English Literature

Context

To understand the context of Arthur Miller's play you need to know a bit about Miller himself, and some background facts about migration from Italy to the US during the 1950s.

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Playwright Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller was born to a Jewish family in New York in 1915. His grandparents had come to America from Poland. When the family business failed, they moved to Brooklyn, where A View from the Bridge is set. There, Arthur worked in a warehouse to earn money for his university fees.

He began to write plays while he was a student at the University of Michigan and continued to do so after he graduated in 1938 and became a journalist [journalist: A person who researches and writes articles for newspapers, magazines or the broadcasting media. ]. He received much acclaim from All My Sons in 1947; Death of a Salesman (1949) - which won the Pulitzer Prize [Pulitzer Prize: Prizes for literature, named after Joseph Pulitzer, an American newspaper publisher who was born in Hungary in 1847. ] - and The Crucible (1952) confirmed him as a great playwright [playwright: A writer or maker of plays. (Note the spelling: it comes from the same derivation as 'wheelwright', a maker of wheels, and has nothing to do with the word 'write'!) ].

Between his years as a journalist and making his name as a writer, Miller worked in the Brooklyn shipyards for two years, where he befriended the Italians he worked alongside. He heard a story of some men coming over to work illegally and being betrayed. The story inspired A View from the Bridge, which was written in 1955. It was originally a one-act play, but Miller re-worked it into a two-act play the following year.

Miller's first marriage ended in divorce in 1956. He then married the actress Marilyn Monroe, but they divorced in 1961. His third marriage was to a photographer, Inge Morath.

Most of his work is set in the America of the day and portrays realistic characters and events. He deals with political and moral issues and weaves in ideas from Greek tragedy [Greek tragedy: The first tragedies were written by Greek playwrights of the 5th century BCE. They feature individuals who experience a terrible fate, and a chorus who comment on proceedings. ]. He is interested in how personal relationships dictate the way one leads one's life and about people's struggles to do what is right.

Miller died in 2005 at the age of 89. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest dramatists [dramatist: Another word for playwright - a writer or maker of plays. ] of the 20th century.

Italian Immigration

Italy in 1955 was a very poor country. During World War Two, Italy - ruled by the Fascist Mussolini - had initially fought alongside Nazi Germany. Yet the Italians became increasingly anxious about their role in the war and about Fascism, and in 1943, Mussolini was deposed by Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy. Italy then switched sides in the war and supported the British allies, but suffered huge loses in northern towns and villages as the Nazis tried to take revenge. After the war, following a referendum, the monarchy was abolished and a republic was established.

Postcard of Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge over the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn

However, the economy was slow to grow, especially in the south, which was less industrialised. With no jobs and no prospects, it was not surprising that many people decided to try their luck in 'rich' America. There was a thriving trade in illegal immigration, encouraged by the dockyard owners, who knew that they could get cheap labour from immigrants until they had paid for their passage over. Once they had paid their fare, the immigrants were left to make their own way.

When Italy joined the new European Economic Community in 1957, much money was pumped into Italy to reduce unemployment. One key part of this process was the establishment of the Fiat factory in Turin: thousands of peasants from the south moved north to make cars. Sadly, this was just too late for Marco and Rodolpho.

The play is set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a very poor area, described by Alfieri as the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge.

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