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Critical Analysis of the Protagonist Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’

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Coursework English literature

Miller constructs protagonists who are destroyed by their obsessive need to defend their masculine self-image. How far do you agree this applies to both Willy Loman and Eddie Carbone?

The 1950s, in the USA, was a period of radical change for men in the workplace, as academic attributes became increasingly appreciated and the white collar and corporate worker become a common position in society for men. But social critics of that era saw this rise as terrible for the traditional idea of men as “masculine.” Traditional ideas of ‘manliness’ were discarded for the newfound definitions of masculinity, entailing a life in the suburbs with fancy cars and posh lifestyles. Miller constructs his protagonists on the basis of your classic 1950s man, traditional and eager to perform as a masculine and providing man taking his place in the instrumental role. Eddie, from ‘A View from the Bridge’ resembles a strong and loyal alpha male, eager to present display himself as the paternal leader among this Sicilian society. Miller places Eddie as the key figure (protagonist) in this Euripidean tragedy of passion, in which he becomes enamoured by an irresistible and self-destructive obsession over his wavering masculinity and desires. Whereas Willy, from ‘The Death of a Salesman’ is similarly displayed as having a strong desire to support his family, whilst living in a more traditional and post-industrial society- one that supports his ideals of masculinity. When Willy cannot shape up to be what the modern world identifies as masculine, a learned man, this causes his already dysfunctional mental state and views to become a pivotal point of his destruction.

We can first look at Willy’s obsession with manly qualities, in ‘Death of A Salesman’, and what he views as being attractive and likeable. We can also look at how the audience would see this as superficial, linking into his distorted definition of what makes a man a ‘real’ man. We see how this element of his personality and behaviour is shown through his dislike for Bernard in regard to his inferior qualities. This is evident in Willy’s question of, “You want him to be a worm like Bernard?” clearly showcasing Willy’s view that if you are smart you are weak; being liked resides as the focal point of his concerns. Not only have these values influenced Willy’s life, they have dramatically influenced his sons Biff and Happy to focus on being strong and likeable young men. Ultimately, it could be argued that this belief causes them to ignore the virtues of academic success and therefore leads to them being unable to pursue a successful, professional career as Bernard was able to. Willy’s ideologies are reflected in Biff when he wants to follow in his footsteps, “love to go with you sometime, Dad.”- showing he believes Willy is a successful and flourishing businessman. We also see how his sons follow him and believe it is necessary to impress him when Happy tries to gain his attention, “I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?” Willy is the man of the house, and his obsession with popularity seems to especially influence his son Biff. Critic Clinton Towbridge believes that “in ‘Death of a Salesman’ the father and the older son, Biff, though antagonists, are more closely related in their values…” In response to this idea, I believe it holds merit due to the fact that Biff strives to follow Willy’s career and thoughts and also that it reflects how these values and obsessions have led to the destruction of opportunities for, not just Willy, but the whole family such as the money issues they’ve experienced. And focusing more on the individual of Biff, we see these distorted values and ideals restricting Biff’s progress in life. Throughout the play, Willy’s downfall is clearly down to his distorted values and opinions on the human race and what makes a person likeable, believing “personality always wins the day”. When in reality, as Miller shows through the character of Bernard, academic success is the real winning attribute. Of all the work valued and mentioned, carpentry is displayed as the ideal job as it requires characteristics that are creative, manly, and a love for the outdoors. As Biff says: ‘A carpenter is allowed to whistle!’ Willy brags about his home modifications, and he critiques Charley for not being a man who does these things. ‘A man who can’t handle tools is not a man,’ is how Willy views it.

