A View from the Bridge
If Eddie's soul were standing outside the Pearly Gates, we wonder what he'd say to finagle his way past St. Peter. He might bring up his years of hard work. This wouldn't be a lie, either. The man was born poor, but he didn't let it get him down. He didn't resort to crime or government handouts. He got a job as a longshoreman and worked his butt off on those docks. Eddie tells Alfieri that, "In the worst times […] I didn't stand around lookin' for relief – I hustled. When there was empty piers in Brooklyn I went to Hoboken, Staten Island, the West Side, Jersey, all over" (1.564).
Why did he do all this? For the good of his beautiful niece, Catherine, whom he adopted out of the kindness of his heart when his wife's sister died. He says, "I took out of my own mouth to give to her. […] I walked hungry plenty days in this city!" (1.564) He'd probably also point out to St. Peter what a warm welcome he gave his wife's Italian cousins when they first arrived. He opened his doors to those that needed him and declared that it was an "honor" (1.75). Eddie might also point out how tolerant he was of Catherine's wishes. He did finally allow her to take the stenographer job, once he realized how much it meant to her.
At this point, St. Peter would slide his glasses down his nose, give Eddie a penetrating glance, and say something like, "That's all very well, Mr. Carbone, but let us examine your feelings concerning your niece. Incest is rather frowned upon here in Heaven." Now, if the Eddie that we see in A View from the Bridge heard such a direct accusation, he'd probably go absolutely nuts. There'd be trash talking, a lot of throwing blame around, and a good amount of foaming at the mouth.
In the play, anytime someone tries to crack Eddie's impenetrable wall of denial, he gets seriously angry. Alfieri says to him, "She can't marry you can she?" (1.567) Eddie furiously responds, "I don't know what the hell you're talkin' about!" (1.568) Beatrice screams at him, "You want somethin' else, Eddie, and you can never have her!" (2.316) He gets so incredibly furious that he barrels down the stairs to his death. Of course, in our little hypothetical situation, he's already dead, so, unless there's such a thing as re-death, Eddie just has to deal with it.
Let's pretend that Eddie learned from his death. In his last moments he realized his folly and is now ready to talk about it. This new rational Eddie might argue that it wasn't really his fault that he loved his niece so much. Can a person really be blamed for the way he feels?
"Maybe, maybe not," St. Peter would say, "but a person can be blamed for how they act on those feelings." The gatekeeper would then go down the long list of Eddie's sins that we find in the play. Eddie cuts his wife off emotionally and gives the bulk of his attention to his niece. Eddie even says to Alfieri, "I took out of my wife's mouth […] to give to her" (1. 564).
Let's see…what else. Oh, yes, he forces a kiss on his niece, symbolically raping her. When Rodolpho tries to stop him, he beats the young guy up, and forces a kiss on him, too. To top it all off, he betrays his family and community by maliciously calling Immigration on Marco and Rodolpho. This sin may very well result in the death of Marco's entire family, not to mention the fact that two other "submarines" get hauled off in the bargain. Rather than fessing up and admitting he's wrong, Eddie throws himself into a bloody duel with Marco, which results in his own death.
By this point, Eddie would probably be hiding behind a puff of cloud. It's pretty tough to have all your sins rained down on you all at the same time. He might try one last defense: insanity. This wouldn't be a total lie, like it almost always is on Law and Order.
In the play, Eddie really is just so deep in denial that it makes him lose his senses. It's not like he ever actively thinks, "Gee, you know what I'd like to do? Run away with my seventeen-year-old niece and leave my wife behind." It's not like Eddie thinks having an incestuous relationship with a minor is a good thing. He's just as horrified by the idea as everybody else, that's why it's so hard for him to face it. We have no idea what St. Peter might say to this defense. We're not sure if the plea of insanity holds up. What do you think? If you were the gatekeeper, would you be moved? Or would you open the trapdoor open under Eddie's feet?
Eddie as Tragic Hero
Eddie Carbone is one of the most villainous heroes in the history of American drama. In the world of literary analysis, a hero isn't always a good guy. He probably won't get an invitation to join the X-Men anytime soon. No, Eddie is a particular kind of hero, a tragic hero. The ancient Greeks were the first to write about these unfortunate souls. Sophocles's Oedipus and Aeschylus's Orestes are some of the most famous examples. Shakespeare created his fair share as well; take Macbeth or King Lear for example.
What does Eddie share with these other famous men? A little thing the Greeks called hamatria, which literally means "error of judgment." It's more commonly referred to as a tragic flaw. Basically, these guys make some mistake or have something destructive tendency that leads to them causing their own destruction. You could argue that Eddie's tragic flaw is either denial or, to begin with, the incestuous feelings.
The damage caused by a tragic hero's downfall usually hurts more than just him; his community and family often suffer, too. Once again Eddie's betrayal does both of these things. Another important aspect of a tragic hero is that his own actions are the cause of his demise. Bad things don't randomly happen to him; he chooses to do the things that prove to be his undoing. This is true of Eddie as well. Everything would've been hunky dory if he'd just let Catherine and Rodolpho get married, but then that pesky old hamatria kicks in and everybody suffers.
Lastly, we'd be selling you short if we didn't point out that Eddie is a little bit different than his famous tragic predecessors. Unlike the fellows before him, he isn't royalty of any kind; he's just your average everyday working man. In his famous essay, "Tragedy of the Common Man," Arthur Miller states, "I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were." Miller goes on to say that it's not the fact that past tragic heroes have been royal that makes them resonate with modern audiences. It's that fact that they share the same problems as we do today, the same flaws, fears, and hopes.
Some critics have said that true tragedy is impossible when your hero is a common man. They say that when a working man goes down, not as many people suffer as they would if it were a king. Doesn't Eddie's family and entire community suffer as result of his actions, though? Furthermore, is the size of a tragedy really limited to the world of the play? Can't we look into the life of a common man and recognize our own flaws? Can't we see those flaws in society around us? Why can't a common man's life have size and meaning?
Miller ends his essay by saying, "It is time, I think, that we who are without kings took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time – the heart and spirit of the average man." Wow, that pretty much sums it up.