How are the themes of Obsession and Desire explored in ‘A View from the Bridge’?

 

The most obvious exploration of desire in the play is Eddie’s feelings for Catherine, which are clearly indicated in quotations such as ‘he envelops her with his eyes.’ This desire is hidden from many of the other characters but the fact that this is strong enough to ultimately make Eddie betray his family by reporting Rodolpho and Marco to the immigration police reveals how destructive obsessive desires like this can be as they blind Eddie to the demands of socially acceptable behaviour. A clear indication of the way in which desire can drive us to behave unacceptably is when Eddie ‘kisses [Catherine] on the mouth’ after he discovers that she has slept with Rodolpho. Further evidence that desire can make us break social rules can bee seen in Alfieri’s warnings that ‘there is too much love for the niece’ and Beatrice’s desperate exclamation that Eddie ‘want[s] something else and can never have her.’ Eddie’s unacceptable desires ultimately mark him out as a pariah in his society much like Vinny Bolzano and Frankie Yale, both of whom ‘snitched’ on those who were close to them and paid the ultimate price.

 

Desire is made to seem even more destructive by Miller because characters in the play often act blindly in the face of their desires, unaware of the real forces that motivate them. Eddie never fully acknowledges the feelings that he has for Catherine and Miller employs dramatic irony here as the audience has a much better understanding of Eddie’s character than he does himself. Miller may have done this to intensify the sense of tragic inevitability that runs throughout the play as it seems the key characters are manipulated by forces which they do not understand and which are too powerful for them to control. We similar blindness in Catherine as she does not seem to realise that she may have inadvertently encouraged Eddie’s affections by walking around in her ‘slip’ and ‘throwing herself at him’ when he comes home from work. Beatrice also seems to blindly forgiving of Eddie’s faults, calling him ‘an angel’ when he finally concedes that Catherine can go to work at the start of the play after his original petulant outburst to the contrary.

 

In contrast to the destructive role that desire plays in Eddie’s life, Miller uses Catherine and Rodolpho’s relationship to imply that the passion can be a unifying force that brings people together. The unifying power of desire is most apparent in the second act of the play when Catherine implores Rodolpho to ‘hold me … teach me.’ which has very sexual connotations and this sense of sexual desire is reinforced when Rodolpho replies ‘There’s nobody here now,’ and leads her to the bedroom. The simmering sexuality underlying the relationship between Catherine and Rodolpho has been evident from the moment the two immigrants arrived at the Carbone house, especially in flirtatious lines such as ‘I like sugar very much’ and the reply comment that it is ‘not for anything to eat’ that he hungers. Although Eddie remains unconvinced about Rodolpho’s intentions for Catherine, the audience can see that the sexual desire that exists between them emboldens Catherine as she gains the strength to stand up to Eddie and assert ‘He loves me’ where the blunt delivery and short sentence indicate her belief that this is the truth. In this way we can see that desire is not only a destructive force and that it can lend strength and conviction to a character.

 

However, like Eddie, the audience is also able to see a different side to Rodolpho: the side that is just after a ‘green card.’ Miller leaves Rodolpho’s feelings ambiguous with phrases such as ‘that’s the only wonder here – work’ when Rodolpho talks about America noticeably neglecting to mention Catherine, the girl with whom he is supposed to be in love. This makes the audience question his motives and lends credence to Eddie’s assertion that he is ‘only bowin’ to his passport.’ If Rodolpho really is gay but is prepared to marry Catherine to become an American citizen then Miller may be suggesting another dark role for desire and obsession. Perhaps the obsession that Rodolpho and other immigrants like him have with the American dream is enough to make them manipulate people, undergo great hardships and take advantage of ‘green kid[s]’ like Catherine.

 

Another disturbing effect of desire is the way that it can turn women into possessions of the men who are obsessed with trying to control them. When Beatrice asks ‘When am I gonna be a wife again?’ it is clear that one of her roles in her relationship with Eddie is to provide sex and at the moment they are not sleeping together. This lack of sex could indicate the lack of desire Eddie feels for Beatrice as he is clearly obsessed with Catherine. As a result of the sense of ownership that Eddie feels towards Catherine he calls Rodolpho ‘a goddamn thief’ and accuses him of ‘stealing from me.’ The possessive attitude here may reveal the gender roles that dominated 1950s American society as women were often controlled by men, both sexually and physically. Another indication of the obsession that men have with possessing women can be seen in the song ‘Paper Doll.’ The lyrics such as ‘gonna buy a doll to call my own’ and ‘a doll that other fellows cannot steal’ once again portrays the accepted gender roles at the time and clearly reveal the way in which women were treated as objects of desire that can be controlled by men.

 

However, the most powerful expression of desire has nothing to do with women. Instead it is the obsession that men have with honour and moral justice. Eddie repeatedly exclaims ‘I want my name’ just before his fight with Marco at the end of the play and the repetition exemplifies the need he has to defend his reputation in Red Hook after Marco spat in his face and accused him of being a traitor and murderer following his arrest. Miller uses the strength of Eddie’s obsession with honour (an obsession which ultimately leads to his death) to reveal the way in which the most powerful value in the immigrant community is the belief in honour. To reinforce this Miller has painted Marco as a man similarly obsessed with honour and moral justice as we are told that ‘he’s praying in the church’ before he comes to kill Eddie showing that Marco’s desire for honour and justice is so strong that he is prepared to commit a mortal sin in order to meet these moral expectations. Therefore, we can see that the themes of desire and obsession are closely linked with the Italian code of morality and Miller seems to celebrate the strength of these powerfully destructive feelings when he has Alfieri admit with chagrin that his practice is ‘entirely unromantic.’ Alfieri has obviously given up on living the Italian way of life and has chosen instead to ‘settle for half.’ At the end of the play Alfieri is left living a safer life but one that lacks the passionate intensity of life in Red Hook. Hence his wistful concluding comments that he ‘mourns’ characters like Eddie albeit ‘with a certain … alarm.’