A view from the bridge: To what extent can the play be said to be about competing notions of justice?

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A View from the BridgeArthur Miller creates a contrast between the different values and attitudes of all characters in A View from the Bridge. They are two competitive notions of justice. Justice can be defined as: ‘fair treatment, being just. A legal proceeding’. A View from the bridge was originally produced in 1955. The play was set in the 1950’s, and focuses on a family in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This area is a Sicilian niche and everybody knows everybody.

The main character is Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American longshoreman who loves with his wife, Beatrice and his niece Catherine. Marco and Roldolpho: Beatrice’s two cousins who enter the country illegally from Sicily, stay with them for a good majority of the play. Roldolpho is young, good looking and single. He sings, dances, and is very charming. Catherine instantly falls for him. This move by the two characters causes the conflicting feelings inside Eddie to emerge.

He is selfish, and goes against his own beliefs, pursuing an incestuous desire.

Alfieri, the narrator of the play, and a family friend of the Carbones, is a wise attorney who dispenses legal advice to Eddie. He is the opposing argument to the Sicilian morals, and tries to warn Eddie of his hasty decisions. Each time a character sets foot inside his office, a conflict can be seen between the two different forms of justice.

The moral Sicilian values are a strong part of the Italian culture that the migrants bought with them to America. These laws are strongly abided by, yet they remain unwritten. The laws encapsulate one main value- loyalty. Loyalty to your family most importantly, and being truthful. Keeping strong family ties is also important. Family is always put first, and if their trust is betrayed in any way, there is turmoil. The punishment was usually physical, very violent- with no holding back. Personal vendettas are good enough reasons for people to lose their lives.

Of course, this behavior is condoned by no law no, or in the 1960’s. The police do not take into account emotions; they work on equality and democracy. Vengeance is simply no excuse for physically abusing someone. For example, when a boy betrays his family by ‘snitching’ to the authorities about his uncle, Beatrice tells Catherine the story. ‘They grabbed him and pulled him down the stairs- Three flights his head bouncin’ like a coconut. And they spit on him in the street- his brothers and father.’ This shows the laws enforced by the Sicilian values come above that of the American laws.

Miller constructs the main character Eddie, as the main source of conflict between the two forms of discipline. He demonstrates many sincere personal attributes, such as helping raise his niece Catherine. Eddie gives up his house to accommodate his in-law relatives he has never met before. Marco and Roldolpho are both very gracious and thank him dearly. ‘I would be honored to lend a place [For the immigrants Marco and Roldolpho] to sleep’. He shows a true readiness to bring on new tasks for the family, and enjoys the power role this entitles. He goes out of his way to prove himself to the Sicilian community, and keep his name clean. Eddie works very hard in a blue-collar job on the docks. He earns only enough to support his family, but is able to extend himself to the hospitality of having more bodies in his house. This is the essence of the Sicilian values: family. This is to keep his family strong and close. Eddie and the others around him do not see any problem in the way he is letting illegal immigrants into his house. Us as readers can see a definite problem with this. It is breaking the law! The values that he abides by are the ones he finds more important. In most cases, including this one, he chooses the Sicilian morals over the American law. The only time when Eddie considers what he is doing is actually an offense, in when consolidating Alfieri. When Alfieri asks, ‘There’s only one legal question here, the manner in which they immigrants entered the country. But I don’t think you want to do anything about that, do you?’ Eddie is astounded at the mere thought. How preposterous it would be to go against the rules of his heritage.

As the plot of the play unfolds towards the end, Eddie’s true thoughts are unveiled. The tension between Roldolpho and himself is far too great. He resorts to the only thing left he can do…He calls the immigration bureau and tells them how there has been some illegal activities that have been happening in his building. Part of this Red Hook community, is being able to look after the new immigrants, and protect them from the outside authorities. Almost as if the American government was the enemy and they should be completely shut out from their neighborhood. It is only then, as a very last resort that Eddie would think of abiding by the American laws, instead of the Sicilian ones. This does make Eddie arrogant, in thinking that the way from his country is superior to that of the New World country of America. Eddie knows that any punishment the American government gives him will be far less than the consequences he will face in his community. At this point in the play, Eddies’ death seems inevitable. He has done the unthinkable, what he had always warned his family of. Not only is this severely hypocritical of him, but a fatal error in judgment- he let his emotions stir up problems for himself. These notions of violence are of course followed up by Marco, in the ending scene.

As mentioned earlier, Alfieri is the opposing law in A View from the Bridge. For all that Eddie does wrong, it should be noted that he did go out of his way to help people: the reason for his doing so is unknown to us. However, Alfieri does not help anyone. He is not what the Sicilians would call a moral citizen. He stays professional, keeping all judgment and emotion to himself and not giving people his personal opinions. He does manage to stay within both realms of justice. He is able to abide by the rules for the majority of Americans, and avoid any problematic situations with his Sicilian counterparts. Alfieri creates an ideal juxtaposition for Eddie, as when placed in comparison to each other, one is able to see the competing notions of justice easily.

An example closer to home would be the aboriginals and the Australian law. There have been many cases of Aboriginal punishment that has gone wrong. For example, spearing is a common method of prosecution in their traditional ways. Its poses many threats though, with the common place being in the leg. As a main artery runs the length of our legs, it can easily be ruptured and cause death. The Aboriginal culture clashes against that of the Australian laws because murder is a sentence that would entail life imprisonment. Just as the Sicilians put themselves above the American laws, Aboriginals put themselves above the Australian laws. Thus causing a competition between the two forms of justices.

Each character and their actions have been carefully crafted on the issue of competing notions of justice. From reading A View from the Bridge, it is clear to see the Sicilian moral code of justice and the American legal system do not control behaviors, but merely guide them. The success of these characters really remains in their own values and attitudes, what they personally believe in. Eddie has a tragic ending, caused by the conflict created between the two laws, as well as the conflict it had created inside of himself. Foreseeing the future, it would have been best for the Sicilians to let go of their past ways, and try to assimilate themselves inside the new American community. It would have been a lot safer, and caused less tragedy in the long run. Competing notions of justice are shown throughout the play, and create an interesting plot for viewers.

Bibliography:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_View_from_the_Bridge