February 29th, 2004

A View From The Bridge

is a play by Arthur Miller which I just finished reading. A friend of mine is directing it for a community theater production. The bridge in question is the Brooklyn Bridge, but I don't recall anyone actually getting up on the Bridge to take a view. The protagonist is an Italian longshoreman who develops an unhealthy attachment to his grown-up niece, leading to tragic consequences.

The play is often compared to a Greek tragedy, and the comparison feels right to me, although its stage technique bares no strong comparison to the Greeks. There is no real chorus, for example, although the presence of the surrounding immigrant Italian community is closely felt.

For me, it was interesting to ponder the fate versus free will question in relationship to this play, particularly given its frequent comparisons to Greek drama. There is no actual talk of fate or the gods in this play. There is no talk of determinism in the play. What we do have is a protagonist who refuses to budge from his course, who is highly concerned with obtaining proper social respect, and who often sounds like he is in fierce denial.

Miller tells a highly dramatic, well structured story, with strongly drawn and motivated characters. The story is based on something that was told to him as a true story, though he has surely recrafted it a bit. It is not "slice of life" naturalism, since there is a strong concentrated story that comes to a definite climax. You could fairly call it gritty and realistic.

You could even say it has a sort of happy ending. The protagonist dies, but the niece and her boyfriend look like they will succeed in getting married. But the emphasis is not on them. The emphasis is on our protagonist, who has succumbed to denial, touchy pride, and, underneath it all, erotic love for his niece. (Actually, it's his wife's niece, no blood relation. But he has raised her like a father, which gives the relationship a spiritually incestuous quality.)

I suppose Ayn Rand would bemoan incest as a subject matter, and would see the lead character as driven by uncontrollable urges over which he had no mastery. In this way, she might characterize it as determinism of the "internal forces" or Freudian variety.

For myself, I enjoy characters with more self-awareness that those that appear in this play. So Oedipus and Hamlet are more my cup of elixir than poor Eddie from Brooklyn.

Rhyme of the day:

You won't rest in peace
if you lust for your niece.