‘Eddie is solely responsible for his own downfall.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
Fundamentally, I do not believe that Eddie is solely responsible for his own downfall as there were many other forces that caused his actions. The biggest of these forces is his hamartia, Eddie’s socially unacceptable sexual desire for Catherine, a desire made apparent to the audience early on in the play through lines such as “Eddie was pleased and therefore shy”. Although it may be argued that Eddie should have been aware of his feelings for Catherine and controlled them accordingly, it is clear from his conversations with Alfieri, for example when the lawyer warns Eddie “there’s too much and it goes where it musn’t… there’s too much love for the niece”, that others can see Eddie’s feelings for Catherine more easily than he can himself. As such, without the self-awareness required to control his most destructive desires, it seems unfair to condemn Eddie as being fully in charge of his actions and thus solely responsible for his downfall.
Eddie’s inability to recognize that his feelings for Catherine are more than just paternal seems to persist right until the end of the play when Beatrice says “you want something else…and you can never have her” which causes Eddie to become “furious”. Miller’s use of anger here rather than verbal response indicates just how taboo and unacknowledged Eddie’s feelings are and thus make Eddie look less responsible for his own death and downfall. The ambiguity of the ending with Eddie crying “My B.” still allows us to wonder whether he ever truly embraced his desires or if he reached the end of his life and still didn’t understand his true feelings. This ambiguity is effectively used by Miller to create tension in the audience and to leave us ultimately undecided about how much of the blame for his actions we can lay at Eddie’s feet.
Miller accentuates this sense that events are beyond Eddie’s control through his use of aspects of Greek tragedy to portray Eddie as a protagonist fighting against powerful forces such as fate and lusis. After Eddie comes to see him the first time, Alfieri says “I could have finished the whole story that day” effectively indicating that things were beyond Eddie’s control and any attempt made at diverting his fate would ultimately be futile. Alfieri also says that he “sat there … powerless … and watched it run its bloody course” which effectively indicates that all of the characters are unable to change their own fate or destiny. This unstoppable unraveling of fate that Eddie experiences suggests that there were other forces and events that controlled his destiny so he is not solely to blame.
In addition, the Italian immigrants, Marco and Rodolpho, also play a large part in Eddie’s downfall and death. Rodolpho wants to marry Catherine but Eddie believes “the guy ain’t right” so has “a campaign solidified in him” to fight against Rodolpho and Catherine’s relationship. Eddie is obviously uncomfortable speaking about Rodolpho with Alfieri as “he looks over both shoulders” before mentioning it. Eddie is so desperate to prove that Rodolpho’s homosexuality that he “kisses him” and calls Rodolpho “that” in front of Catherine. But when Eddie finds out that “the law is very specific” and cannot help him prevent Rodolpho from marrying Catherine, he chooses to betray Marco and Rodolpho rather than embrace Catherine’s relationship. Eddie also tries to fight against Catherine and Rodolpho’s relationship by telling her that Rodolpho just wants to “grab a Green kid” which was common at the time this play was written as illegal immigrants could then legally live in the United States once they married an American citizen like Catherine. While these beliefes may be seen as the result of Eddie’s paranoia the fact that Miller leaves Rodlopho’s true motivations for marrying Catherine unclear makes it possible to believe that Eddie is acting justifiably here and that, therefore it is Rodolpho and his attempts to take advantage of Catherine that ultimately cause the tragedy at the end of the play.
There is, however, clearly a sense in which Eddie does play a large part in his own downfall and this is most evident in Eddie’s betrayal of Rodolpho and Marco. After the betrayal, Beatrice powerfully says “we are all to blame” and Eddie tries to place blame on Beatrice as he says “who brought them in here” but these attempts to spread the blame among the other characters ring hollow and despite Eddie’s attempts to place the blame for his betrayal on others, the audience ultimately sympathises with Marco when “spits in [Eddie’s] face” and screams “that one stole the food from my children”. It is in response to this act of treachery that Marco promises to kill Eddie and so it is clear that, in the end, Eddie plays a major part albeit not the sole role in his own downfall.