English Literature

Dramatic effect

Here's what Miller himself said about the dramatic [dramatic: To do with a drama or play. A description or portrayal that is vivid and immediate - as if it is being acted out in front of you. Something that is tense or exciting. ] nature of the play. "I wanted to write a play that had the cleanliness ... the clear line of some of the Greek tragedies. Meaning that we would be confronted with a situation and we would be told in effect what the ending was. The question was not what was going to happen, but how it was going to happen."

Each of the following aspects of the play contribute importantly to the build up of dramatic tension as we wait to see how the tragedy [tragedy: A type of drama in which characters undergo suffering or calamity and which usually ends with a death. A sad or catastrophic event causing suffering or death. ] will play out.

"A Greek tragedy"

Alfieri is the lawyer who narrates the story.

Like a Greek drama - where the action all takes place in a single location - most of the action of this play takes place in the Carbones' apartment or immediately outside it. Miller explains at the opening of Act 1 how Alfieri's office can fit into this setting too (it is Alfieri's view from the bridge that we see).

Alfieri is established immediately as the commentator. He introduces the play, narrates the story in flashback [flashback: A scene enacting something that happened in the past; the enactment of a character's memory of a past event. ], focussing on key scenes, then closes the play. He is in control and we trust him.

  • He is like the Chorus in a Greek tragedy, explaining the events on stage to the audience without actually participating in them.
  • Although he does play some part in the action, it is clear that he was powerless and that nothing he could have done would have altered the bloody course. He tells us right from the start what is going to happen: dramatic [dramatic: To do with a drama or play. A description or portrayal that is vivid and immediate - as if it is being acted out in front of you. Something that is tense or exciting. ] interest is maintained because we want to find out how.
  • He reminds us at various intervals during the play that the ending is inevitable, such as near the end of Act 1: "I could see every step coming, step after step, like a dark figure walking down a hall towards a certain door."

As you read the play, it is important to imagine yourself watching and listening to the action. It is a drama, not a novel! The stage directions [stage directions: Instructions written into the script of a drama to guide the performers' actions. ] are important in helping us to imagine exactly what is going on: they can help us picture each character's actions and reactions.

During the course of A View from the Bridge the Carbone family change from a poor but loving family into one torn apart by mistrust, jealousy and violence. Ask yourself what happens to create such a dramatic contrast [contrast: A description of all the differences between two things (in this case, two texts). ]. How is the tension maintained and the audience involved?

The Character of Eddie

Eddie is the main character in the play.

The drama revolves around Eddie. He is the focal point. Everything rests on Eddie's reaction to events. At first this is comparatively minor: will he or won't he allow Catherine to take the job at the plumbing company? Yet soon it becomes crucial: will he or won't he understand that he cannot keep Catherine to himself - that he must allow her to live her own life?

Eddie is the centre round which all the conflict in the play revolves.

  • Verbal conflict with all the other characters at some point or another. He often deliberately starts arguments - for instance, he questions the virtue of the wives of Italian immigrants: "I betcha there's plenty of surprises sometimes when those guys get back there, heh? Even his jokes are barbed and bitter.
  • Conflict within himself as he grapples with his love of Catherine.
  • Physical conflict with Rodolpho and, ultimately, Marco.

This creates a lot of tension, with each scene of conflict becoming more intense than the one that preceded it. The tense atmosphere during the boxing at the end of Act 1 leads on to the shock near the start of Act 2 when an enraged Eddie kisses both Catherine and Rodolpho and starts a fight - which in turn prepares us for the final scene.

Tone and Timing

There are numerous changes in tone. Again, this is often dependent on Eddie. If he is in a good mood, such as immediately the cousins arrive and the stage directions [stage directions: Instructions written into the script of a drama to guide the performers' actions. ] tell us he is "laughing", the tone is light-hearted; if he is in a bad mood, such as later on that night when "his face puffed with trouble", there is tension. Can you think of any other changes in the tone in the play?

Timing is crucial to the action of the play. For example, Eddie calls the Immigration Bureau after his meeting with Alfieri on the very day that Catherine says that she is going to marry Rodolpho soon because she is scared of him getting caught by Immigration; simultaneously Marco and Rodolpho move out of the apartment, and thereby cause other immigrants - relatives of the Liparis who have nothing to do with Eddie - to be picked up too. From then on, the pace increases quickly to the end.

These examples of unlucky timing give rise to dramatic irony (where the audience have a better idea of what is going to happen than the characters do themselves). Another example is when the Immigration Officers appear outside the Carbones' apartment just as Catherine is arguing with Eddie over where Marco and Rodolpho if Eddie throws them out of the building. We know their argument is pointless because the officers are about to pounce. The effect of dramatic irony is to involve us in the action, to make us feel implicated, almost as if we are ourselves characters in the play.

The Ending

Beatrice holds Eddie as he dies in her arms.

The ending is poignant. A private tragedy [tragedy: A type of drama in which characters undergo suffering or calamity and which usually ends with a death. A sad or catastrophic event causing suffering or death. ] ends up being acted out in public. All the main characters and other people are on the street outside the apartment to see Eddie killed by Marco. Alfieri rounds off the drama [drama: A play or other performance in which events and dialogue are portrayed by actors on a stage; from the ancient Greek word for 'acting out'. Can also mean exciting or upsetting events. ] by reminding us that Eddie's death was useless and that he loved him, but that he mourns him with "a certain... alarm." What does Alfieri mean by this?

  • He is thinking that even though he could predict what was going to happen, even he - a lawyer - could do nothing to prevent it.
  • Probably he is thinking that Eddie's faults are common ones, and that his story should be a warning to us all to be more self-aware.
  • Perhaps another, equally disturbing thought has occurred to him: that when it finally comes, Eddie's destruction feels not only tragic, but in some way right and appropriate: like the old generation making way for the new.

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