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Miller successfully makes the Vinny Bolzano story a fascinating moment to return to by carefully planning the plot of the play. In the beginning, because Eddie told the story of Vinny Bolzano, we believe that no matter how much he hates the cousins, he wouldn’t do anything like Vinny because of his belief in loyalty to family and the community. However, just before he leaves Alfieri’s office, we see the phone-booth gradually light up, symbolizing the triumph of Eddie’s desperation over his conscience as he contemplates the idea of snitching to the Immigration Bureau.
Earlier in the play, Eddie shows his belief in the unspoken code of honour and Italian ‘justice’ when he tells Catherine the story of Vinny Bolzano to warn her about snitching on Marco and Rodolfo and the consequences, and is very particular on pointing out how no one should know that they are harbouring illegal immigrants. The story of Vinny is not merely that of a young boy who betrays his own uncle to the authorities. It also goes to show the price he has to pay for that betrayal. He is humiliated in the street by his own parents and he leaves his house never to be heard of again.
The fact that Eddie does the exact same thing of which he has spoken with such horror is ironic, but for the audience who were warned at the start of the play it is dramatic irony. Eddie forgot the words which he made very clear to Catherine, “you can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away”. His words foreshadow his own destruction. Now he finds this saying to be true: his feigned horror on finding the Liparis have relatives sharing with Marco and Rodolfo, and his suggestion that they are being tracked, coming just before the immigration officers arrive, is a giveaway. It is also made more of a community issue because now he hasn’t just snitched on his own family but also on the Liparis. Lipari and his wife, Louis and Mike, the stage representatives of the wider community, one by one leave Eddie alone, symbolizing his isolation.
Both Catherine and Beatrice are speechless with shock when they realise what Eddie has done, and immediately, their opinion of him changes from love to hate. Miller uses Beatrice’s unbelieving “Oh, my God, my God” to show that even she, who had stood by and supported Eddie, had now turned against him. To add further insult to injury, Marco later spits in Eddie’s face, and is then carried away before Eddie can retaliate. This sequence of events further degrades Eddie’s character, and will lead to his end being far more tragic, as he is deserted, disgraced and angry at how he thinks his good intentions are being misinterpreted and thrown back in his face.
The climax of the play is a “showdown” and it clearly shows the ignominious consequences that Eddie brought upon himself. Marco believes it is dishonourable to let Eddie live, but has given his word not to kill him. Eddie pulling a knife out means that Marco can see justice done, while keeping his word. Again the action is symbolic of the play’s deeper meaning. Eddie literally dies by his own hand, which holds the knife, and is killed by his own weapon; but Eddie also metaphorically destroys himself, over the whole course of the play. And this is what Alfieri introduces to at the play’s opening: the sight of a man destroying himself, while those around him are as powerless as a theatre audience to prevent it.
Alfieri’s speech at the beginning begins by introducing a lot of concepts which are explored later in the play. He begins with a speech on lawyers and the distrust that originates from it, “You see how uneasily they nod to me? That’s because I am a lawyer… a lawyer means the law, and in Sicily … the law has not been a friendly idea”. Both Eddie and Marco allow their personal feelings to affect their idea of justice.
They are not strong enough to take an objective view. We see that Alfieri is right, people are not strong enough to execute true justice, their desires and feeling always take a part. This is why it is better to rely on the law, which although flawed offers an objective view. We can see later in the play that both Eddie and Marco turn to the law for help, but the law lets them down, “You mean to tell me that there’s no law that a guy which he ain’t right can go to work and marry a girl and – ?”. These two parts of the play link to show us that the law will often clash with loyalty, and when something interferes with loyalty, one often has to turn to the law for help; however, the law may often deal with the problems too severely. We can see this by the drastic action that Eddie has to take to remove Rodolfo from Catherine’s love.
Alfieri says “This is not God… only God makes justice”. The idea that the corporate federal law is inadequate comes out in a few places in the play. One example is when Marco is in jail and talks to Alfieri about what will happen to Eddie. Marco says “all the law is not in a book”. This tells us that Italians have many different rules to Americans to do with punishment and believe in getting justice rather than abiding by the law. With this, Miller tries to show the culture clash as Americans believe more in law whereas the Italians believe in justice.
Justice is a very important because it links in with honour. Honour is shown to be very important, especially to the male characters. It means far more to them than the law. To be honourable is to be respected. If you do anything dishonourable, you lose respect. That is why Marco and Eddie are so keen to protect their names and get a ‘just’ conclusion. Codes of honour bind families and the whole neighbourhood with a sense of community. Everyone should look out for one another, to betray someone is the most dishonourable action imaginable.