Given that Eddie Carbone only ever explicitly expresses his passions and desires once in the play, how does Arthur Miller make them so memorable?
Much of Arthur Miller’s play A View from the Bridge works to create the impression that Eddie Carbone is disgusted by Rodolpho’s effeminate appearance and supposed homosexuality. He uses this as an argument against Rodolpho’s suitability as a husband for Catherine. When Eddie’s own homosexual desires are revealed, then, they strike us as completely antithetical to these sentiments. It is this irresolvable and perplexing contradiction that makes his repressed homosexuality, rather than his incestuous desire for Catherine, so memorable for the audience.
Eddie lives in a community where intolerance greets any man who does not conform to the most parochial definition of masculinity, an intolerance that Miller clearly articulates through the minor characters Mike and Louis. While Mike and Louis reverently point out Marco’s physical strength when working at the docks, Rodolpho, “that blond one,” is instead said to have “a sense of humour.” This remark isn’t obviously pejorative, but Mike and Louis “grin,” “snicker,” and become “hysterical” as they voice it. The discrepancy between their speech and behaviour points to an underlying and unspoken insinuation. Of course, “a sense of humour” is a stand-in for what they see as Rodolpho’s difference compared to Marco. Marco conforms to their definition of masculinity: he is physically strong, and works quietly and diligently. Rodolpho does not, and they mock this difference, revealing their intolerance.
Eddie is similarly appalled by what he sees as Rodolpho’s effeminate appearance, giving voice to both this and his belief that Rodolpho is a homosexual in his conversation with Beatrice. Eddie remarks on Rodolpho’s “wacky hair,” declaring he’s “like a chorus girl or sump’m.” Similar to Mike and Louis, Eddie calls attention to Rodolpho’s hair, implying that Rodolpho bleaches it. According to Eddie, a preoccupation with his appearance is a strictly feminine trait and therefore casts doubt over his masculinity. The simile that compares Rodolpho to a “chorus girl” makes this all the more clear. The intolerance and resentment this provokes in Eddie is revealed through Eddie’s reference to Rodolpho as “that” and the assertion that he’s “like a weird.” By “weird,” Eddie means homosexual.
Eddie uses Rodolpho’s alleged femininity and homosexuality to argue against his suitability as Catherine’s husband. Seeking legal counsel from Alfieri, Eddie claims that Rodolpho “ain’t right.” Again he calls attention to Rodolpho’s “platinum blond” hair, as well as the “high” notes he hits when he sings. The thought of such an effeminate man with Catherine seems to deeply disturb him as he admits that “when I think of that guy layin’ his hands on her I could – I mean it’s eatin’ me out.” Eddie struggles for words, his incomplete and incoherent sentences revealing his intense anger. He’s disgusted by the idea of an effeminate homosexual touching the niece he says he seeks to protect.
Given Eddie’s sentiments, how, then, are we to respond to him kissing Rodolpho? The kiss is deeply unsettling because it is so antithetical to everything Eddie has said and done leading up to it. Miller’s stage directions vividly call to mind the moment when Eddie kisses Rodolpho: “Eddie pins his arms, laughing, and suddenly kisses him.”
The use of the verb “pins” underscores the violence and brutality of this sexual act. It’s likely that the ferocity of this expression of homosexual desire corresponds with the ferocity of Eddie’s suppression of that desire leading up to this moment. Furthermore, his “laughing” suggests a frantic sense of relief. The aggressive expression of homosexual desire is incompatible with every impression we might have formed about Eddie before this moment, and we are left struggling to reconcile these two wildly disparate sides of his character.
In summation, the homosexual passions and desires of Eddie Carbone are an astonishing revelation in Miller’s play, making them both unfathomable and memorable. Their eventual and painful expression leaves us wondering how well we know Eddie, despite having formed what appeared to be an accurate impression of him. It encourages us to consider more generally the extent to which any person’s true nature is knowable when we can only observe them from the outside.