Alfieri’s role in the play is fundamental as his didactic nature reveals much about other characters. Not only does he set the scene, but he also continually captures the attention of the audience by introducing the story from his own perspective, one that we can understand. The audience tends to believe Alfieri and trust what he says, possibly because he’s a lawyer and is more educated than any of the other characters in the play. His role is like the Greek Chorus, always bringing back the truth and reality. He is constantly in touch with the audience, speaking to them directly and often asking rhetorical questions. He is the voice of the audience, but like us he is ultimately powerless to change the inevitable course of the play.
At heart Alfieri is Sicilian. No matter how many years he has lived in Red Hook, how much his accent has changed or how ‘American’ he is, nothing will change the fact that he was ‘born in Italy.’ Alfieri has one foot in Italy and the other in Red Hook throughout the play. The overall view portrayed is one of a man who is confident of his self-identity and yet knows the reality of Red Hook. He is however not looking for his American Dream. Alfieri knows the truth and knows that he has to work hard to make a living. For the majority of the play, Alfieri seems to be on the side of the American law. But in one of his later monologues, when he makes Marco promise to never seek revenge from Eddie, Marco almost immediately goes back on his word. This gives the impression that some part of Alfieri knew this outcome would ensue. Perhaps Alfieri thought that violence was the only way this dispute would end. This reinforces the idea that his Italian upbringing influences many of his decisions throughout the play.
In his opening speech Alfieri is constantly criticizing Red Hook by saying it is the, ‘Gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world.’ This suggests that Brooklyn just takes in anything or anyone that doesn’t have a home or wants a better life. It is ‘A slum that faces the bay,’ illustrating that Alfieri went to America in hope of living the American Dream. However now, he is beyond that point where he no longer feels the need to pursue this dream. Like Alfieri, each Italian aspires to become rich. They often realize that these dreams are not feasible, hence turning to crime and bribery. The actions of the people of Red Hook contradict Alfieri’s words when he says that ‘Justice is very important here.’
Alfieri likes the idea of a just society, ‘Now we are quite civilized, quite American. Now we settle for half and I like it better.’ When he says ‘settle for half,’ Alfieri could be implying that a compromise has been made between American and Italian laws. He implies that the people of Red Hook rarely resolve their problems with violence any longer, like they previously had when, ‘Al Capone roamed the streets.’ As Al Capone departed, so did the Italian idea of a just law. Further into the story when Marco stabs Eddie, they are evidently adhering to an older law. An Italian gangster law, which is also known as Bloody Revenge. Their actions agree with Alfieri’s words that there are many here, ‘Justly shot by unjust men.’ Eddie deserved to be killed, but the killer, Marco, had no justification to do so.
When Alfieri initially expresses himself in his opening speech, he appears rather ambiguous and almost unsure of himself. This makes the reader doubt his motives. On the other hand in his final speech, Alfieri proclaims with confidence and conviction that it is ‘better to settle for half, it must be!’ In hindsight Alfieri realises the flaws in his previously held opinions. However, if Eddie had accepted the fact that Rodolpho and Catherine were going to marry, he wouldn’t have died at the end of the play. Therefore suggesting that his actions led to his ultimate demise. Alfieri becomes aware of the consequences of being greedy.
From the start of the play, the audience gets the impression that Eddie will encounter misfortune. Alfieri foreshadows the end of the play by repeatedly telling the audience how ‘powerless’ he is. Ultimately, it is evident that tragedy will prevail. Alfieri is blatantly saying that Eddie is meant to get killed, presenting the idea of inevitability and fate. Regardless of his actions and persistence, he cannot change the destiny of the characters. The events of the play are beyond his control. He does whatever he can to stop the worst from happening, but eventually ends up having to ‘watch it run its bloody course.’
Upon their first meeting, the far-fetched, drastic opinions of Eddie compared to the more subdued, realistic ones of Alfieri, highlight the extreme stances of these prominent characters. Alfieri is trying to explain to Eddie that since he is a lawyer, he can only ‘deal in what’s provable.’ This shows just how pragmatic Alfieri is compared to Eddie. Additionally, if Alfieri did not express his opinions, ambiguity and confusion would arise as the audience would not know whose side to take. Although, with Alfieri we have a sense of trust. This is because he is more eloquent and has greater clarity of speech compared to that of the rest of the characters. For example, in this particular conversation, Alfieri hardly speaks and yet his limited input is more striking than the verbose ways of Eddie.
Arthur Miller uses Alfieri’s character to engage the readers at the beginning of the play. When ‘Alfieri walks into the darkness’, the atmosphere suddenly becomes very tense. Lots of questions fill the readers mind. Where did he go? Why? He leaves the reader at a cliffhanger, wanting to know what happens next. His presence evokes feelings of familiarity and protection. However when he leaves, a sense of uncertainty overcomes us. As well as being a bridge between the characters and the audience, Alfieri’s presence creates suspense and apprehension.
In his opening speech, Alfieri provides us with lots of background information about Red Hook and Italy. He tells us how ‘Frankie Yale was cut precisely in half with a machine gun.’ This expresses a rough idea of how Red Hook was before the people decided to ‘settle for half.’ This quote reveals how dangerous the area was just in just one sentence. Not only this, but Alfieri also tells us what it was like to live in Red Hook and about the type of people that lived there. He explains that the people in his neighborhood ‘lack elegance, glamour,’ implying that he is not one of those people. This makes a clear distinction between them and him. Also, that he deserves better than to have to live in this kind of community.
Arthur Miller’s idea of using Alfieri in ‘A view from the bridge’ is very effective in carrying the storyline further. Without him, the audience would have misinterpreted the meaning of the play and be guided in the wrong direction. He provides an unbiased view of developing events, unlike the other characters. As they have very strong opinions about one another. He helps the play flow well, fusing one scene with the next. At the beginning of each scene, Alfieri plants certain ideas into your mind, which constantly attain the interest of the audience. Alfieri attempts to objectively give us a picture of Eddie Carbone and the 1950s Red Hook, Brooklyn community. Throughout the play he clears up any doubts that we have about the events. Effectively, setting the scene and creating a dramatic atmosphere. Alfieri, the protagonist, also adds a sense of initiation to the play, providing momentum for future events. His role helps us distinguish the different sections of the play. Even though Eddie is the dominant character, Alfieri is just as important. As Alfieri helps capture the true essence of the play. He narrates the story of the Carbones, but with his own personal opinions. Alfieri is similar to Arthur Miller in many respects as he narrates a story that he cannot change. Alfieri tells the Carbone story in order to search for a conclusion, but to no avail.
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