A View from the Bridge
by Arthur Miller
Alfieri is trapped in the middle. He was born an Italian, but for the past twenty-five years or so he's been an American. Many critics say that he's the bridge that the title of the play refers to, because he has one foot in Italy and the other in America. Whatever the case, it seems that these two cultures and their ideas of right and wrong are at war inside him.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, first of all, he's a lawyer and, like most honest lawyers, he respects the law. In his first monologue, he tells the audience, "Now we are quite civilized, quite American. Now we settle for half, and I like it better" (1.1). When he says "settle for half" he means that the community of Red Hook rarely resolves its feuds with violence anymore, like they did back when Al Capone roamed the streets. Now they compromise. They rely on the law. Well, most of the time. When Eddie and Marco duel in order to regain their honor, they're adhering to a much older law, the tribal laws of Italy. These codes of conduct demand bloody revenge, when a man's honor has been attacked.
For pretty much the entire play, Alfieri seems to be on the side of American law. He is the voice of reason. When Eddie first comes to him for help, Alfieri tells him, "You have no recourse in the law" (1.546). There's nothing illegal about Catherine and Rodolfo's relationship. He advises Eddie to forget about it and let Catherine live her own life. It's not until Alfieri's second meeting with Eddie that we get a hint that some part of him might secretly be attracted to the animalistic forces that Eddie is unleashing. Alfieri tells the audience about how "almost transfixed [he] had come to feel" (2.86).
Even so, when the lawyer goes to bail out Rodolfo and Marco, he makes Marco promise to not take revenge on Eddie. Alfieri tells him that "Only God" has the right to judge such things (2.271). Marco almost immediately goes back on his promise. We wonder if some part of Alfieri knew this would happen. It seems pretty obvious, right? Did Alfieri unconsciously think that violence was the only proper way to end the dispute? Was his Italian upbringing influencing his decision? Maybe, maybe not.
In his final monologue, however, Alfieri finally admits to the war that's been going on inside him. "And so I mourn [Eddie] – I admit it – with a certain…alarm" (2.336). While Alfieri's logical mind knows what Eddie did was wrong, some part of him seems to admire the longshoreman's refusal to "settle for half" (2.336).
Alfieri as Greek Chorus
No Greek tragedy is complete without a chorus. In A View from the Bridge, Miller replaces what used to be a horde of masked singing dancers with one guy – Alfieri.
Back in the day, when Athens was the theatre capitol of the Western world, it was the chorus's job to step in and comment on the action of story. Alfieri does the same thing. He pops up between scenes, gives his two cents, and connects the play with larger moral and societal implications. For the most part, Alfieri does a lot of talking about the contrasting Italian and American ideas of justice, which we talk about at length in the section above.
The chorus generally did a lot of moaning and wailing about the tragic events that were going on around them. Some critics say their sympathy was the audience's window into the horrific events of the play. While Alfieri doesn't make a big show of his sorrow, he comments several times on how terrible everything that goes down is. He even ends the play by telling the audience that he mourns Eddie.
The chorus would also sometimes try and talk the tragic hero out of whatever misguided things they were doing. Of course, the hero would always be like whatever and just do what he wanted to do in the first place. Sound familiar? The same thing happens with Alfieri and Eddie. Alfieri tells him to chill out. Eddie doesn't. Eddie dies.