The play is set in a slum area in Brooklyn.Between 1861 and 1920, 30 million people immigrated into America. Many people settled by the ports as there was a steady supply of work from the ships and Eddie Carbone is one of these longshoremen. Eddie is the forceful, irrational protagonist with many complex emotions while his niece (by marriage only) is rather naï¿½ve and open. As they live in the same house, they spend most of their time with each other and get on well together as family. Eddie and Beatrice (his wife) took Catherine in when her mother died and therefore, Eddie feels a great sense of responsibility;
‘I promised your mother on her deathbed. I’m responsible for you.’ To Catherine, he is like a paternal figure, and she does love and respect him that way. At first, I also believe that is how Eddie thinks of her. He provides a good home for her, puts food on the table and sees her through education, I think truly wanting the best for her- to go up in the world. His aspirations are high; ‘I broke my back payin’ her stenography lessons so she could go out and meet a better class of people.’ His social aspirations for her are obviously higher than his own community- but does that mean he is snobbish of his own class? I think, perhaps slightly. Eddie’s protectiveness of Catherine can be just like a normal father’s, as he says about her new skirt; ‘I think it too short, ain’t it?’
But often, this protectiveness can turn into dominance and possessiveness over his niece and his attitude towards her becomes unnatural. Eddie is never completely at ease. He tells her she’s ‘walkin’ wavy’, but this is because he is subconsciously sexually attracted to her. He criticises her appearance and behaviour because she is attractive to other men and he does not like that. I think, in a way, he believes she is his and he wants her all to himself- i.e. – if he cannot have her, no one can.
I think to aid this, he tries to keep her a little girl, when actually, she is becoming a woman; ‘You’re a baby….. when you stand here by the window waving outside.’ The word ‘baby’ is mentioned constantly as if it will eventually persuade Catherine that she is one. This environment would be suffocating for her. However, Beatrice isn’t blind to all this; ‘You gonna keep her in the house all your life?’ Eddie (insulted); ‘What kinda remark is that?’ She has not had sex with Eddie for quite a while and I think she knows it is because of his desire for Catherine.
When Alfieri makes a joke about Catherine not being able to marry Eddie, he doesn’t laugh, as he starts to realise his sexual feelings for Catherine are becoming more apparent. When Beatrice finally says; ‘You want somethin’ else, Eddie, and you can never have her!’ He is stunned with silence, but I think deep down, he knows it is the truth. Eddie’s positive and negative elements are often intertwined, but I think his intentions for Catherine were good; however the feelings he acquired for her should have been dealt with differently.
Catherine’s attitude to Eddie is entirely different though. Eddie who lays down the laws heavily influences her, but she seems totally unaware of her sexual appeal generally, but especially to Eddie. Beatrice actually has to tell her about it; ‘but you’re a grown woman and you’re in the same house as a grown man. So you’ll act different now, heh?’ Although Catherine is rather innocent, but I think that is because she is overprotected, so, in effect, there is a viscous circle.
Catherine’s attitude to Eddie is, totally non-sexual, but after Beatrice’s talk, she does start to become aware of what could be going on, perhaps a little. It didn’t even cross her mind that she was a potential ‘rival’ to Beatrice; ‘He said you was jealous?’ When Catherine falls in love with Rodolfo, Eddie cannot stand this, and does everything in his power to stop it, as his subconscious desires tear him apart slowly. He even calls the immigration bureau and risks his respect (which means so much to him) for her. I feel that both Eddie and Catherine were partly to blame for the tragic end of their relationship and in general. However, Catherine gained her confidence and independence a little more toward the end of the play. Eddie’s possessiveness and dominance over Catherine suffocated her into staying a ‘baby’, but I feel she could/should have been more self- aware, especially of the situation around her.