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Justice and Law in "A View from the Bridge" by Arthur Miller

By Ninarimsky Nov 13, 2014 2343 Words
Justice in A View from the Bridge: “Most of the time now we just settle for half” NINA: Introduction
We are discussing Justice, a central theme of Arthur Miller’s play ‘A View from the Bridge’. In addition to investigating how justice is portrayed and laws navigated in the play itself, it is also important to look into the relevance of the themes to us in our lives today. NINA: Institutional law

The need for institutional law is extremely clear in any functioning society. Its role is to maintain public security and ensure that the societal system is not abused. Contrastingly, moral law is at first glance less objective, as it is based on one’s personal beliefs. However, there are clear cases when institutional law is itself morally flawed. A striking example is the Nazi regime in Germany, when anti-Semitism and many horrendous acts were deemed not only lawful, but also obligatory. However, other examples can be subtler and more subjective. Arthur Miller himself had a negative experience with the law, having been betrayed by close friend Elia Kazan to the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as a communists during the anti-communist witchhunt in the 1950s. ELLIE: More on HUAC and how it affected Miller’s attitude to Justice Arthur Miller was charged with contempt by the HUAC in 1956 and had to attend trials. He was faced with the decision, abide by the law, or accept community justice and not evince his friends and family for having communist beliefs. The trials that Miller was involved in were called the ‘McCarthy trials’.

[McCarthyism means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict political criticism.]

A view from The Bridge criticizes those that Arthur Miller knew who ‘ratted out’ their friends during the McCarthy trials. Eddie embodies Miller’s own struggles, and the decisions that Miller had to make. Both men had to choose between obedience to family or obedience to the law, however there is one major difference between their stories. Eddie Carbone ends up betraying his family and going against his habitual moral beliefs. We know this as at the beginning of the story Eddie talks about Vinny Bolzano, and how he betrayed his family, and the consequences that he had to face. He uses this story to teach Catherine a lesson, but in the end we are shown that it is him who really needed the lesson. Arthur Miller however, stayed true to his family and their beliefs, avoiding betrayal and heartache.

JUSTINE: Law vs Justice
In his prologue, Alfieri notes that lawyers in ancient times, as well as in modern times, were unable to prevent events running their ‘bloody course’. This urges us to question the actual power and influence of the law. Often the law itself as it stands is incapable of delivering justice. Alfieri believes that it is best to ‘settle for half’: it is better to rely on written law as far as possible and accept it even when you are only half satisfied. The written law may not always act in favour of justice yet Alfieri believes it is better to follow the law than to take it into your own hands. We see that when Eddie betrays Marco and Rodolpho, there is no law to punish Eddie so Marco takes the law into his own hands. The play ends with a fight to the death. Alfieri reiterates his beliefs at the end of the play: ‘Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better.’ Alfieri values the law more than justice, he sees that when people go against the law to assert justice it can lead to deadly conflict. IZZY

Marco and Rodolfo, coming from Italy, are not so used to the customs and the way the law is treated in America. Although they are staying in an Italian neighbourhood, and the Carbones are Italian, parts of the American culture have been adopted in order for the neighbourhood to adapt and fit in. This is strange to Marco and Rodolfo and they find themselves having to modify their expectations. Alfieri conveys the view that family honour and respect are of paramount importance to Eddie and his community, which is why it is such a shock that Eddie betrays them. ELLIE

When in the reception room of the prison Marco and Alfieri discuss Eddie’s fate. ‘Then what is done with such a man?’ Marco asks aggressively. Alfieri responds with a seemingly obvious statement ‘Nothing. If he obeys the law, he lives. That’s all.’ Almost dumbfounded Marco angrily replies ‘The law? All the law is not in a book.’ Here, we can see a prodigious difference in the two men’s views. Despite Alfieri being Italian, he forgets that ‘the law has not been a friendly idea since the Greeks were beaten’ in Italy; he still favours the American institutional law. To Marco, doing the right thing does not depend on what is written in a book, it depends more on situation ethics, and what is the most moral thing to do. In the prologue, Alfieri alludes to the fact that the law was disregarded in Italy, or that it certainly did not have the same execution that it did in America. Marco’s belief that ‘all the law is not in a book’ also demonstrates how revenge on others, even if not morally just, fits in with his cultural values. Moral justice –as the words imply, is to do with what is morally right. In ‘A View from the Bridge’ Beatrice allows the immigrants, Marco and Rodolfo, to stay at her house. This is illegal and Beatrice is committing a crime, (something that is legally unjust) however it is in line with her and her morals and so from her point of view it is the right thing to do. Legal justice – is acting by the law and possibly disregarding moral inclinations. In the end Eddie choses the path of legal justice, and hands over the immigrants rather than staying loyal and acting on his morals. This is seen as betrayal in the Italian community and is why Eddie is treated badly by his community but probably well by the police. Arthur Miller encourages us to ask what true justice really is. Both Eddie and Marco have strong ideas of what is just and are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. The characters often mistake their own desires for justice, failing to look for a higher principle of justice separate from their own raw emotions. This is what leads to conflict. NINA: Breaking the law in A View from the Bridge

