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In this essay, I will explain how Arthur Miller creates tension and
suspense in 'A View From The Bridge' by explaining the dramatic
devices, props, characters etc.
In 'A View From The Bridge', Arthur Miller employs various techniques
to generate dramatic tension and to hold the audiences' interest. The
playwright uses the setting, characters, stage directions, props,
lighting, language, and setting as the main sources of drama.
The characters are a vital element in the play, and are the basis of
the drama. Eddie is portrayed as a well respected, hard working,
ordinary man. He is dedicated to his family and is presented as an
"He was as good a man as he had to be in a life that was hard and
even." Alfieri explains this at the beginning of the play, and this
emphasises that Eddie is an honourable, decent person. However, as
soon as a catalyst (in the form of the cousins) is introduced, another
side to Eddie is revealed, and his true feelings for Catherine
"What are the high heels for Garbo?" Eddie says this to Catherine, in
front of the cousins, to deliberately humiliate her. Eddie sees
Catherine's attentiveness towards Rodolfo and becomes jealous. This
sexual jealousy grows throughout the play and the audience realize
that what did seem like over-protectiveness is in fact romantic
obsession and unlawful love for Catherine. This disgusts the audience
and so they begin to turn against Eddie. Eddie's attachment to
Catherine is his flaw. His demise is the consequence of this weakness.
Eddie's fate becomes inevitable and predictable when his inability to
compromise and the true extent of his fixation with Catherine becomes
"His eyes were like tunnels." Alfieri says this to describe Eddie. It
suggests that Eddie has tunnel vision, and can only focus on one thing
- Catherine. This is evident when Eddie calls Immigration to 'snitch'
on Marco and Rodolfo. It highlights Eddie's desperation and loss of
rational thinking as he acts on the contrary of his own strong
beliefs, which he outlined at the beginning of the play with the
consequences of Vinnie Banzalo's betrayal.
The characters are all involved in very tangled relationships.
Beatrice is jealous of Eddie's love for Catherine.
"When am I gonna be a wife again Eddie?" She is very frustrated with
her husband, but he will not face the reality of the situation. Eddie
expects Beatrice to support him, as wives were supposed at that time.
So when Beatrice defends Catherine, Eddie cannot understand why his
wife is deliberately defying him as he believes he is being perfectly
Eddie insinuates that Rodolfo is homosexual due to his apparent
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"He sings, he cooks, he could make dresses." Eddie says this as a
bitter response to hurt Rodolfo. He feels threatened and thinks
Rodolfo is stealing Catherine from him. Throughout the play Eddie
tries to emphasise Rodolfo's womanliness with comments such as, "he
ain't right" and, "he's funny".
The characters all have different personalities and lifestyles. The
biggest contrasts are the two brothers. Rodolfo represents a fun,
carefree, ambitious, entertainer. Whereas, Marco is a serious, hard
working man and is in America to get money for his family. This
variety of characters adds depth to the play and allows the audience
to relate to each of them.
The set, properties, and lighting also increase the drama in the play.
The set is not naturalistic, although it does need to show some
aspects of reality. The set arrangement enables the inside of the
apartment, the street outside, and Alfieri's office all to be
represented without any scene changes. This arrangement means that the
lighting is essential as it indicates which part of the set is in use.
The lighting is also important as it is used to draw focus to a
particular character or event.
'A phone booth begins to glow on the opposite side of the stage; a
faint, lonely blue.' This is an example of when light is used to
symbolise a characters thoughts. As the light grows brighter, it
represents Eddie's growing determination to call the immigration
office and also Alfieri's realization of Eddie's plan. This lighting
effect acts as a viewpoint for the audience and emphasises the phone,
making the whole event more dramatic. The lighting adds profundity to
the play, and outlines different moods by using different shades.
'The lights have gone down, leaving him in a glow,' this stage
direction occurs after Eddie's death. The darkness signifies and end,
and also the sorrow felt by Eddie's loved ones. Alfieri is left in a
faint glow which illustrates his detachment. The lighting creates a
very intense atmosphere.
The props on set add realism and interest to the play. The characters
can interact with the props so there is more action and a greater
impression of every day life. They add texture to the scene and give
the characters something to react with.
'Beatrice is taking down Christmas decorations and packing them in a
box.' The props in this scene are much explicated as they inform the
audience of the time of year. They could also hold greater meaning.
