‘Eddie is solely responsible for his own downfall.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
To a certain extent, it seems clear that Eddie is responsible for his own downfall. This seems to be partly the case because of his pseudo-incestuous love for Catherine and the unacceptable sexual desire that he feels for her which is evident throughout the play. This desire and over-protectiveness is clearly displayed when he ‘sizes up Rodolpho’ with a ‘concealed suspicion’ when Catherine shows any interest in him. In addition, Eddie’s refusal to let her wear her high heels, clearly a symbol of her budding womanhood and sexuality, and his cruel mockery of her in front of the man she is trying to impress when he calls her ‘Garbo’ further mark Eddie out as a character undeserving of our sympathy.
Furthermore, we feel that Eddie is to be blamed for his own downfall, as we are aware of the many warnings that Alfieri has given him over the course of the play. Alfieri advises him to ‘let go’ of Catherine, even explicitly telling him that ‘there’s too much love and it goes where it mustn’t’, all of which Eddie ignored. Even when Alfieri warns him that ‘[he] won’t have a friend in the world’ if he betrays Rodolpho and Marco due to the strict code of Sicilian honour upheld within the Red Hook community, Eddie refuses to heed Alfieri’s advice and eventually ‘snitches’ on the two submarines to the Immigration Bureau.
Worse still, once the two Italians have been arrested, Eddie refuses to admit that he has acted immorally and is unjustifiably outraged when Marco (correctly) accuses him of betrayal and of murdering his children. Eddie’s obstinate desire to have his ‘name’ cleared and his refusal to admit his mistakes or make amends by attending Catherine’s wedding portrays him as stubbornly brutish and vindictive character and as such the audience may well find themselves sympathizing with Catherine when she calls him ‘a rat’ who bites people when they sleep. Treachery is one of the most despised crimes at any time (Dante, for example places Judas in the lowest levels of Hell for his betrayal of Jesus) but the repugnance that the audience feels towards Eddie’s actions is intensified by the fact that the principal victim seems to be Marco who has been nothing but respectful towards Eddie as he works hard to provide for his family who are clearly suffering in Italy as they are forced to ‘eat the sunshine’ for lack of food. The disgust that we feel towards Eddie perhaps however reaches its climax in the fight scene at the end of the play when instead of fighting fairly with Marco he draws a knife on the unarmed Italian. Seen in this light, there is a clear sense of justice in Eddie’s death and we can see in a very literal sense that Eddie, stabbed by his own weapon, is in a large part responsible for his own downfall.
Nonetheless, although Eddie is clearly responsible to some degree for his death at the end of the play, Miller does at points evoke sympathy for Eddie as the audience is continuously exposed to the inner conflicts he faces which suggests he may not be entirely responsible for the fate which befell him. Firstly, through Beatrice, we realize that Eddie is not to be held solely responsible for his lustful desires for Catherine as she too plays a part, ‘walking around in [her] slip’ even though she is a grown woman. In addition, we are also exposed to the possibility that Catherine could have also had feelings for Eddie as she says ‘I mean I know him’ and that she ‘can feel a block away when he’s blue in his mind and just wants somebody quiet and nice’ to talk to, two statements which clearly suggest that her feelings for Eddie were going beyond the purely daughterly.
In addition, it is not so easy to condemn Eddie’s feelings for Catherine as he does, at points, behave in a genuinely caring manner, for example when he initially refuses to let her take up the job as a secretary at the start of the play, calming that he ‘knows the neighbourhood’ where she will be working and it is not a respectable one and that he had envisaged a better future for Catherine where she would work in some ‘nice office in one of them nice buildings in New York’.
Furthermore through Alfieri, we also see that Eddie truly believes that Rodolpho is taking Catherine ‘for a ride’ and that he is only ‘bowin’ to her passport’. Eddie’s repetition of ‘I know what’s on his mind’ emphasises the fact that he believes that Rodolpho is manipulating Catherine. Moreover, we are exposed to the fact that Eddie does not seem to realize his feelings for Catherine and so we can see that, although his perception of the world might be skewed, Eddie’s motives for acting are sound which makes it difficult to judge him too harshly for his behaviour towards Rodolpho.
The sense that Eddie is not fully to blame for his actions is accentuated by Miller’s use of the conventions found within Greek tragedy to convey a sense that Eddie’s demise is inevitable. There is a tragic sense of inevitability and irony from the very beginning of the play when Alfieri narrates the story in past tense, introducing Eddie as a character who ‘was’ Eddie Carbone. In addition, the notion that destiny has to ‘run its bloody course’ also creates a sense of inevitability within the play which suggests that, if Eddie is simply following a path already marked out for him by the Fates then it is not truly fair to judge him as being responsible for the route that path takes. This theme of inevitability is constantly revisited throughout the play portraying Eddie as a man at the mercy of greater forces. We are aware of his allegiance to the Sicilian code of honour, which views betrayal as of the worst of sins. At the beginning of the play Miller establishes Eddie as a character so vehemently against betrayal and ‘stool pigeons’ like Vinny Balzano and Frankie Yale to convey the drastic change that he has gone through, showing the strength of the forces that are tearing him apart. It is the tension between these forces, which include his sexual desires, his attempts to be a good father, his jealously, anger and the importance of his ‘name’, that ultimately lead to his death. Therefore, in conclusion it seems that, despite initial impressions, Eddie Carbone was fundamentally not to blame for his downfall but was instead in many ways a tragic protagonist whose downfall was inevitable from the start, a man who was ‘drown[ed] by a river’ of powerful forces because he ‘buck[ed] it’.