Study Guide

A View from the Bridge Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Arthur Miller

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Catherine's New Look

In the first scene of the play, we get a symbolic conflict over Catherine's burgeoning sexuality. She has recently given herself a bit of a makeover. We don't get before-and-after shots like on all those lovely daytime makeover shows, but based on Eddie's reaction, we get a pretty clear picture of Catherine's old look. The old Catherine looked…well, young. Yes, poor Eddie comes home and is smacked in the face with his deepest fear: Catherine is becoming a woman. Eddie is terrified of his niece growing up and leaving him. He's also terrified of facing his secret incestuous feelings for her. It'll be a lot harder to keep those feelings repressed, with her walking around looking sexy all the time.

So, as you might expect, Eddie does everything he can to criticize Catherine's new look. First, there's the dress. Eddie thinks it's too short. Of course, he does. Too much legs = bad thoughts.

Then there's the worst culprit of all: the high heels. Eddie says, "Now don't aggravate me, Katie, you are walkin' wavy! […] with them new high heels on the sidewalk – clack, clack, clack. The heads are turnin' like windmills" (1.26). In Eddie's world, high heels = sexy, mature woman. He doesn't want those kinds of thoughts going through men's minds about his little girl, especially his own mind. The high heels pop up later on as well. Eddie makes Catherine take them off, right after Rodolfo has wowed her with his lovely singing voice. Chances are this isn't just random fashion advice. Eddie knows his niece better than anyone. He senses already her growing infatuation with Rodolfo. His first act of trying to stop the relationship is to get rid of those sexy symbolic shoes.

Ah, but there's one part of Catherine's new look that we haven't mentioned. She's got a new hairdo. You might wonder why Eddie didn't criticize this as well. It all makes sense when Eddie says, "With your hair that way you look like a madonna, you know that?" (1.126). Eddie then leaps on top of the table, rips open his jacket to reveal a pointy bra, and sings "Like a virgin, Ooh! Touched for the very first time!" OK, he doesn't really do that, but it would be kind of funny if he did. In fact Eddie isn't referring to the sultry mistress of pop. The song still fits, though. Eddie is actually comparing his niece to the Madonna, Mary, Mother of Christ. And what is Mary most famous for? Being a virgin, for giving birth to Jesus without ever having sex. Hmm, so it would seem that Eddie thinks Catherine's new hairdo makes her seem pure and virginal. No wonder he's down with it.

Eddie's Cigar vs. Rodolfo's Coffee

Let's take a look at the symbolic final images Miller gives us at end of the first two scenes. Scene one: Catherine lights Eddie's cigar. Scene two: Catherine pours sugar into Rodolfo's coffee. Random? We think not.

The first one seems pretty obvious. Cigars are time honored phallic images, meaning they bear a striking resemblance to the male genitalia. Catherine sets Eddie's "cigar" on fire. Need we say more?

Then Rodolfo shows up, and we end the next scene with Catherine pouring her sugar into his cup. The sexual connotations aren't quite as blatant as with the cigar, but we think they're still present. In any case, it's important to note that, in the pre-Rodolfo world, Catherine attended to Eddie, but now her services are starting to go to the Eddie's virile young challenger.

"Paper Doll"

When Rodolfo decides to show off his lovely tenor voice to his new benefactors, he makes the incredibly symbolic choice of singing "Paper Doll." It would seem that the symbolism isn't lost on Eddie. Let's check out some the lyrics and see what the big deal is. "I'll tell you boys it's tough to be alone. And it's tough to love a doll that's not your own. […] I'm gonna buy a paper doll that I can call my own, A doll that other fellow cannot steal" (1.308).

It seems to us that the words describe exactly the way Eddie feels about Catherine. The prospect of her growing up makes him feel lonely. Catherine isn't really his, and as much as he tries he can never truly have her. Also, he tries to treat her like a doll. He wants her to be a pure innocent object that he can dress up in girlish clothes and not let anybody else play with.

The song takes on new meaning later on in Act I. By this point, Eddie has done a good amount of Rodolfo bashing. When Catherine can't take it anymore, she jumps up and demands that Rodolfo dance with her. What song does she choose to put on? You guessed it – "Paper Doll." She's too weak to out and out rebel. She's not strong enough yet to say, "Whatevah, I do what I want!" Instead she puts on a song that she knows makes Eddie uncomfortable and chooses to dance with the guy who she knows is the focus of Eddie's disapproval. Catherine would get an A+ in Passive Aggressive 101.

