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.
The primary role, which Alfieri plays in the play, is as a “lawyer” an occupation that gives him a respected position within the society of Red Hook. Alfieri himself notes that although he is respected within the community there is also a sense of “distrust” as he understands that the locals only view lawyers in connection with “disaster” and Miller uses this to foreshadow the tragic events that will occur later on. As a lawyer the most obvious role that Alfieri plays is to advise Eddie on “legal” matters by telling him that the only thing that he can do about the relationship between Catherine and Rodolpho is to either “snitch” or “give them your blessing”. Miller uses Alfieri to present Eddie with the options, which are available to him, and this creates tension in the audience, as the audience understands that Eddie will never approve of the relationship between Rodolpho and Catherine and as such the only course of action that is left open to him is one that will inevitably lead to disgrace and disaster, especially in Red Hook where such a high premium is placed on the values of loyalty and honour.
Furthermore, Alfieri is also the chorus of the play and begins the play by speaking directly to the audience by stating that “you wouldn’t have known it, but something amusing has just happened”. In this role, Alfieri is used by Miller to divide the play into several separate episodes with a short commentary from Alfieri between each significant portion of the play such as when Alfieri informs us “after they had eaten, the cousins came”. This role is important to the play as it clearly divides the play into separate episodes in which significant events occur and Miller uses Alfieri’s narration to provide the background information required to move rapidly between powerful and so keep the audience engaged.
In addition, as a character in the play, Alfieri also plays the role of being Eddie’s conscience as he confronts Eddie about his own fatal flaws and his decisions. Miller uses Alfieri to reveal Eddie’s hamartia, his fatal flaw, which is that he has “too much love” for Catherine. Furthermore, Miller also uses Alfieri to reveal to the audience that Eddie is aware of the fact that should people find out that he had “snitched” to the immigration department about Marco and Rodolpho he would not “have a friend in the world” and that “even those that understand will despise you” which heightens the tension.
Moreover, Miller portrays Alfieri as a sort of prophet and uses him to foreshadow what will occur in the play. Miller does this most effectively when Alfieri introduces Eddie at the start of the play in the past tense stating that “this one’s name was Eddie Carbone” creating the sense that Eddie has is already gone and that his death is inevitable. This creates a sense of tragedy, as we understand that whatever he does, Eddie is doomed to this fate. The sense of tragedy is reinforced by the fact that although Alfieri can see “step by step” what will occur he is “powerless” to stop it despite his desire to “raise an alarm” and could only watch as it “ran its bloody course”. Miller is consciously echoing the conventions of Greek tragedy here as he attempts to demonstrate that a ‘common man’ like Eddie is just as worthy a subject of tragedy as the kings and noblemen of the ancient Greek plays.
Finally, Alfieri as a character symbolizes the rule of law and the completely “unromantic” life that is lived by those who obey these laws. Alfieri describes the law as “natural” and emphasizes how by obeying the law and “settling for half” life is safer and more stable albeit lacking excitement and true passion. Miller portrays Alfieri as a symbol of the law through his occupation as a lawyer and in his repetition of the assertion that he is “only a lawyer” and, in Eddie’s case, can only do what the law permits. As a result of this there is a stark contrast between Alfieri and Marco, who symbolizes the Italian code of honor and believes in moral justice over the law. Miller shows this contrast most effectively at the end of the play when Marco is planning to kill Eddie but Alfieri attempts to convince him that, on Earth, all a man can do is follow the rules (i.e. by not killing Eddie) and that Marco must wait until the next world for retribution as “only god makes justice”. However, although Alfieri clearly prioritises the importance of obeying human laws over seeking natural justice it is clear that he is nostalgic for the more passionate life lived by people like Marco and Eddie, people who ‘allow themselves to be wholly known’ and thus at the end of the play we see him wistfully morning these men and the life they lead albeit ‘with a certain … alarm.’