A View From the Bridge: Summary & Setting

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson introduces Arthur Miller's play ''A View From the Bridge''. We will learn about its plot and setting while exploring connections with its cultural and historical context.

A Play in Two Acts

Arthur Miller's play A View from the Bridge (1955) and Elia Kazan's academy award-winning film On the Waterfront (1954) are sort of like siblings who were separated at birth. Miller and Kazan collaborated on a screenplay concerning themes of immigration and the working class, but shelved the project in the fear that its controversial subject matter would alert the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by notorious Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy. Afraid of being typecast as communist sympathizers, Miller and Kazan went their separate ways.

However, they both eventually returned to the subject matter. Marlon Brando immortalized the struggles of dockworker Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, but Miller's portrayal of the longshoremen and their struggle with immigrant labor and domestic life in 1950s Brooklyn is relatively less known. Let's take a look.

Red Hook from the base of the Brooklyn Bridge circa 1875

Lights Up on Red Hook, Brooklyn

If you were to see the play performed on stage, as Miller intended, you might expect to find a city street, office, and apartment in the set. In the first paragraph, Miller gives a general description of the setting:

'The street and house front of a tenement building. The front is skeletal entirely. The main acting area is the living room-dining room of Eddie's apartment. It is a worker's flat, clean, sparse, homely. There is a rocker down front; a round dining table at center, with chairs; and a portable phonograph.'

A View from the Bridge is set in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1950s. Miller indicates the play's working-class setting in several nonvisual ways as well. Male characters talk about their job as longshoremen, working on the docks. Women complain about the exorbitant expense that goes into clothing and housewares. Everyone is preoccupied with finding work, hard set on the American dream of upward mobility. Miller alerts us to the proximity of harbor with the sound of foghorns blaring in the distance.

Act One: The Set-up

Most of the men in Red Hook, Brooklyn, work as longshoremen, dockworkers who load and unload ships in the harbor. However, the play opens with Mr. Alfieri, a lawyer, who introduces the main character, Eddie Carbone, setting the stage for the domestic drama that is about to unfold in the apartment upstairs, before stepping back into the shadows.

Eddie and Beatrice live in a small tenement flat. Imagine a derelict apartment building, cramped and overcrowded, on the bay. Together they raise Catherine, Eddie's orphaned niece. She's just coming of age, and he's highly protective of her. Beatrice has invited her Italian cousins to stay with them. But, in order to circumvent legal immigration, Marco and Rodolpho bought fake papers and smuggled themselves onto a freighter. As if to foreshadow (a literary device used to indicate an important future event) the tragic events to come, Eddie and Beatrice remember the case of Vinny Bolanzo, a 14-year-old illegal Italian immigrant whose own uncle informed on him to the police and had him deported.

As Beatrice ruffles the curtains and sets out a new tablecloth, Eddie is particularly nervous about their guests. It's a matter of some controversy that Marco and Rodolpho are entering the country illegally. Eddie is worried about the police, about snitches, and about the length of their stay. Beatrice assures him that it won't be long, and that their neighbors are trustworthy.

Immigrants just arrived, Ellis Island, 1904
ellis island

Marco and Rodolpho arrive, and at first everything seems to be going well. But then, Rodolpho shows off his vocal talents with a jazz rendition of 'Paper Doll.' Catherine immediately falls head over heels in love with the exotic baritone.

Eddie blows his lid. He warns Catherine that Rodolpho only wants to marry her for a green card. But wait a second; don't jump to conclusions like Eddie. Why is he so disapproving and suspicious? Catherine is his niece, but she's only related to Eddie and Rodolpho by marriage, so it's not incest he's worried about. It seems like his real concern is that he will have to part with his beautiful, innocent adopted daughter; one wonders if the intensity of his anger might point to deeper, more inappropriate motivations.

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