Homosexuality

This section should probably be labeled "supposed" homosexuality. Miller never tells us if Rodolfo is gay or not. Eddie, however, is sure of it. To our disgruntled longshoreman, several different things about Rodolfo make him certain that the young man is gay. Let us count the ways: singing, dancing, sewing, cooking, and having blond hair. Blond hair? Really? This all seems like a pretty weak case to us. It never seems to occur to Eddie that a guy like Rodolfo could possibly be straight. Could it be that Eddie is just looking for an excuse not to like his niece's boyfriend? Or is Eddie right? Are these signs symbolic of Rodolfo's secret attraction to men?

The Double Kiss

One of the most talked about moments in A View from the Bridge is the double kiss. Eddie comes home drunk and finds Catherine and Rodolfo fresh from a make-out session. His response is to get all mad and force a kiss on both his niece and her boyfriend. Now, why would he do such a strange thing? What could it symbolize?

One theory is that it's a result of his repressed sexual desire. His innocent little girl's not-so-innocent sexuality has just been thrown in his face. This makes his own repressed feelings rush to the surface and he kisses her. Some critics have theorized that kissing Rodolfo is also an expression of repressed desire. Does Eddie have secret attraction to men too?

Eddie's kisses may be symbolic of something more than repressed sexuality, however. They may just symbolize Eddie's struggle to maintain dominance. Think about it. In Eddie's view, he has just been monumentally disrespected. His power has been challenged. So, what does he do? He forces his niece to kiss him. This could be seen as a symbolic rape. By forcing himself on his niece, he symbolically asserts his power over her.

Then there's Rodolfo. Let us not forget that, before kissing the boy, Eddie beats him up and shoves him against a wall. That's a pretty obvious assertion of power. He tops off this act of domination with another kiss, another symbolic rape, another symbolic gesture that says "I'm in control here."

If Eddie was trying to regain his kingdom with the double kiss, he fails miserably. The act only pushes the young lovers closer together and unites Eddie's own family against him. In the end, he's left more powerless than before.

The Lifting of the Chair

Now it's Marco's turn for a symbolic act of male dominance. At the end of Act I he challenges Eddie to lift a chair by one its legs with only one of his arms. Eddie can't do it. Marco easily hoists it over his head. Eddie basically gets a symbolic beat down. He's emasculated. We haven't seen this kind of behavior from Marco before now. What could've inspired it? Our best guess is that it's Marco's way of responding to the growing tension in the Eddie/Catherine/Rodolfo love triangle.

Eddie has just punked Marco's little brother, by beating him in a supposedly friendly boxing match. The bout ends with Eddie punching Rodolfo a lot harder than the "friendly" bout would seem to require. Eddie's gesture isn't lost on Catherine who immediately invites Rodolfo to dance to "Paper Doll." (See the section above.) Talk about tension.

Marco seems to understand the increasingly intense social situation pretty well. He senses Eddie is about to explode and thus we have the emasculating chair lifting contest. In the stage directions tell us that Marco raises the chair "like a weapon over Eddie's head" (1.691). Is the lifting of the chair Marco's symbolic warning to Eddie? Is it a promise of violence, which Marco later fulfills?

Brooklyn Bridge

One theory is that the bridge symbolizes hope for a better life. It's the bridge from poor Brooklyn to rich Manhattan. Eddie claims to dream of his beloved niece going to Manhattan and associating with what he considers to be a better class of people.

Another idea is that the bridge symbolizes the narrator, Alfieri. He stands between the Italian and American cultures that clash in the play. Alfieri is a lawyer, right? So, he represents the American justice system. Ahh, but he was also born in Italy, making him equally as representative of Italian ideas of justice. One could say that he's a "bridge" between the two ideologies.

Then of course there's the wildly popular theory that the Brooklyn Bridge is the very same structure referenced by the title of the play. Miller has stated that he wanted audiences to view the play objectively. He wanted people to understand the higher concepts he was trying to get across, rather than just sympathize with his characters. He wanted people to look at the play more objectively, a lot like you would if you were looking down on it from a bridge. For a longer discussion of this, check out "What's Up With the Title?"

Eddie's Death

The play ends with Eddie being stabbed with his own knife and dying. On top of that, Marco twists Eddie's arm around weirdly, such that its Eddie's own hand that drives the blade home. Does this happening have a larger symbolic meaning? Outlook is good. Let us analyze.

Well, we know that all the problems come from Eddie's refusal to let Catherine go. Also, Eddie is the one that betrays his community. And, of course, it's Eddie that brings the knife into the duel in the first place. It would seem, like most tragic heroes, Eddie is the cause of his own destruction. The fact that he dies by his own knife seems to be a none-to-subtle symbol of his self-destructive path. We also talk about this in "What's Up with the Ending." Go forth and peruse.

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