A View from the Bridge, a tale of Eddie Carbone’s life, was initially heard by Arthur Miller when he was doing research in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It is interesting that Miller was collecting information for a different project that was supposed to expose the corruption that occurred in the Red Hook docks. Although, Miller did not end up writing the screenplay because of the pressure from the McCarthy-led House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to turn the evil mobsters described in the screenplay into evil communists, which completely changed the context.
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The Role of House Un-American Activities Committee
The relationship between Arthur Miller and the HUAC cannot be called amicable to any extent. The Committee managed to cause the playwright some troubles. He was called before the committee on June 21, 1956, and asked to disclose the names of suspected communists. Miller immediately agreed with the rights of the HUAC to inquire into the political activities. However, in contrast to other witnesses who refused to cooperate, he did not invoke the protection of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Rather, he cited the guarantee of free speech and the right to stay silent, protected by the First Amendment (Glass 2013). After his denial, Miller was praised by fellow artists ever since. Despite this, Miller’s close friend and director Elia Kazan agreed to give out the names of suspected communists, which contributed to the rivalry between the two.
Therefore, A View from the Bridge directly echoes the division of the society caused by the HUAC. The character of Eddie Carbone was supposed to reflect Kazan’s betrayal, which Miller considered as shameful. The divide in the American society in the late 40s and early 50s was unacceptable to Miller (2000), who wrote, “we rapidly passed over anything like a discussion or debate, and into something quite different, a hunt not just for subversive people, but for ideas and even a suspect language” (para. 2).
Role of Mafia and the “Omerta” Within the Italian-American Community and Culture
The Italian-American Mafia and the “Omerta” played a defining role in shaping the culture of the United States, especially in the context of such cities as New York and Chicago. Miller’s A View from the Bridge is effective at presenting various views of America through the eyes of immigrants and working people. The characters of Eddie, Catherine, and Beatrice are the most prominent when it comes to representing a typical Italian family. Miller wrote about the grip that the Italian Mafia had over the US culture. For example, when he described the area where Beatrice and Eddie lived, Miller (1995) characterized it as “the slum that faces the bay” (p. 9). This gave an impression of a run-down area where only people of the lowest income lived.
Omerta is a code of honor that Mafia-type organizations follow; it puts an emphasis on staying silent, not cooperating with authorities, as well as not interfering with the illegal actions of other groups. The code of honor existed in the Italian-American neighborhoods where the Mafia had influence. Similarities with the Omerta code of honor can be seen in Miller’s relationships with HUAC and his denial to cooperate in naming the suspected communists.
“Where is Pete Panto?” and the Brooklyn Docks
A View From the Bridge was born from Miller’s intrigue to write about the Italian immigrant society in the docks of Brooklyn (Marino 2015). One day he noticed the graffiti on the piers’ walls and sidewalks, which read, “Where is Pete Panto?” The same graffiti appeared on subway stations and office buildings in downtown Brooklyn. By doing some research, Miller discovered that Pete Panto was a young longshoreman who challenged the Mafia that was leading the seaman’s union but then disappeared mysteriously, which ended the thread of the suspected corruption within the union (Marino 2015). Miller had a fascination with the idea of writing about Panto’s tragic ending, so he started researching the Brooklyn docksides underworld by visiting piers and trying to find out the truth of what had happened to Pete (Stapinski 2016). Although, Miller was surprised by the silence of the longshoremen who were afraid of exposing their bosses, which was the Omerta tradition that came from the lands of Sicily (Marino 2015).
One day Miller received an unexpected call from Mitch Berenson and Vinny Longhi, both of whom were trying to continue the resistance initiated by Panto and wanted to unveil the corruption within the power structure of the longshoremen union. After Miller had offered to write about their journey, Berenson and Longhi allowed him to enter the corrupt world of the Brooklyn docks (Marino 2015). Miller met and befriended many longshoremen, visited their homes in Red Hook, studied the traditions of the Sicilian society, and gained knowledge about the cultural connections of the immigrants who moved to America and their homeland.
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Analysis: Destroying the Bridge
The bridge in the title of the play refers to the Brooklyn Bridge that connects the borough and Manhattan. Miller used the bridge as a device to explain the symbolic connections between the Italian-American community in New York and their Sicilian roots. “But this is Red Hook, not Sicily. This is the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world. And now we are quite civilized, quite American” (Miller 1995, p. 2). The quote represents the fact that Sicily and Red Hook were connected and estranged simultaneously. For instance, Red Hook heavily relied on industrialization and modernity while Sicily was rather traditional and primitive, as reflected in the character of Marco. The main character of Eddie is rather Sicilian than American in his morals; for instance, he despised the fact that the US law could not help him (Eddie Carbone n.d.).
The issue of betrayal was another big theme echoed in Miller’s influence by the code of honor. When Eddie made a choice to turn his brothers to Immigration, although Alfieri told him that he “won’t have a friend in the world […] Even those who understand will turn against you, even the ones who feel the same will despise you” (Miller 1996, p. 54). Although it is “right” l to turn illegal immigrants to the authorities, such an action violates the norms of the American-Italian community. Since people in Red Hook were like a family and because they looked out for each other, Eddie’s actions could be considered as a betrayal. Therefore, it can be stated that Eddie destroyed the bridge upon the realization of his personal destruction, which could not be overturned.
Eddie Carbone n.d., Web.
Glass, A 2013, Arthur Miller testifies before HUAC, Web.
Marino, S 2015, Arthur Miller and A view from the bridge, Web.
Miller, A 1995, A view from the bridge, Heinemann, Oxford.
Miller, A 2000, Are you now or were you ever? Web.
Stapinski, H 2016, Arthur Miller’s Brooklyn, Web.