Eddie, a middle-aged longshoreman, works the docks in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn in the mid-1950’s. Alfieri, a first-generation Italian immigrant, practices law in the neighborhood. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and his seventeen-year-old niece Catherine. Both have open affection for Eddie.
It becomes almost immediately clear that the affection between Eddie and his niece may be unhealthy, planting the seeds for discontent. This relationship is quickly demonstrated when Catherine decides to leave secretarial school early in order to accept a lucrative job, one that Eddie fears will expose her to untrustworthy men. His desire at first appears to be to protect her. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Eddie has unarticulated and perhaps unconscious desires to possess Catherine himself. Eddie’s wife, Beatrice, sees the situation clearly, but she lacks the ability to confront her husband with her concerns. Instead, she becomes Catherine’s primary supporter, urging her to take the job, to accept her emerging maturity, and to enter the world as an adult. All these urgings are made in spite of Eddie and his adamant protestations to the contrary.
Beatrice’s two cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, are on their way to Brooklyn from Italy, and they plan to stay in the Carbone apartment until better accommodations can be arranged. They arrive, two illegal immigrants, and their impact on the Carbone household is felt immediately. Eddie experiences an instant dislike for Rodolpho, who sings in a high tenor voice and welcomes traditionally female tasks. In addition, Rodolpho is blond, evoking tales of Danes who came to Italy in the ancient past and left their legacy in the form of pale hair and skin. To make matters worse, the immigrant, who has difficulties at work with the other longshoremen because he is too effeminate, is attracted to Catherine, and she returns his feelings.
In Eddie’s assessment, something is wrong with Rodolpho. Eddie’s desire for his niece is exacerbated by her growing affection for her second cousin. Eddie visits Alfieri, the lawyer, seeking some legal protection for his family. Eddie believes that Rodolpho is after his niece for one reason only: to gain American citizenship through marriage. Alfieri relates to Eddie that the only...
(The entire section is 939 words.)