Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 833

Arthur Miller modeled A View from the Bridge after Greek tragedy: He made the lawyer, Alfieri, the leader of a dramatic chorus, mimicking the ancient Greek dramas of Sophocles and Euripides. As a result, it is Alfieri’s view that defines the action of the play and its unfolding. He remains the play’s narrator throughout, even as he relates scenes to which he was not a witness, and he warns the audience from the beginning that he is powerless to divert the action from its anticipated bloody course. In addition to the chorus, the play incorporates a classical Greek temporal structure: The narrative unfolds at an unusually rapid pace within the conventions of mid-twentieth century American drama. It incorporates few frills; instead, the action of the play is rapid and unrelenting.

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Much has been written about the impact upon Miller of the anticommunist witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the hearings conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (also known as HUAC). It is well known that Miller was responding to these events when he wrote The Crucible (pr., pb. 1953), which allegorized the hunt for communists in its tale of the witch trials conducted in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. It could be argued, however, that A View from the Bridge was an even more important play for Miller in his quest to understand and respond to McCarthyism. In fact, Miller used the character of Eddie Carbone as a reference in his statements to HUAC when he was called to testify and name associates known to him to be communists. Unlike the central character of his drama, Miller did not point his finger at anyone, and he consequently remained on the high moral ground that Eddie Carbone forfeits by his actions in the play.

Miller notes in his writings about A View from the Bridge that he had been told a story about a longshoreman who turned two illegal Italian immigrants into the authorities and about the impact that act had on the surrounding community. He states that the shape of the story reminded him of a Greek myth, but he was unable to find any similar tale in ancient sources. Regardless, he decided to create an American myth using many of the structural devices found in the works of the Greek masters. As is true of the chorus in Oidipous Tyrannos (c. 429 b.c.e.; Oedipus Tyrannus, 1715), Miller’s chorus (represented by Alfieri backed by the residents of the Red Hood area) can only report what is happening; it cannot change the course of events. Alfieri even states near the end of act 1 that he can see exactly what is going to happen, but he is powerless to influence matters. True to Greek structure, what happens must happen; there is no denying it. When deeply felt passions are in play and out of control, horrible things will emerge.

Miller originally titled the work, which began as a one-act play, An Italian Tragedy. He writes in Echoes Down the Corridor: Collected Essays, 1947-2000 (2000) of encountering the phrase “Where is Pete Panto” etched on the Brooklyn Bridge in the early 1950’s. He became obsessed with the story of Panto, a strong voice against union corruption who mysteriously disappeared. With the aid of his friend, stage and film director Elia Kazan, Miller researched the story and wrote a screenplay based on it called The Hook. The work was considered too inflammatory for the times, however, and was denied production. In a way, A View from the Bridge is Miller’s return, if not to Panto and union discontent, then to the Red Hook area and the lifestyle he had researched. When it was produced on Broadway in 1955 along with A Memory of Two Mondays (pr., pb. 1955), it was not well received. It was seen as being too close to the McCarthy era and the sensitive matters that were under scrutiny at that time. It was not until ten years later, as a full-length play, that the work found an American audience, this time produced Off-Broadway with a young Robert Duvall in the central role.

It seems that Miller was unable to avoid controversy. He sought to stage a production of A View from the Bridge in London in 1956, directed by Peter Brook. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office, which had to approve all plays before they could be produced in Great Britain, declared that the play’s insinuations of homosexuality were too blatant and refused to approve the production. To circumvent the decision, Brook moved the production to a private club, and Miller’s important play finally achieved its most impactful hearing. It was Brook who encouraged Miller to expand the work to two acts. In London, theater-goers were not concerned with un-American activities, and, as a result, the tragedy was viewed, accepted, and admired for its theatrical merits. It is the two-act version of the play that has survived and become one of Miller’s most important contributions to Western drama.

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