In Act I, trouble was already starting to brew as soon as the illegal immigrants Marco and Rodolfo got into the country. Eddie’s dislike of Rodolfo triggered several other problems which finally led to Marco threatening Eddie at the end of the play. Arthur Miller uses several techniques such as dramatic dialogue, foreshadowing and paralanguage to gradually increase the suspense and tension until finally leading to the shocking and threatening image of Marco holding the chair aloft as the curtain closes at the end of Act I. This leaves the audience wondering in anticipation and fearing for what Eddie or Marco might do and what other misfortune might this lead up to in Act II.
Tension is already immediately created when we find out about the relationship between Eddie and Catherine. We know that Catherine is Eddie’s niece but his love for her is already very inappropriate and unacceptable, already very close to being in love with her. We know this because he comments on Catherine dress by saying “I think it’s too short” and that she is “walkin’ wavy”, which shows that he does not seem to like other men being attracted to her. This is also shown when he asks “What job? She’s gonna finish school.” When he finds out that Catherine is going to work. His anxiety shows that he desperately wants to keep Catherine close to him and does not want Catherine to get the opportunity to meet other men.
Later on we find out the relationship between Eddie and Beatrice is also pretty strained, probably because of Eddie’s unhealthy relationship with Catherine. After Eddie’s talk with Catherine, paralanguage is used when Beatrice “has been avoiding his gaze”, which shows that she is mad at him. The immediate response of “Who’s mad?” after Eddie asking her whether she is or not just confirms the fact that she is mad. The remark of “You’re the one that is mad” made by Beatrice tells us that she knows of the unhealthy relationship between Eddie and Catherine and that the “mad” actually means Eddie is crazy. Judging by this comment we should be able to guess that this is the main reason why Eddie and Catherine are not really very close together.
Suspense and tension increases even more when Marco and Rodolfo arrive. Catherine is almost instantly attracted to Rodolfo and this causes Eddie to be even more anxious and jealous of Rodolfo. Eddie shows his dislike of Rodolfo when he says “Hey, kid – hey, wait a minute –” to stop Rodolfo from singing. This already shows Eddie does not want Rodolfo in his house and has stopped from singing in hope that he can draw Catherine away from him. Just after this, the stage directions show that he directs his attention more to Marco than Rodolfo, which shows that he does not really respect him now.
At the beginning of the play, Alfieri already unfolds the tragedy and therefore foreshadows a bit of what will happen in the play. In his opening speech he says “…and sat there as powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody course.” This line foreshadows that something very terrible and tragic will happen which Alfieri will not be able to stop. The story of Vinny Bolzano and him snitching on his own family also ironically foreshadows the fact that Eddie himself snitches to the immigration as well and gets Marco and Rodolfo caught.
On Eddie first visit to Alfieri, Alfieri described that “his eyes were like tunnels; my first thought was that he had committed a crime,” which foreshadows the fact that even though he does not actually do anything illegal, he does something very morally wrong and which the whole community would call a crime. After Eddie talk with Alfieri, he goes and talks with a wise old woman, and she says “Pray for him…” which foreshadows the “crime” that Eddie will soon commit, as the meaning of what she says is hope for Eddie to do what is morally right.
The plot or narrative itself actually also helps to slowly build up the tension and suspense throughout Act I. This is a domestic tragedy which we find out when Alfieri says he was “powerless”. This already creates a bit of tension as nobody else can really help them solve the problem in any way. The fact that they are housing illegal immigrants is just a catalyst for disaster as doing this was illegal in the country and they could possibly find themselves being caught. Rodolfo and Catherine being together cause Eddie to be very unhappy and therefore leading us to wonder whether or not Eddie will snitch on them or not, which causes lots of tension and suspense as the audience can only sit and wait in anticipation and anxiety.
Theme is used to create tension and suspense as well. The theme of justice is very important as mentioned by Alfieri in his opening speech. “Oh, there were many here who were justly shot by unjust men. Justice is very important here.” This tells us that if you do something bad to someone, they will come and take their revenge. This creates suspense as it keeps the audience who does something bad and how the revenge will be taken out on him. The clash between the actual laws that are written out and the set of moral laws create tension as each of them have different views on justice, and some of the written law might have to be broken in order to achieve what they think is morally just.
This happens when Eddie goes to Alfieri wanting confirmation from him that Catherine cannot marry Rodolfo but in fact there is no law that prevents that from happening, and so which might cause Eddie to break the law in order to prevent Rodolfo from taking Catherine. Loyalty also plays an important part as it all depends on whether or not Eddie will stay loyal to his family and just Catherine or whether he will choose to snitch on Rodolfo and Marco and making them leave the country in order for him to be with Catherine again. Alfieri gives a little warning to Eddie when he says “There’s only one legal question here… The manner in which they entered the country. But I don’t think you want to do anything about that, do you?” This is Alfieri’s warning to Eddie to make sure he will stay loyal and not stitch.
The final boiling point where Marco holds the chair above Eddie creates a lot of tension and suspense as it will leave the audience asking themselves many questions. Will Eddie’s dislike of Rodolfo cause him to snitch to the immigration? Will Marco lose control and cause Eddie any harm in his fury? These are only some of the questions the audience will wonder about as they wait in anticipation and anxiety for the coming of Act II.