A View from the Bridge: Study Guide

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A View from the Bridge
Study Guide

A short history of the play
A View from the Bridge has an unusually complicated performance history. It was originally a screenplay called The Hook, written by Miller with assistance from Elia Kazan, who had previously directed the playwright's All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. The script, dealing as it then did with "waterfront corruption and graft" was eventually withdrawn by Miller in response to the Hollywood studio's complaints that it was un-American (this was, of course, the age of McCarthy - the early 1950s). The Hook's basic themes would nonetheless resurface in Kazan's 1954 film, On the Waterfront. Inspired now by the true story of a Brooklyn dockworker who informed on two illegal immigrants, Miller reconceived The Hook as A View from the Bridge. The play, a one-act verse drama, was a mild failure on Broadway in 1955; critics found its austere style uninvolving. Miller had wanted to create a play that would simply tell the tale he himself has heard, with no attempt to gain audience sympathy for Eddie's - or anyone else's - plight. Consequently, nothing was allowed onstage that did not directly contribute to the action. But Miller ultimately found that he had created a cold play, rather than a fascinating and suspenseful one. In 1956, A View from the Bridge was revised for a new London production. The verse became prose, the length was expanded to two acts, and the characters were allowed to speak more - thus becoming more human and more sympathetic. While we may not identify with the Eddie Carbone of the final version, we are better able to understand what motivates him and therefore to sympathize with his basic dilemma: how to "let go" of the niece he has raised and loved as a daughter. As Miller writes in his introduction to the published revision, "Eddie Carbone is still not a man to weep over...But it is more possible now to relate his actions to our own and thus to understand ourselves a little better, not only as isolated psychological entities, but as we connect to our fellows and our long past together."

Eddie Carbone, a representative type
Western drama originates in the Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, all of whom wrote in Athens in the 5th century B.C. Drama, theatre, actor and tragedy are all Greek words. In these plays the tragic hero or protagonist (=first or most important actor) commits an offence, often unknowingly. He must then learn his fault, suffer and perhaps die. In this way, the gods are vindicated and the moral order of the universe restored. (This is a gross simplification of an enormous subject.) These plays, and those of Shakespeare two thousand years later, are about kings, dukes or great generals. Why? Because in their day, these individuals were thought to embody or represent the whole people. Nowadays, we do not see even kings in this way. When writers want to show a person who represents a nation or class, they typically invent a fictitious "ordinary" person, the Man in the Street or Joe Public. In Eddie Carbone, Miller creates just such a representative type. He is a very ordinary man, decent, hard-working and charitable, a man no-one could dislike. But, like the protagonist of the ancient drama, he has a flaw or weakness. This, in turn, causes him to act wrongly. The consequences, social and psychological, of his wrong action destroy him. The chorus figure, Alfieri, then explains why it is better to "be civilised" and "settle for half", thus restoring the normal moral order of the universe. If Eddie is meant to represent everyman, does this mean that Miller believes all men love their nieces (those who have nieces)? Of course not. What Miller does suggest is that we have basic impulses, which civilisation has seen as harmful to society, and taught us to control. We have self-destructive urges, too, but normally we deny these. Eddie does not really understand his improper desire, and thus is unable to hide it...
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