Arthur Miller was born in New York City on October 17th, 1915. His parents were both immigrants in the United States and lead a prosperous life because of the success of his father’s clothing manufacturing business. But the arrival of the disastrous Wall Street crash distorted his business along with the rest of the American economy. As the result, Miller worked as a warehouseman. ‘A View from the Bridge’ was in a single act in its first version and was produced this way first in verse in 1955.
This was then revised and was extended into a two-act play in 1956 when it was presented at the Comedy Theatre in London. In this assignment I will be discussing the role of the protagonist in ‘A View from the Bridge’, and I will look into his downfall and the part that he played in it. I will also be looking at the Aristotelian elements of a tragedy that Miller has used, and I will be highlighting and explaining the important dialogue and stagecraft.
The play is set in a domestic area of New York called Red Hook and he describes it as ‘the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge’. It has its roots in the late 1940’s when Miller became interested in the everyday lives and work of the dockworkers of New York’s Brooklyn harbour, where he had previously worked. He described it as a ‘dangerous and mysterious world at the water’s edge that drama and literature had never touched’ where many people worked and were poorly paid, exploited by their bosses, and importantly many were immigrants to the United States.
This led to them being treated unequally and they faced racism as the whites were considered as a powerful race. Other factors that played a part in Miller writing this play was the Cold War, which occurred during the 1940’s and which affected the economy and arose censorship and freedom. During this time a young lawyer friend of Miller’s also told him a story about ‘a longshoreman who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on two brothers, who were living illegally in his very own home’.
He also visited Sicily a few years later where he say huge levels of poverty that played a part in him including characters of Italian origin and keeping poverty as one of the main themes of this play. These above factors were the entire cultural context that led to Miller writing yet another very influential play – ‘A View from the Bridge’. This play is a modern tragedy and Miller has followed the rules of a tragedy written by the famous Greek Philosopher Aristotle in a book called ‘Poetics’. This book stated that for a play to be a tragedy it should have certain characteristics.
Miller has followed these Aristotelian features carefully and this can be seen in the play. Firstly, a prologue accompanies the play in order to make it easier for the audience to concentrate more on the actual lesson being taught by the play rather that getting confused. Alfieri acts as the chorus/narrator, the audience’s interpreter of events; he is both commentator and participant in the play and punctuates the action. He introduces new themes and at the same time informs us about the present events and reminds us of past events.
He creates interest in the audience by giving them clues and signs of future events, for example we know that the play will end in someone’s death as he mentions ‘ sat there as powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody course’. A sense of inevitability is also created in Aristotelian tragedies that can be seen in the above dialogue where Alfieri feels ”powerless” and suggests that this has happened before and is therefore retrospective. Another device known as ‘hubris’ is also used which is a point in the play of no return and creates immense inevitability.
The audience is made to feel a purging of emotions, which is a device known as ‘catharsis’. This along with ‘pauses’ between dialogue and ‘dramatic irony’, which is when the audience knows more than the characters, creates tension and heightens their sympathy for some characters or heightens hatred for others. Stage Directions have been used well and they build on dialogue and show how the characters are feeling. Miller has also used stagecraft to an extensive level, and he uses the stage and effects such as lighting to symbolise conflict and other things.
For example, the stage consists of the Carbone household and Alfieri’s law office which represents a conflict between natural and constitutional law, a main theme of the play. This is also an effective use of ‘unity of time and place’ as the main places of action have been put closely to avoid confusion. Tragedies are also meant to teach and are therefore ‘didactic’. For example, community bonds and effects of betrayal are highlighted when Eddie recites to Catherine a fable about former neighbour Vinny Bolzano who had ”snitched to the immigration” about his uncle.
He uses this as a warning to Catherine and to make it clear to her the consequences of telling anyone about the illegal entry of Beatrice’s cousins. They should also involve ‘universal truths’ so that people can relate to the play with real life. This play teaches many universal truths such as how to love, natural and constitutional law and the community. There is also a ‘unity of time and place’ which is a device used so that it is easier for the audience to understand the action and so that they can focus on the morals taught by the play.
Miller has carefully set up the tragic hero’s role in this play, in a way so that he matches the description of Aristotle’s tragedy characteristics. The protagonist isn’t famous or rich, but he is seen to have the potential to become great. He also has a ‘fall’, which in this case is his death and is caused by a flaw or an error of judgement that is also occurs here. The fall also inspires pity and terror in the audience and in the process teaches them. The other characters are also affected by this fall but in the end there is a restoration of order.