Alfieri speaks directly to the audience, and yet he is also a character within the action of the play. Explain what you think his importance is, in both roles.
Alfieri has a pivotal role in the play. His role is not pivotal in determining the outcome of the play but instead pivotal as a literary construct in presenting Arthur Miller’s views on concepts such as the American Dream, Romanticism and issues such as illegal immigration, conflict between law and justice and the conflict of cultures, etc that were prevalent in many immigrant neighbourhoods in the 1950s, as represented in microcosm by the milieu of Red Hook, Brooklyn in ‘A View from the Bridge’.
acting as an omniscient narrator, talking directly to the audience, Alfieir is predominantly objective as he ponders aloud
‘whether some other lawyer in Syracuse or Calabria perhaps, heard the same
complaint and sat there as powerlessly as I and watched it run its bloody
course.’ When narrating objectively, Alfieri both presents the various these in
the play and also catalyses and induces dramatic tension. His used of diction
such as ‘powerless’ creates a sense of inevitability and introduces the concept
of fate as was prevalent in Greek tragedy. The diction of ‘bloody course’
foreshadows Eddie’s death as well as the coming violence and induces nervous
tension in the audience. This coupled with his portentous tone as he contrasts
the happenings in Red Hook with those in ‘some Caesar’s year’ in ‘
However, sometimes, there are strong influences of subjectivity in Alfieri’s narration. This is especially predominant near the end of the play. In his closing soliloquy, Alfieri admits ‘something perversely pure calls to me from his memory’ and that ‘he likes it better’ that ‘we settle for half’. The subjectivity along with his colloquial register and use of personal pronouns such as ‘we’ makes the audience empathise and thus comprehend Arthur Miller’s message about how there is something ‘pure’ about Romanticism and the power of human emotion but how it is better for society to ‘settle for half’ and maintain a modicum of control in order to avoid tragedy.
Alfieri’s role in terms of his relationship with other characters is marginal. However, the fact that they ‘respect [him]’ enough to come to him for advice and the fact that he still maintains his Sicilian roots by living in the Sicilian district and not Anglicising his name is juxtaposed to Eddie who has ‘lost his respect’, who had hopes for the American Dream but has not achieved them, and who has, perhaps, Anglicised his name. This contrasts between them is shown to the audience as a contrast between a man who ‘settles for half’ and one who ‘allowed himself to be wholly known’ and it is evident that Alfieri who ‘settles for half is better off’.
Ultimately Alfieri’s role is significant as the chorus of the play, as an objective narrator with subject influences that the audience can empathise with and as a literary construct who presents Arthur Miller’s views on the socio-economic circumstances of 1950’s American society and the microcosmic universal significance.