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The Law and Morality in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”

The concepts of law and morality have often been used interchangeably. They all reflect goodness and badness of certain deeds, and are seen as a means to justice – it being the desirable state of society. However, they are different in several key aspects, and what is moral and right is not always legal, and vice versa. Moreover, the concept of justice – the seeming goal of both ethical principles and laws – varies vastly among the world’s cultures. In Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the topic of ethics bears central position, with the author exploring how the concepts of justice, morality, and law integrate into society and interact with one another. In particular, the play explores the issue of conflicts between lawful and moral behavior, and of disputes between different concepts of justice, as well as the transformation of one’s ethical views.

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Morality and Law

Since the audience of the play is carried through the life events of Alfieri, who is a lawyer, suggest that both law and morality have central importance within the narrative. In particular, many components of the storyline raise the question of whether the law should be viewed as either as an ultimate or adequate source of authority. Thus, the characters of the play try to distinguish right from wrong, and the law, which is represented by formal legislation, does not align with their ideas of justice and morality. For example, from the very beginning of the play, the storyline of illegal immigrants raises concerns regarding the unnecessarily strict and unjust immigration laws. Such regulations make Rodolpho and Marco seek shelter in Eddie’s apartment despite their hopes of coming to America and find profitable and honest work. For example, Rodolpho was very excited about the new beginnings his move would bring: “Rodolpho: Me? Yes, forever! Me, I want to be an American. And then to go back to Italy when I am rich, and I will buy a motorcycle […] With a motorcycle in Italy you will never starve any more” (Miller, n.d., p. 23). The United States is famously known worldwide as the land of promise and opportunity. Still, the arrival of the two characters, who were overjoyed at the money they can make, had the opposite outcome.

Morality and the law have much in common, yet, in real life, they are often in conflict. Moral behavior is not mandated by anyone and only exists in the collective conscience. The laws are, in turn, directed by the governments, and are strictly enforced and serve mainly the state. Because of those key differences, various situations arise in which to act in accordance with the law is immoral, and vice versa. In the play, the author described the situation where the lawful for Eddie to do is to report Marco and Rodolfo as undocumented immigrants, yet it is deeply immoral for him to do so. While discussing their arrival with Catherine, he and Beatrice tell her about the consequences of such an act with the example of a neighboring person who reported his own uncle: “Beatrice: And they grabbed him in the kitchen and pulled him down the stairs – three flights his head was bouncin’ like a coconut. And they spit on him in the street, his own father and his brothers’” (Miller, n.d., p. 16).

Through the above portion of the dialogue, Miller establishes the severity of the conflict between morality and the law in this situation. Knowing the moral implications of reporting Marco and Rodolfo, when Eddie grows increasingly jealous of Rodolfo due to his romantic relationship with Catherine, he first seeks other means of keeping Catherine to himself. Only when he has exhausted every other way, he turns to radical action. Therefore, when Eddie decides to turn on both Marco and Rodolpho, he acts in accordance with the law and helps the US Bureau of Immigration to reinforce the law. Even though he acts legally, he betrays his own family and does not deliver justice. When Alfieri realizes what Eddie is going to do, he urges him not to: “Alfieri (with a tougher tone): I heard what you told me, and I’m telling you what the answer is. I’m not only telling you now, I’m warning you – the law is nature. The law is only a word for what has a right to happen. When the law is wrong, it’s because it’s unnatural, but in this case, it is natural and a river will drown you if you buck it now. Let her go. And bless her” (Miller, n.d., p. 60).

In this scene, the development of Eddie’s ethical views has reached its final point. After Marco finds himself behind bars, he wants to establish his kind form of justice by seeking revenge against Eddie. However, Alfieri warns him against doing so and advises to follow the written law and leave everything to the highest form of justice represented by God. For Marco personally, the legislative regulations are in conflict with his own idea of seeking justice, and he proceeds with murdering Eddie: “Marco: Anima-a-a-l! Eddie lunges with the knife. Marco grabs his arm, turning the blade inward and pressing it home as the women and Louis and Mike rush in and separate them, and Eddie, the knife still in his hand, falls to his knees before Marco” (Miller, n.d., p. 79). The conflict between Eddie and the two immigrant brothers is summarized in the juxtaposition in their decisions, the impact of which is somewhat equal. As Eddie chooses to abide by the law over personal feelings of justice when turning Marco and Rodolpho to immigration officials, Marco opts for his personal form of justice over the written law when killing Eddie with a knife. While the choice of Eddie to betray people, who thought that he was their friend, led to the end of their journey to find the American dream, the choice of Rodolpho to act out on his emotions led to the end of another person’s life.

Discussion

As the analysis suggests, A View from the Bridge can be interpreted as a play that shows that the written word of the law cannot ensure real justice because interpersonal relationships are far too complicated. Alfieri, the lawyer, describes himself as being powerless in the situation: “I knew where he was heading for, I knew where he was going to end. And I sat here many afternoons asking myself why, being an intelligent man, I was so powerless to stop it” (Miller, n.d., p. 44). When there are severe anger and the desire to take revenge upon another person, other people take the place of bystanders, and even men of law, cannot stop tragic events from occurring. Moreover, as evidenced by the outcome of the play, people who attempt to act on behalf of one’s own ideas of justice despite the law tend to cause harm to others and themselves.

When there was no legal resource used for separating Rodolpho and Catherine, Eddie turns on his opponent out of jealousy to the immigration office to ensure that Rodolpho can no longer be an issue. This sets a series of events that ostracize Eddie from his relatives and the community, eventually ending his tragic demise. The play underlines the ambivalent relationship between justice and law as the latter cannot cover all aspects of interpersonal connections between people and therefore, does not give a clear distinction between right and wrong. Not all legal actions are right morally, such as Eddie turning immigrants in, and everything that is illegal is always ethically unacceptable. For instance, if Eddie battled with his own feeling of jealousy, he would leave Catherine and Rodolpho be a couple and live a happy life together. However, by doing so, he would have acted illegally in terms of hiding immigrants from governmental officials.

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Conclusion

To conclude, in A View from the Bridge, Miller warns readers against managing justice on one’s own without considering the complexity of the situation. The actions of many characters show to be dangerous to other people, and doing something just because of anger, revenge or jealousy leads to an ineffective course of action, as demonstrated by the play’s outcome. Using the backdrop of immigration as the initial point of conflict, the playwright shows that morality and law do not always go hand-in-hand, and, most likely, never will due to the complex nature of human relationships.

Reference

Miller, A. (n.d.). A view from the bridge. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "The Law and Morality in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”." April 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-law-and-morality-in-arthur-millers-a-view-from-the-bridge/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Law and Morality in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”." April 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-law-and-morality-in-arthur-millers-a-view-from-the-bridge/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Law and Morality in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”'. 13 April.

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