Throughout A View from the Bridge, the idea that incoming illegal immigrants must be looked after, albeit unlawfully, is presented as virtuous and barely questioned from the legal point of view, almost surprisingly since the narrator, Alfieri, is a lawyer. In Red Hook, violation of immigration law is taken for granted, although ordinary American citizens may have strongly disapproved of this stream of illegal labourers. It is arguable that the very notion that these immigrants were ‘submarines’ was what facilitated their accommodation in America. If free immigration to America was allowed lawfully, it would cause unrest throughout the country and attract too many immigrants. However, the authorities occasionally turned a blind eye to this lower level influx of cheap labouring force, although it was against the law. This was perhaps sensible, but what was the ordinary citizen to do in this situation? Living in the Italian community, it would be expected that you would accept the submarines, and host them generously. However, the extent to which this is ‘moral’ is a matter of upmost subjectivity. It is therefore evident that the protagonist of A View from the Bridge, Eddie, already had, although perhaps only subconsciously, a blurred definition of morality. However, one must remember that Miller seeks to show that Eddie’s downfall is based not upon any infringements of the legal, institutional law, but due to his own internal flaw. This flaw is based on his lust for his niece, Catherine, but even more on his refusal to accept true responsibility for any mistakes he made, the betrayal of his own personal values and beliefs, and him submitting to passive guilt. IZZY: Conflict of laws in immigrant communities

In Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the conflict between various laws are clearly portrayed from many aspects. The audience is ultimately presented with the clearest view of the action, looking down from the Bridge through the eyes of Alfieri, the lawyer, figurative Greek chorus and omniscient narrator. At the beginning of the play, Alfieri contrasts the law in Sicily, from where the community is descended, and the law in America. He concludes that one must ‘settle for half’; adopting a middle way. JUSTINE: Alfieri’s role in the play

Alfieri takes the role of a traditional chorus in this modern-day Greek tragedy; he explains the narrative to the audience as the plot continues towards its inevitable ending. Alfieri has no way to help Eddie, and is resigned to watching events unfold before his eyes. In some ways Alfieri resembles Miller himself as they both tell tragic stories of inevitability and fate.

Alfieri is a symbolic bridge between traditional Italian justice and the American legal system. As an Italian-American, he understands and has respect for both systems. He is an educated man who acknowledges the American legal system, but still recognises the importance of the Italian customs. This is evident as he does not prevent the immigrant community from harbouring ‘submarines’. In fact he almost actively encourages Eddie not to betray the immigrants, Marco and Rodolpho.

Although Alfieri’s main purpose within the play is to provide an interlude between scenes and to commentate on the actions of the main protagonists of the play he is also crucial to two scenes in the play as a central character.

In Act 2 episode 7 Alfieri speaks to Eddie about Catherine, this is the first time that Alfieri has escaped the role of narrator and he has an intense dialogue with Eddie. Eddie wants Alfieri to give him legal advice on how to ensure that Catherine and Rodolfo do not get married. Eddie tries to prove that he has the right to stop them, however Alfieri replies that `morally and legally [he has] no right.’ Alfieri, as the lawyer, is tasked with the role of showing harsh reality to Eddie, as well as explaining the legal struggle to the audience.

Two episodes later, in Act 2 Episode 9, Alfieri again is prominent, but this time he is advising Marco and Rodolfo, who are being deported after the immigration bureau found out that they were illegal immigrants. Alfieri explains the American law, and Marco gives the opposing Italian custom. Alfieri dismisses his right of honour, `to promise not to kill is not dishonorable’. Alfieri is much colder in this scene. Perhaps he knows that if he does not persuade Marco to give up, Eddie’s life is at risk. Alfieri ends his short role as a principal character by saying `If he obeys the law, he lives’. This is a very simple statement, showing that Alfieri has decided that following the American law is crucial, even if that means sacrificing elements of the traditional Italian tradition of justice.

IZZY: Justice and guilt

Acting unjustly makes one feel guilty, the fight with one’s conscience being a central theme in many plays. The issues of guilt and responsibility are concerns which Miller addresses in nearly every piece he has written. These themes are central to both ‘All My Sons’ and ‘A View From The Bridge’ and are reflected in the characters of Joe Keller and Eddie Carbone. Eddie (A View from the Bridge) is neither a hero nor a villain as he makes mistakes, but not maliciously, and he feels guilty for what he has done. Eddie wants to possess his niece; he may also feel attracted to her. Like many of Miller’s characters, he has a guilty secret, which puts him in a perpetual state of denial without consciously accepting his fault and thus taking responsibility. Miller wants us to realise that guilt is not the answer as it is destructive. However, if ones accepts it and actively transform it into responsibility, they will be able to transcend it. Eddie refuses to accept responsibility for his actions and his guilt drives him towards destruction. We can see that he does recognise the responsibilities he has for others, but goes against them in a misguided belief of what his responsibilities are towards Catherine. By going against all he had previously believed, Eddie loses his sense of self, shown when he demands his name from Marco, causing his own death by refusing to accept responsibility for what he has done.

Miller believed that ‘when you betray all that you believe in you betray yourself’. Whether or not the ‘justice’ that Eddie believed in was ideal, once he betrayed it, he became overwhelmed in a fight with conscience. Miller makes Eddie’s stance clear through Eddie’s emotional rendition of the story of Vinny Bolzano, where a man who betrayed illegal immigrants became consequently ostracised by the community. Eddie knows that he is acting against his own morals by calling the immigration bureau, but he takes the law into his own hands because he submits to his raw emotions and feelings towards Catherine. His fatal flaw leads him to subconsciously fight against his guilty conscience and ignore his responsibility.

NINA: Summary
Exploring the problems of society in microism, Miller shows us that most of the time people are not strong enough to execute true justice, whatever it may be. Both Eddie and Marco allow their desires and emotions to affect the idea of justice. They cannot take an objective stance. This is why it is better to rely on the law, which is perhaps incomplete and sometimes flawed, but is consistent with an objective view.

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