The joy and excitement of Christmas is over and this could symbolize
the end of the happiness in the family as the immigration officers are
about to arrive.
Props can also be used to express a character's feelings. An example
of this is when Eddie is trying to imply that Rodolfo is homosexual
and at the same time is unconsciously twisting a newspaper.
'He has bent the rolled paper and it suddenly tears in two.' This
action represents Eddie's growing drive to convey his opinion of
Rodolfo. The newspaper also denotes the growing tension in the room.
When the newspaper tears in two, the tension breaks and Eddie changes
Each part of the set suggests particular themes in the play. Alfieri's
office represents the law. The apartment symbolises family ties, and
the apartment above is not seen and therefore signifies the untold,
unpredictable events. The street is where feelings are released, the
fight occurs in the street and Beatrice's confrontation with Eddie.
The language in the play allows the audience to know the characters'
relationships, emotions and thoughts. It is the most obvious feature
of drama. The dialogue in the play also separates the characters.
Alfieri is the only coherent, eloquent speaker in the play as all the
other characters converse in slang. They use the wrong tenses and
shorten words, for example; "sump'm" and "talkin'". Miller uses this
language to create a working-class, poor environment.
Pauses are a very effective way to create dramatic tension. The
audience is not accustomed to silence, so when the characters are
quiet it has great impact. The silence is usually due to a dramatic
event and it allows the audience to absorb the full impact of the
situation. These pauses create suspense and the audience want to know
what will happen next.
Eddie uses language to distance Rodolfo as he is jealous of him.
'He is coming more and more to address Marco only.' This shows how
Eddie disregards Rodolfo and tries to exclude him from the
conversation. Eddie uses language to subtly show his contempt for
The dialogue can be employed to set the scene and atmosphere. The
opening of the play is a joyous scene.
Catherine says, "Hi Eddie!" showing she is pleased he is home. The
characters speak with excitement and it is clear they have a close
How the character performs the dialogue is an important factor as
devices such as sarcasm can change the meaning of the speech. Eddie
often says things, concerning Rodolfo, which have a different meaning.
"He sings, he cooks, he could make dresses." Eddie says this to
humiliate Rodolfo, implying that he is homosexual, even though it is
in fact a compliment as these are his talents. The actor's tone of
voice also has a great effect on the meaning of the speech.
The language of a character gives the audience an insight into their
personality. Marco seldom speaks. This could be due to his poor
English, but it could also show that he is a man of action, not words
and he spends most of his time deep in thought.
Alfieri is a vital part of the play. He adds grandeur to the play and
sets it in a wider context and broadens the subjects of people,
humanity, and our society. Alfieri clarifies the real meaning of
events for the audience. He raises the many issues of the play.
Alfieri does this by delivering a speech after a dramatic event and
makes the audience reflect on this episode. He also prepares the
audience (with a speech) for an upcoming incident.
The play is divided into two acts. The first act establishes the
tensions between Eddie, Catherine, Rodolfo and Beatrice. The second
act activates these tensions and the divergence gradually builds until
the altercated climax. Alfieri breaks up these acts into short
episodes, with each episode unmasking further tension. He does this by
providing a commentary on events.
Alfieri speaks mostly fact, so the audience automatically believe his
own opinion. The playwright presents him in the role of a chorus, from
an ancient Greek play. The chorus was a figure who watched the action
and commented on it, addressing the audience directly.
Alfieri represents being civilized and rational, unlike the people
around him. He is separated from the other characters due to his
profession and he is also separated from the vents of the play. This
makes the audience trust him as he, like them, is able to watch and
judge what is happening. This element indicates that the title, 'A
View From The Bridge', represents Alfieri looking down on events. The
fact that it is Brooklyn Bridge is significant as it symbolizes a
pathway of opportunity to Manhattan and is the linkage between Italian
and American cultures. This prospect of a new beginning and a better
life is the reason the immigrants go to America. The bridge could also
represent Alfieri in many ways. He bridges the gap between the
audience and the characters, as he is connected with Eddie.
"I had represented his father in an accident case some years before,
and I was acquainted with the family in a casual way." Alfieri says
this, demonstrating his attachment to the family. Alfieri is also the
bridge between the middle class and working class people. He is a
lawyer and therefore represents both classes. He can also be seen as
the link between American law and Italian justice, as his roots are in
Alfieri also epitomises God. He looks down on the imprudence of
others. He is also powerless to stop any events in the play.
