Timebends: A Life, Arthur Miller defines the trajectory of this turbulent chapter of his life that began with his curiosity in a new longshoremen’s movement trying to clean up the corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront:
Out of it would come a movie script (never to be produced); a play, A View from the Bridge; and a trip to Hollywood, where I would meet an unknown young actress, Marilyn Monroe, and at the same time come into direct collision with the subterranean machine that enforced political blacklisting and the ideological disciplining of film writers, actors, and directors (149). Miller’s distillation of that period provides a convenient outline or a bounding set of markers guiding the search through the historical context of A View from the Bridge, as well as the personal and cultural influences at work on him. But before examining the details of Miller’s life, we should zoom out to a larger view of this period and the currents leading into the 1950’s to root our understanding in a broader context.
The economic depression of the 1930’s had a profound effect on Miller as he has intimated in his autobiography, but not solely for the pain of watching his family and community suffer. Growing up in the Depression meant a time “when it had been all but impossible to think of one’s fate apart from that of society” (Timebends 363). This is a belief that would stick with Miller and so many other working class men and women because it was linked to their survival. Through a series of economic depressions – 1870s, 1890s, and now the 1930s – the disenfranchised working class had latched onto the ideas of Marx, socialism, anarchism, and labor unions, all pointing toward solidarity and their collective power. Of course, the historic cycle is that such ideas would soon be squashed or watered-down and fed back to the public in an impotent form. There is some argument that FDR used the latter principle in his New Deal legislative reform policies. It was a principle that had been effective in Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive movement earlier in the century. If that is the case, it is a bit unclear whether or not the reinforcing spirit of the New Deal policies on working class beliefs was a good thing. By the 1950’s, the working class would be made to feel ashamed, afraid and guilty for their communist, socialist or even leftist tendencies. Indeed, anti-Soviet propaganda was only taking a hiatus during the New Deal and WWII, when it was necessary to mobilize the people against the Axis powers. Anti-Soviet propaganda always made good economic sense to the elite class ever since they discovered the benefits of U.S. expansionism.
In the 1890s, the technological advances that created such huge increases in production capabilities led to growing rumblings for foreign markets. Not all were suggesting aggression or conquest, but the businessmen of the day were not opposed to such avenues if they could be disguised as a more benevolent venture. Expansionist policies or even war could have a very strong appeal “if the expansion looked like an act of generosity – as in Cuba” (Zinn 301). The Spanish-American War was sold to the people as liberating Cuban rebels fighting for their freedom from Spanish conquerors. Ultimately, the U.S. became the conquerors - economic conquerors in Cuba, and outright annexations of Puerto Rico, the Hawaiian Islands, Guam and the Philippines. A highly effective formula...
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