Section 1: Alfieri in the prologue
Alfieri makes his first appearance in ‘A View from the Bridge’, as a chorus, during the prologue of the play where he delivers a soliloquy. The audience is provided key information about the protagonist, major themes and cultural and context in the non-naturalistic prologue, which is similar to classical plays. Shakespeare included a chorus figure, in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, who provided commentary to the audience like Alfieri; therefore, Miller has manipulated the classical tragedy as Alfieri does not acknowledge that Eddie Carbone takes his own life, but simply informs the audience that he was ‘powerless’ and watches a ‘bloody course’ of action take place.
Alfieri delivers essential information to the audience regarding the society and setting. The play is set in 1950s Red Hook, Brooklyn, which is an immigrant Italian community across the bridge from Manhattan. Alfieri directly compares Sicily and Red Hook when he is describing the setting; he communicates that ‘this is Red Hook, not Sicily’ which insinuates that Italy’s traditional cultural values do not correspond with the American law. This stark comparison readies the audience for the reappearing contention between Eddie, who follows traditional Italian culture, and American law. The pattern of constant feuding with the law shows Eddie gradually turning towards the primitive Italian culture where one resorts to violence in order to uphold honour and identity.
Furthermore, Alfieri also conveys the concept of justice through vendetta and revenge in the prologue. Alfieri informs the audience that ‘Frankie Yale… was cut precisely in half by a machine gun’ and then proceeds to express that ‘Justice is very important here’. This sense of justice connotes a more primitive culture in which people are provoked by uncontrollable impulses due to out-pourings of emotion. This expression of justice foreshadows the fact that Eddie will succumb to similar uncontrollable impulses of violence which will lead to Eddie developing a need to use such ferocity as an alternative to legal justice. These impulses are also due to the fact that Eddie is unable to articulate what he wants to say. He, therefore, begins to resort to violence as his emotional response becomes uncontrollable.
Section 2: Alfieri’s role in the delivery of the prologue presents Eddie as the tragic hero.
Alfieri presents Eddie as the tragic hero in his first soliloquy which aids in establishing the literary context of the modern tragedy. Eddie is the tragic hero due to the combination of flaws in his personality coupled with circumstances that are out of his control. In Miller’s essay about ‘The Tragedy of the Common Man’, he clarifies that the ‘common man is an apt subject for tragedy in its highest state’. This statement shows that Miller believes that Eddie, a longshoreman, is a perfect subject for the role of the tragic hero in his play.
In this play, the tragic hero, Eddie, has both positive and negative traits which lead to his eventual demise. Alfieri introduces Eddie as a well-respected and revered member of the community because “he was as good a man as he had to be”. The way that Alfieri presents Eddie as a dignified character foreshadows his loss of the status. Expectedly, it is Eddie’s desire to regain his respect which leads to his eventual ruin. The respect he was used to changes when Rodolfo enters Catherine’s life and replaces Eddie as the man in her life. This leads to Eddie’s avarice and the start of his campaign against Rodolfo so that he can get his “name back”. The use of foreshadowing in this section of the prologue entrusts that the audience will want to witness how the ‘bloody course’ of action happened?
Alfieri further enhances the audience’s reaction to the prologue by shifting his style of speaking. He changes from using declaratives such as, “I no longer keep a pistol in my filing cabinet” to more poetic and lyrical speech when describing Eddie. This emotive style, seen in descriptions like “green scent of the sea”, heightens our emotional response which primes us to observe a story that concerns overwhelming passions. Furthermore, Alfieri also refers to the case as though it was one of many occurring throughout history and even in “some Caesar’s year”. This portrays Eddie as a representative “everyman” who is one in a long line of people who have been agonised by a similar overwhelming and destructive passion. Thus, Alfieri’s role in the prologue allows the audience to observe Eddie’s predicament as universal plight rather than a mere aberration.
Section 3: Alfieri as a character. His interactions with Eddie and Marco.
The interview between Eddie and Alfieri shows the paradoxical nature of the two men. Eddie and Alfieri are antithetical for the reason that Eddie has an undeveloped perception of the law due to his roots in the Sicilian culture. Alfieri’s language is much more measured, sage and direct which is juxtaposed with Eddie’s passionate vernacular which is inarticulate, ungrammatical, incoherent and at times non-sensical. Their styles of speaking also represents Eddie and Alfieri’s thought processes. Furthermore, Eddie’s vernacular foreshadows his ultimate demise because of his inability to articulate his thoughts as well as those of Alfieri cause him to carry out destructive and irreversible actions on his campaign against Rodolfo. The audience finds out that Eddie is not able to comprehend his own ideas when he says, ‘trying to bring thoughts out here’. This shows to the audience that Eddie knows that there is a block between both the men which eventually causes his downfall.
Alfieri’s presence, as a character in the play, is critical for Eddie and Marco. As Act II begins, Alfieri communicates, indirectly, to the audience that the events to come will be much more dark and violent than those before. To convey this information to the audience, Alfieri states that “there was no snow, but it was cold” Although this statement may seem simple and innocent, it foreshadows a considerable amount of information regarding the catastrophe that will soon take place. The ‘cold’ is contextually adjacent with winter, or a great storm, and is therefore affected by those symbols; winter typically represents death or hibernation, and a great storm represents change or violent emotions. The symbolic meaning of this statement is significant, to the audience, and acts as a type of pathetic fallacy to predict the maniacal and vicious nature of the events which will, soon enough, take place. It prepares the audience for a, potentially, disturbing scene. This growing sentiment within the audience not only peaks their interest but is also confirmed when Eddie returns home, drunk, and is aghast to see Rodolpho follow Catherine out of the bedroom, a situation to which he reacts by kissing both Catherine and Rodolpho forcefully. After this, the two men fight ‘like animals’.
Section 4: Alfieri as a chorus
No Greek tragedy is complete without a chorus. In ‘A View from the Bridge’, Miller replaces what used to be a horde of masked singers with one man, Alfieri. His final soliloquy is a device which is used both to direct the audience’s emotions towards Eddie, and to heighten the dramatic tension which heralds the inevitable ending of the play. Within his final speech, Alfieri acknowledges that he is sorrow for the loss of Eddie Carbone, he also comments several times on how terrible everything that happened is. He even confesses to the audience that he does indeed ‘mourn’ Eddie which is strange because lawyers are not usually emotionally attached to their clients, but Eddie was special enough to invoke feelings in Alfieri.
The oxymoron ‘perversely pure’ indicates to the audience that Alfieri wants us to understand that, no-matter how law abiding or reasonable we are, we all have a breaking point like Eddie did. This prompts the audience to reminisce those moments where Eddie made choices that, perhaps, they could have made. This allows the audience to empathise with Eddie to an extent which makes him, essentially, human for us. Furthermore, to be remembered as ‘pure’ is a common feature among tragic heroes which makes the audience remember Eddie in a sympathetic light.