A View from the Bridge: Eddie Carbone – Taboo, Transgression & Tragedy?

Eddie Carbone ends up alone, but he does not start out that way. In fact, Eddie is surrounded. His house is over-crowded.

Eddie is enmeshed in a social life that is intimate and, perhaps unfortunately, so powerfully personal that Eddie’s individual solvency is undone. He loses the ability to see himself as a distinct person, defined apart from his relationships, and so he is confined to seek a strange apotheosis within the matrix of family life.

Image result for a view from the bridgeThis trajectory is important for the play and Arthur Miller suggests as much in his 1960 introduction to the two-act version of A View from the Bridge. Miller claims that Eddie Carbone’s character is in fact “not comprehensible apart from [his] relation to his neighborhood, his fellow workers, his social situation” (221). The reality of Eddie’s distress is expressly social in its nature.

And through Eddie the play shows us that society’s rules exist within individuals. People embody the social code. People enforce it and people also transgress it.

Thus social codes, despite being unwritten and abstract, are also utterly personal. The intimate nature of Eddie’s conflict is reflected in the actions he takes. His political act of betrayal in the end is the conceptual and inevitable continuation of earlier misdeeds. Kissing both Catherine and Rodolpho without their consent, we see Eddie violating multiple social rules. In this moment, we can see him inching his way across the line before finally losing himself on the other side.

Miller insists that we cannot see Eddie and his “interior psychological dilemma” (221) in a vacuum. The taboos he commits go against “the code of his culture” (221) in a variety of ways and gain power because, as Miller writes, “Eddie was living out his horror in the midst of a certain normality” (221). The community surrounding him, unified and harmonious, serves as a contrast to Eddie Carbone’s dissolution.

Ejected from his society, Eddie is a fallen man. He has broken his bonds to wife, to niece, to cousin and co-worker. We naturally wonder what is left of Eddie in the end?

When Eddie Carbone demands that Marco give him his name back, what is it that Eddie is standing up for?

In the historical context of the play, Arthur Miller was no doubt continuing to comment on the “Red Scare” and the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee as he had with his previous play, The Crucible and in the original screenplay for On the Waterfront. As Joseph McCarthy pressured Hollywood figures into “naming names” of communists working in the film industry, Arthur Miller (a communist sympathizer) fought back in his work.

In A View from the Bridge, Miller presents us with a character he describes as “not a man to weep over” (222), yet there is enough humanity in Eddie Carbone for us to recognize, enough for us to relate to him on some level.

Despite the errant nature of his choices, we can empathize with Eddie. His desires are understood to be unnatural by his community and even evil when it comes to betraying his cousin to government agents, but we understand that Eddie is like one of those Hollywood figures brought before HUAC under the demand that he “name names.” He is threatened with the loss of the thing he loves above all else – – his niece Catherine.

Directors like Elia Kazan, one of Miller’s long time friends, ended up naming names because they were faced with a similar dilemma. In Kazan’s case, if he did not cooperate with McCarthy and HUAC, he would lose his career. For an artist like Kazan, this threat proved too much to bear. He named names and Arthur Miller did not forgive him.

Condemnation, in A View from the Bridge, is a nearly absolute reality. It is not a sentiment. It is a truth. But it is set side-by-side with a perhaps more profound truth. Eddie’s essential humanity causes his downfall. His need to fully express his deepest and most emphatic self leads to his destruction. He is condemned, ultimately, but only after making the attempt that Miller describes as the defining characteristic of a tragic hero in “Tragedy and the Common Man.”

Eddie Carbone is the common man who has undertaken the battle “of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society” (4). In discussing the common man in relation to this position, Miller writes:

Sometimes he is one who has been displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity, and its dominant force is indignation. Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly. (4)

A View from the Bridge may seem like a play pulling in two opposite directions when we try to reconcile Eddie’s stature as a tragic, fully human figure with his deep flaws. Yet, this apparent divide is the precise location of tragedy for Miller.

In his struggle to gain his rightful position, Eddie Carbone is posing a question as to what his society stands for – – and what it stands against. Although his attempt fails, in the aftermath we have to imagine that Eddie has come to understand how his vision of his own humanity is at odds with that of his community.

We might leave the play feeling troubled by the idea that a person like Eddie could never be what his community wanted him to be until after he had been expelled from it. Given the nature of his feelings for his niece, we might ask the question: If the act of claiming his deepest desires was also Eddie’s only way to be fully himself, did he ever have a chance to be a complete human being?

If you came across this article because you’re a teacher looking for classroom materials to use while you teach Arthur Miller’s play, you have my permission to use this little essay in your classroom. If you’d like more supplementary materials on A View from the Bridge you can find a study guide I’ve created for the play and other instructional materials  for the classroom at my Teachers-Pay-Teachers page