Eddie Carbone as Tragic Hero: A View from the Bridge

By Stephan Vorreiter

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge attempts to incorporate themes and traditions that reflect the era in which it was written in to create a modern and relevant Greek tragedy of an everyday man. The playwright has therefore presented the central character, a hard-working longshoreman in Red Hook named Eddie Carbone, as a ‘tragic hero’. Traditionally, a tragic hero possesses nobility and desirable qualities, however his actions and behaviour throughout the play reveal his fatal flaw, ultimately leading to the reversal of his fortune and his downfall. A View from the Bridge largely conforms to these standards, though centrally challenges the quintessential ideals of Greek tragedies

Hamartia is present in all traditional Greek tragedies, therefore the notion of a fatal flaw (and consequently, a downfall) is part of Eddie’s innate character in multiple ways. Explicitly, his fondness for Catherine exemplifies his flaw. He refers to his niece as “Madonna”, exhibiting his interest. This allusion connotes purity, innocence and uniqueness – in the playwright’s era, it also symbolised the Virgin Mary. In viewers of the play, this primarily creates an unsettling feeling, as this conversation takes place in the beginning where many, including the characters, do not understand the full extent of Eddie’s affection. Miller therefore appropriately establishes hamartia and thus presages Eddie’s downfall. In connection with “Madonna”, the protagonist frequently uses “heh” in a mocking tone, to suggest overconfidence and masculinity when talking to Catherine, which is, in part, aided by her behaviour to Eddie due to his respected stature (explored in further sections). Miller’s stage directions show Eddie’s behaviour overtly. When he is hugged ‘He is af ected by her but smiles his emotion away.’ This once more reinforces his deep love as he is “af ected”, but also shows his attempt to be masculine, therefore “smiles his emotion away”. Miller’s careful placement of stage directions creates irony because Eddie’s emotions will be his downfall and “away” is only temporary, another act of foreshadowing. Ultimately, the audience can infer, from the beginning, that Eddie’s relationship with Catherine will be interrogated with the addition of two new male characters. Like most tragic heroes, Eddie Carbone possesses fatal flaws that are due to his uncontrollable emotions.

Another means by which the playwright shows the protagonist experiencing hamartia is through his denial and self-interest. Towards the end of Act 2, Eddie is directly confronted with reality as he “...can never have her!”. The playwright aptly uses the accusatory tone of the exclamation to highlight “never”, emphasising that Catherine is not within his reach. His response exhibits anger, as his “fists clench[ing]”, and denial because he would never “...have such a thought?”. There is a moment of uncertainty through the questioning and the fact that he is “shocked” hints that he is aware of this truth. Nonetheless anger, a negative by-product of Carbone’s masculinity, subdues such feeling. Evidently, the concealing of emotions suggest an almost narcissistic behaviour. Eddie’s denial is strengthened by his self-interest and obsession. Criticism of others is therefore an intrinsic part of the protagonist which is put on display when he thinks his niece’s skirt “...[its] too short...”. The following “ain’t it?” is a testament to his denunciation – a psychological justification for his action – once more allowing audience members to glimpse inside the troubled, yet forthright, mind of Eddie Carbone. In essence, Eddie Carbone’s self- interest and denial are his fatal flaw, however, in the end, also underpin Alfieri’s statement and Eddie’s favourable qualities as he was for “himself purely” and allowed himself to be “wholly known”. Most tragic heroes have an obsession (like power, domination, inflicting pain on others, death...) that cloud their perception. In A View from the Bridge, the tragic hero’s self-interest, affection and denial lead him to his demise.

Through Eddie’s respected stature in the community, the playwright effectively interweaves another key aspect of Greek tragedies, while staying true to the modern significance of A View from the Bridge. The distinct structure of the play aids in accompanying the gradual degradation of his respect. In Act 1, members of the community admire and appreciate the risk that he accepts when taking in two “submarines”, therefore he has “gotta lot of credit comin’ to [him].” The respect he gains from doing something illegal is of great importance in his community. Nonetheless, Eddie’s quandary is that between culture (Italy) and the law (America). Seemingly , Eddie knows the rules of the community. On the other hand, the protagonist’s need to be fully American, and the current McCarthyism in the US during the writing of the play, ultimately lead him to commit actions morally wrong in the community yet legally right. “Credit” is what Eddie wants, although it becomes obvious that he cannot accept such recognition due to his fatal flaw; he becomes “troubled” when Louis and Mike express their positive feelings towards Rodolpho. However, ultimately, Eddie gains the respect of Rodolpho, as when he is asked to dance with Catherine, he responds “in deference to Eddie”. Due to his affection to Catherine, her behaviour towards him and his ‘fatherly’ characteristics, he successfully controls his niece’s view of the world, her respect. When told the story about Vinny Bolzano, Catherine “...wont’ say a word to nobody...” This reflects and reassures Eddie’s previous statement that she should not “trust nobody”, however should “believe [me]” him. The irony of these assertions that Miller creates through direct language mirror the power Eddie has in the beginning of the play – he can manipulate views (to suit his own) yet is still able to inject the trust of others into himself. This was most likely inspired by Miller’s own experiences working in lower class areas of Brooklyn where the concept of community is integral, especially within Italian American municipalities. Through this distinct social structure, the audience can assume, in accompaniment with the constant foreshadowing, that conflict will break out in the second act, the protagonist’s stature will be subverted, he will be faced with reality and, eventually, he will die. All these aspects compliment the standard of a Greek tragedy and the course of downfall of a tragic hero.