"...and sat there as powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody
course." Alfieri acknowledges that there is nothing he can do. This
powerlessness suggests that God is limited in his power.
Alfieri intimates at the complexity and abstruseness around the
concept of justice with the paradox,
"Many there were justly shot by unjust men." With this statement,
Alfieri also demonstrates that the community is dangerous at times,
and the law is not respected.
"This is the slum," Alfieri says, identifying that Red Hook is poor
and in bad condition.
Alfieri is the voice of reason in the play. He tries to discourage
Marco from confronting Eddie as he knows it will end in tragedy. But,
as justice overrules the law, Alfieri's efforts are in vain. At that
time in Red Hook, a man's 'name' encapsulated his integrity,
self-respect and dignity. If a man's name was tarnished (like Eddie's
was when Marco accused him) then no law could stand in the way. That
man would want his name back, just as Eddie did.
Alfieri informs the audience, in his opening speech, what is going to
happen. It is how it gets to the final, bloody climax that is
significant. The play is structured almost as Alfieri's flashbacks. He
is usually in a spotlight and everything else is silent and in
darkness. This means the focus on him is very intense and it makes him
a very effective source of dramatic tension.
The stage directions are the most essential dramatic device in the
play. They bring the play to life and show how the characters
'Eddie is pleased and therefore shy about it.' This stage direction
displays Eddie's true feelings which there is no dialogue to express.
Some matters cannot be openly discussed, so are shown in gesture and
action. This minor detail is highly symbolic. When Catherine serves
Eddie's food, or lights a cigar for him, this illustrates the
relationship they have. For a 1950's audience, the lighting of a cigar
would be a very indicative action, suggesting they have an intimacy
only lovers should have.
Stage directions can also show a build up of tension. For example when
Lois and Mike talk to Eddie about Rodolfo, Eddie tries to infer that
Rodolfo is homosexual and he wants them to support his accusation.
However, Lois and Mike do not submit to this. They try and disguise
Eddie's suggestion with gradual laughter until they finally 'explode
in laughter', showing the release of tension as they leave.
In the scene where Eddie kisses both Rodolfo and Catherine, the kisses
are a very effective way of generating drama. For an audience in 1955,
the double kiss would have been scandalous. Eddie kissing Catherine
proposes incest and Eddie's kiss with Rodolfo is demonstrating his
supposed homosexuality. Both kisses repel the audience and Eddie loses
the audience's sympathy further when he calls immigration.
The final part of the first act relies on action immensely. First
Catherine dances with Rodolfo. Catherine is 'flushed with revolt.' She
uses this action to defy Eddie and signify that she is breaking free
from his possession. This gesture is emphasized further given that the
lovers, Catherine and Rodolfo, dance to 'Paper Doll'. The words of
this song represent Eddie's feelings for Catherine so it is ironic
that Catherine uses it to challenge Eddie. Eddie responds to this
action by offering to teach Rodolfo how to box.
'He feints with his left hand and lands with his right.' With this
action Eddie exposes his underlying aggression and jealousy towards
Rodolfo. His true feelings become apparent to the other characters.
Marco concludes this scene by challenging Eddie to lift a chair by one
leg. Eddie fails this task.
"the chair raised like a weapon over Eddie's head." Marco does this to
warn Eddie. This event reveals a different side to Marco, as he stands
up for his brother and is seen as a very potent, dominating character.
Marco proves he is stronger than Eddie. This makes Eddie's final
action of confronting Marco, before his death, more tragic as he knows
he is the weaker man. It also accentuates the concept that Eddie
committed suicide as he knew he was helpless against Marco.
Beatrice confronts her husband, in the final scene, with the reality
of their insufficient relationship and his desire for Catherine. This
truth has been withheld from the characters throughout the play and it
causes great turmoil and commotion. This final humiliation and
realization of the truth proves too much for Eddie and pushes him to
face Marco and in effect, commit suicide. The action of Eddie dying by
his own weapon and hand, symbolizes the allegory that he gradually
destroys himself throughout the play. This is what Alfieri proclaims
at the very beginning of the play, the concept of a man progressively
manufacturing his own failure.
Miller maintains and accentuates immense tension and suspense so that
the audience is kept stimulated throughout. The devices work together
to configure an exciting, effective, enjoyable play with many depths
and morals and a high entertainment value.