The idea of respect is constantly alluded to during the play. Traditionally, men of Italian origin, who followed the Mafia way of thinking, lived by a strict, unwritten, code. They had to show respect to other men and they were very sensitive about being insulted. They were careful to keep to the code because the consequences of breaking it were usually fatal. One example of not showing respect would be if a man wanted to go out with a girl but did not ask her father’s permission first. This is the way that Eddie considers Rodolpho has insulted him.
Another code which is unwritten, but which nobody is expected to break, is the omertà – the code of silence. There is huge dramatic irony in the way that Eddie insists on Beatrice and Catherine honouring the code, yet he himself breaks it. The immigration officers are also used to emphasise how seriously the Italian immigrants take this code.
In A View from the Bridge, Miller explores the theme of codes of honour through:
Eddie considers that Rodolpho has shown an enormous lack of respect for him.
Katie...if you wasn’t an orphan, wouldn’t he ask your father’s permission before he run around with you like this?
He knows I mind, but it don’t bother him if I mind, don’t you see that?
It ain’t so free here either, Rodolpho, like you think. I seen greenhorns sometimes get in trouble that way – they think just because a girl don’t go around with a shawl over her head that she ain’t strict, y’know? Girl don’t have to wear a black dress to be strict. Know what I mean?
Eddie thinks of Catherine as a daughter, and he knows that no other father would have tolerated the way that Rodolpho stays out late at night with Catherine, without even asking Eddie’s permission.
He tries to make Rodolpho understand that while American girls may seem less restricted in their dress and behaviour, they are still under their fathers’ control.
When Eddie grabs Catherine and kisses her, it is Rodolpho who insists on Eddie showing her respect.
Don’t! Stop that! Have respect for her!
Once Rodolpho has slept with Catherine, he regards her as his, and therefore feels able to tell Eddie to leave her alone.
It is Marco who first challenges Eddie after he sees how he is treating Rodolpho.
[Marco transforms what might appear like a glare of warning into a smile of triumph, and Eddie’s grin vanishes as he absorbs his look.]
The stage directions indicate that Marco is letting Eddie know that he has gone too far by hitting Rodolpho. Marco obviously feels that Eddie is lacking in respect for the brothers, but instead of saying so, he shows that he is stronger than Eddie.
When Marco and Rodolpho are being taken away by the immigration officers, Marco cannot control himself.
[Marco suddenly breaks from the group and dashes into the room and faces Eddie; Beatrice and First Officer rush in as Marco spits in Eddie’s face.]
I’ll kill you for that, you son of a bitch! (Eddie)
That one! I accuse that one! (Marco)
To spit in a man’s face is the ultimate insult and this represents a point of high drama. Miller reduces Marco and Eddie to an animal level, where words no longer matter and the only solution must be a fight. Even Eddie’s words indicate the animal-like situation.