This raises another interesting point of the play through which the protagonist is able to thrive and present himself as a “tragic hero” – community. A View From the Bridge is primarily told through the view of a family in the neighbourhood of Red Hook, reflected by the set which is at a singular location (typical for Greek tragedies). The restricted perspective metaphorically reflect Eddie’s clouded perception and naivety, enabling the audience to see his traits viscerally and truthfully, although from behind the curtain of his hamartia. Arthur Miller creates relief and a wider view of the situation through the character of Alfieri, who comments on Eddie’s actions. Alfieri is a modern iteration of the traditional Greek chorus and accompanies the audience throughout the play as an observant and wise spirit. He expresses what Eddie cannot say – the “...trouble that would not go away.” – in pragmatic and insightful ways, attempting to also lead Eddie away from his downfall. Nonetheless, he is aware that he is “powerless”. The title of the play, A View from the Bridge, reinforces Alfieri’s position and creates contrast in connection with Eddie: “View” suggests the role that the audience and Alfieri have in the play, while “Bridge” remarks relationships, setting (the Brooklyn Bridge) and connections. Alfieri has a wider “view” of the area due to his experience in culture and the law and distance to the conflict. In contrast, Beatrice comprehends the dispute slower as she has direct involvement and also hesitates to admit Eddie’s misconduct due to his respected stature. The audience has a similar position to that of Alfieri as they are able to see the happenings from multiple viewpoints. Arthur Miller exposes the life of a family, giving members of the audience a glimpse into the privacy of households besides their own. In the end, this private tragedy is determined on the streets of an interwoven community, highlighting another integral part of Eddie Carbone being presented as a tragic hero – his downfall was indirectly his own fault because he subverted culture and community trust. When Marco “pressed [the knife] home”, Eddie was still holding onto it, symbolising the notion that he himself was responsible for his death. The consoling word “home” connotes the freedom of the community because, in order to improve it, his death was required. However, it also hints the liberty Eddie receives. His death shifted the anger and violence onto his cause of death, Marco, leaving him with the role of a victim. In a way, this replenishes Eddie’s hubris as the community can see justification in the protagonist’s need to betray culture and family. Through this, catharsis is established and thus empathy as the punishment was not wholly deserved, like in many Greek tragedies. Without community, the protagonist would not be able to exert his dominance (and through it his flaws), gain self- knowledge and awareness and ultimately, not be presented as a ‘tragic hero’ due to the absence of a suitable setting, other characters and a genuine community.

In the end however, the protagonist gains self-knowledge and completes his journey with a final solemn discovery. Eddie is aware of his fate in his final line “My B.!”. “My” indicates possession and loss concurrently and “B.!” expresses his final love for his true wife Beatrice. This last outcry of regret and hopefulness once more establish Eddie as a tragic hero as, even though the event arouses solemn emotion, it also offers catharsis and the audience is confronted with an understandable and genuine Eddie Carbone, strengthening any sympathy the audience would have for the failed hero. Nonetheless, this “bloody” happening is no surprise to viewers as it was foreshadowed in the beginning that the play would “...run its bloody course.”. This

therefore brings the final essential aspect that makes A View From the Bridge a Greek tragedy and its protagonist a tragic hero to the surface – the play was always about how Eddie Carbone would fall, rather than the possibility of it. Yet, Eddie is not fully a tragic hero. Quintessentially, Miller challenges nobility and wealth, characteristics that tragic heroes traditionally possess, in the protagonist of the play. Eddie Carbone is a longshoreman of little material wealth, contrary to other tragic heroes. The playwright therefore brilliantly establishes a connection between character and audience, complimenting Miller’s wish of writing a Greek tragedy that appeals to the everyday man. Although wealth usually accentuates the downfall of the tragic hero in Greek tragedies, the integral role that community plays in A View From the Bridge achieves a similar, if not greater, sense of loss in Eddie Carbone’s demise. Arthur Miller deviates from traditional tragic heroes in another way. Eddie allowed himself to be “wholly known”, a favourable quality. Alfieri hints however that this was also “perversely pure” and that such exposure was “not purely good”. It can be said that, in a way, the protagonist’s positive attributes reflect and influence his hamartia. This subversion is entirely different from traditional tragic heroes who have explicitly separate and distinct qualities. Once more, Arthur Miller exhibits human emotion and behaviour in a genuine and complex manner, paralleling a true and realistic human being. In conclusion, A View From the Bridge attempts to highlight the importance of balancing individual needs and desires with those of the wider community. Still implicitly, Arthur Miller, through the presentation of Eddie Carbone, emphasises that downfall or degradation can happen to anyone, not exclusively to the wealthy, and that one’s zealous attributes can contribute to their demise.