portly, good-humoured, and thoughtfullawyer who was born in Italy. He also acts as the play’s narrator, in imitation of ancient Greek tragedies where a group of actors commented on proceedings and were known as the 'chorus'. In these plays, fate always plays a huge part, and no one can change its course. A Greek tragedy is a play where the main character has a serious character flaw and this failing leads that character to his or her death.
three thousand years of distrustwhich have been felt by Sicilians towards lawyers, because
A lawyer means the law. He thinks that living in America and following the written law makes people less savage and less likely to take the law into their own hands. He says,
And now we are quite civilised, quite American.
Let her go.Alfieri himself goes to see a wise woman for advice as he does not know how to prevent Eddie from bringing ruin on himself. He is also wise; he realises that Eddie is on a destructive path but can see that this is inevitable – nothing can prevent fate from following its predestined course. He is omniscient but not omnipotent.
a case of Scotch whisky slipped from a net while being unloadedjust before Christmas. It was accepted that the dock workers would more or less help themselves to certain goods around Christmas, such as alcohol and coffee, and Alfieri sees this as a perk of their job.
with a tougher toneat one point when Eddie will not listen to him. Although he believes in following the written law, he still believes in the Mafia code of silence – omertà – and warns Eddie not to inform on Marco and Rodolpho.
But I’m not going to do it, you understand me? Unless I have your promise. You’re an honourable man, I will believe your promise.He wants Marco to promise not to kill Eddie. He insists that all the law is
In a book. There is no other law.He adds that
only God makes justice.
perversely purein him. This means that every one of us, no matter how reasonable or law-abiding, has a breaking point.
Alfieri is not interested in making a lot of money from the law. He cares about the Italian community and about achieving justice for the poor and uneducated.
My wife has warned me, so have my friends; they tell me the people of this neighbourhood lack elegance, glamour.
And my practice is entirely unromantic.
After all, who have I dealt with in my life? Longshoremen and their wives, and fathers and grandfathers, compensation cases, evictions, family squabbles – the petty troubles of the poor - and yet...
Alfieri cares about the poor, and it is obvious that his wife and friends think that he could do a lot better if his clients were richer and from a different neighbourhood.
Alfieri, as the narrator, says that Eddie is an ordinary man who will not be able to overcome his extraordinary problem.
Now, as the weeks passed, there was a future, there was a trouble that would not go away.
Alfieri notes that most people expect an ordinary life; being born, raising a family, eating, working, growing old and dying. He says that Eddie suddenly had a destiny, suggesting that there was an obstacle in his life which he was powerless to prevent.
Alfieri knows that Eddie is frustrated about Catherine and Rodolpho’s relationship.
Eddie, look – I have my own children. I understand you. But the law is very specific.
The child has to grow up and go away, and the man has to learn to forget.
"You have norecoursein the law, Eddie."
Alfieri tactfully tries to tell Eddie that it is possible to have too much love for somebody and that this love is inappropriate. He realises that Eddie has never examined his feelings for Catherine and that he would be horrified to find out how other people see them.
He can see that Eddie is tempted to inform on Marco and Rodolpho.
But I don’t think you want to do anything about that, do you?
He does not specifically say what he thinks Eddie is contemplating. He just implies it.
He emphasises how terrible it would be for Eddie if he does inform.
You won’t have a friend in the world, Eddie! Even those who understand will turn against you, even the ones who feel the same will despise you! [Eddie moves off] Put it out of your mind!
Although he is a man of the law, even Alfieri is aware that breaking the code of silence – the omertà – is seen as unforgivable. Eddie will be an outcast from everyone he has ever known.
Many of the people living in the Italian community in New York in the 1950s were either first or second-generation immigrants. Their parents or grandparents had crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life. Many of those who settled in New York worked in the Brooklyn dockyards, loading and unloading the ships which came from all over the world. Arthur Miller himself was descended from Polish Jews who had immigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. He worked for a couple of years in the Brooklyn dockyards, where he got to know and like the Italian workers. It was at this time that he was told the story of some illegal immigrants who had been informed against, and he turned it into a play.
Omertà - the Mafia code of silence - was an unwritten law. Even though many people knew of illegal immigrants living among them, they would not consider breaking the code and informing the authorities. Miller emphasises how even upholders of the law will not break the code. Alfieri is a lawyer who believes in the American justice system, but even he thinks that it is wrong to betray somebody, and even the two immigration officers, who speak to each other in Italian, are clearly disgusted by what Eddie has done.
But this is Red Hook, not Sicily. This is the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world. And now we are quite civilised, quite American. Now we settle for half, and I like it better. I no longer keep a pistol in my filing cabinet. (Alfieri)
What does this extract tell us about Alfieri and his attitudes?
In the first sentence, Alfieri reveals that he is living in America rather than Italy. The personification of the River Hudson as an enormous mouth is effective, as New York seems to swallow up people and goods from around the world. Even the word
tonnage suggests a 'tongue', furthering the idea. He does not say that it is beautiful - in fact it is quite the opposite – but it is what he and many immigrants have chosen, because it is
civilised. The written American law is most important, not the ancient law of Italy, where people used to take matters into their own hands. He feels that he does not have to be armed to be safe; now he can depend on the law to protect him.