'Is Eddie a caring father figure or a controlling patriarch? Explore the tensions created in Eddie's character at the beginning of the play.'
Arthur Miller’s play ‘A View from the Bridge’ explores the concept of how Greek tragedy, initially only reserved for a noble hero or protagonist, can be presented as a factor in the lifestyle of a normal person and therefore how radically ordinary lives have the potential to be affected by the introduction of this tragedy. Eddie Carbone is the main protagonist in this particular play where his relationship with his wife Beatrice and his own personal regular life is jeopardized and threatened by the hidden covert feelings he harbors for his adopted daughter Catherine.
Miller suggests at the ethically wrong relationship between Eddie and Catherine at the start of the play where, after Catherine greets Eddie in a casual informative manner he is ‘pleased and therefore shy about it.’ This insinuates an implication that their father-daughter connection might not be as pure and ‘normal’ as others and the fact that Eddie is shy after such a simple gesture suggests that he is hiding his feelings for her away from himself and also from Catherine and by not acknowledging it he also never fully realizes the disastrous consequences it could bring about. Furthermore, the atmosphere becomes awkward, as a result of Eddie’s shyness, which is unexpected and unusual a subtlety the reader is able to recognize therefore could already be evaluating Eddie’s personality as immoral since his introduction. Besides this, Eddie also reacts to Catherine’s attire with an undertone of jealously in his answer ‘I think it’s too short ain’t it?’ hints at a deeper more intimate relationship which Eddie suppresses and refuses to accept. After he does agree to Catherine’s proposal Eddie then says with ‘ a sense of her childhood, her babyhood and all the years’ ‘Allright go to work…And you’ll come visit on Sundays, then once a month, then Christmas and New Years, finally.’ Although he is joking the sadness and nostalgia off there is a distinct impression created that he regrets making the decision and will miss her and if interpreted cynically, Eddie comes to comprehend that he will lose Catherine and due to his unrequited passion for her, he does not want to let her go or give her up even though he knows it is in her best interests.
However the audience is presented with another portrayal of Eddie as a caring worried father towards Catherine. He is protective of her and after being informed about her job exclaims,’ What job?....What kinda job what do you mean? All of a sudden you-‘ depicting his defensive posture concerning Catherine and the reader comes to accept this other side of his personality. In addition, he is seen to be asking many questions such as ‘ Where’s the job? What company?’ and ‘Nostrand Avenue and where?’ this further intensifies the fatherly protectiveness he previously displayed as he is concerned for her welfare and wants to be notified on everything she is doing or is going to decide on, in this way he can continue caring for her as he has done since her adoption.
Eddie’s power and influence in this household is reiterated throughout most of Scene 1, when he arrives home from work it is Catherine who ‘takes his arm’ and ‘walking him to the armchair.’ Similarly Catherine also asks him ‘I’ll get you a beer all right’ implying her position of servitude as she is waiting on Eddie and his needs. Moreover, on the stage the audience will view Eddie sitting on the armchair whereas Catherine is stereotypically and physically lower than him for she is ‘sitting on her heels beside him’ this contrast in position also represents their statuses in the house with Eddie being the dominant male and Catherine as the obedient daughter who constantly strives for Eddie’s approval which is seen when she repeats the phrase ‘You like it huh?’ in order to gain a positive response from Eddie and possibly his admiration. In addition Catherine’s dependence on Eddie in the process of decision-making and for income into the household, as he is the main if not the only earner in the family, is intensified by her actions towards him. She ‘lowers her eyes’ thus showing an image of inferiority in front of a male serving to display an ashamed stance once he disapproves of her job prospects consequently reinforcing the idea that in a patriarchal society, such as in ‘A View from a Bridge’, women and girls had to rely on males to validate a decision before it can be chosen. This stereotypical culture encapsulates an impression of normalcy which Miller utilizes to enhance the tragedy in an ordinary life which the audience can relate to.
On the other hand, Eddie is worried about her casual relationship with Louis even stating that ‘I can tell you things about Louis which you wouldn’t wave to him no more.’ This aspect of his protective stance with Catherine is mainly accentuated with Catherine’s effect on other males around the neighborhood. ‘ I don’t like the looks they’re givin you in the candy store… The heads are turning like windmills.’ This typical father emotion is effective in endearing Eddie to the audience who perceives him as a caring father figure only worried about his daughter and anxious for her safety. In addition, he refrains from an argument with her instantly reassuring her to ‘don’t get mad, kid’ after she is ‘almost in tears because he disapproves.’ Therefore his kind and decent personality also resonates well with the audience who are able to sympathize with Eddie for no father desires to be on bad terms with his own daughter. He quickly notices her changed appearance and asks her questions such as ‘Where you goin all dressed up? What happened to your hair?’ emphasizing the personal and close relationship between the two.
Another point reinforcing Eddie’s domineering presence in the household is his final say when making a decision. When Catherine is to go earn extra income with a secretarial job he vehemently denies it by interrupting her announcement with ‘No-no, you gonna finish school,’ in addition he differs in opinion with Beatrice who supports Catherine and by the short phrase ‘That ain’t what I wanted though’ he instantly reasserts his high status and the brevity of the phrase in spite of the seriousness of the situation and Catherine’s own negative response suggests at the importance of his opinion in all matters and the respect other family members hold him in. Moreover when Catherine constantly repeats the fact that she will earn an extra fifty dollars a week for the household Eddie replies ‘ Look did I ask you for money? I supported you this long. I support you a little more.’ The audience gains an impression that Eddie is reluctant to give up his rank as the only income earner to his adopted daughter and as a result he is able to preserve his pride and dignity in the face of Catherine’s developing independence represented in the phrases ‘I just gotta practice from now on… it’s a great big company.. fifty a week Eddie.’ This implies that Eddie could also be seeking reassurance by convincing Catherine to stay with him longer, also ensures his continued dominance and honor. In addition, his slightly jealous and selfish behavior creates his character as a more realistic person, when he realizes that Catherine will earn more than him along with a steady job he reacts with shock and surprise and then presents his disapproval.
Despite this, Eddie does again
manage to switch personalities into a loving father evident in his conversation
with Beatrice ‘Because most people ain’t people. She’s going to work; plumbers;
they’ll chew her to pieces if she don’t watch out.’ This more affectionate
trait also manifests itself in his poignant monologue which successfully
creates pathos in the audience when he speaks about his high expectations for
Catherine to get her out of this monotonous, hard lifestyle and into a more
comfortable one. ‘ I want you to be with different kind of people. I want you
to be in a nice office. Maybe a lawyer’s office someplace in
In conclusion, Eddie Carbone is portrayed by Arthur Miller as an ordinary common man, a controlling patriarch in a male-dominated society and also a caring worried father towards his adopted daughter. He is a protagonist but one with faults making him, as a whole, more realistic thus the audience is able to relate and understand his feelings and emotions. This personal connection with the character to the audience serves to intensify the tragedy that will befall Eddie later on and the foreshadowing and irony that the audience is presented with during the course of the play will eventually cause them to feel as powerless as Eddie to prevent the sequence of spontaneous events initiated by his own actions therefore because he will bring about his own destruction there is no one else responsible for the blame and apart from Eddie and because Miller had already established a bond with Eddie Carbone and the audience who feel sympathy for his plight, we too are distressed for we can not bring ourselves to blame Eddie for his own downfall therefore resulting in a traditional Greek tragedy happening to an unknown, poor, illegal Italian immigrant living in Red Hook, the ‘wrong’ side of New York.