Similarly, in ‘A View from The Bridge’, Eddie Carbone also holds superficial and traditional views, reflected through the values of the longshoremen and his own treatment of Rodolpho. Within the play, the scenes where Rodolpho is ridiculed, relate to gender expectations and what makes a man manly. Eddie describes how Rodolpho “looked so sweet” and how his sense of humour “ain’t what they’re laughing” at. It could be said that Miller’s aim with this presentation of ridicule and desperation to protect masculine values, is to use the character of Eddie to condemn such stereotypes and ultimately preach a more liberal political outlook. It is also possible to say that Eddie reacts in such an offended way as he may feel jealousy or resentment surrounding Rodolpho and his liked personality, similar to how Bernard is treated in ‘Death of Salesman’, as to him it’s a physically and emotionally strong man that should be liked by society- especially in Sicilian society. Another interpretation could be that Eddie is denying his feelings and refusing to act on emotions that he regards as feminine or inappropriate, and instead suppresses them. This is mainly evident in the communication Eddie has with Rodolpho, where he is overly critical of Rodolpho’s feminine characteristics. This could be due to the fact his in residing in a Sicilian community, surrounded by longshore men and other strong masculine figures who do not act in ‘feminine’ ways. Acting in any other way could negatively affect his position in society, and strip him of his masculine identity. This obsession and a tight grasp on particular ‘masculine’ emotions could have been the cause of his destruction. Arthur Miller may have been influenced to criticise masculinity or the distorted values people hold on it, due to his background. Miller had a father who owned a coat manufacturing business- a career of which we would associate physical labour and strength, which is just one of many masculine qualities. His mother however was an educator and avid reader, and it was well known that Miller had a stronger bond with his mother. From this, we could say Miller’s strong relationship with his mother pushed him to reject patriarchy and traditional masculine values, or at least criticise those who distort and manipulate definitions of masculinity in society. It is also fair to say that Miller could be exploring the theme of death within his plays, and how societal norms, values and reactions can play into it. Both plays seem to follow a certain criticism of societal norms and values, regarding a more traditional 1950s society.

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The protagonist Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’ resembles an alpha male, desperate to uphold this strong masculine image to those around him. Critic Neil Carson talks about how “In the concluding minutes of the play it is Marco’s insult, not Rodolpho’s rivalry, which is foremost in Eddie’s mind.”. This presents the idea that it was always Eddie’s pride that was foundation for all of his actions, and that he is willing to be killed or kill another just to prove his point. He competes against Marco in a battle for masculinity, and it causes Eddie to be consumed by jealousy and resentment. This presentation of initiating in battle is where Marco challenges Eddie to lift a chair by its leg, using only one hand. Eddie cannot do it, but Marco lifts the chair “like a weapon over Eddie’s head – and he transforms what might appear like a glare of warning into a smile of triumph”. This displays Marco’s strength as a metaphorical object of destruction on Eddie’s masculinity. Marco’s strength is described when Eddie states, “They leave him alone he woulda load the whole ship himself”, showing how Marco possesses several characteristics of a strong masculine figure within the play. Furthermore, it presents Marco as a capable character, who maybe even intimidate Eddie as he poses a threat to his masculinity. A pivotal moment where Marco successfully asserts his dominance and strength is where he challenges Eddie to pick up a chair by one leg. Through this action we see a turning point in the play as the already fragile relationship between Eddie and Marco is destroyed. This in itself plays a key role in the destruction of the reasonable part of Eddie’s mind, as it introduces doubt and fear over a loss of status and masculinity, fuelling his jealousy over Marco. It could also be said to be what influences his treatment of Rodolpho as his feminine qualities make him a suitable match for the alpha male role. Eddie challenges Rodolpho to a boxing match, appearing as a teacher to him- taking on a superior role. We see Eddie’s mental state and capabilities declining as his conflicts start to contrast each other: Marco being too masculine, and Rodolpho being too feminine. Eddie’s failure against Marco regarding the chair challenge is symbolic of how Eddie is going to lose against Marco in the end, and how Eddie will have neither his masculinity nor reputation left. This need for a battle for the position as the alpha male becomes Eddie’s fatal flaw, as he loses control of his emotions at the end with Marco. In the final fight scene, Eddie challenges Marco in an almost primal way with “his arms spread”, whilst the one loyal Sicilian neighbourhood has become a sort of public arena for the conflict that will entail. Eddie’s desperation for victory becomes apparent when he “springs a knife into his hand”, implying he already knows he is not the stronger man or the alpha male which displays his fatal flaw of hubris. We get the sense of this sense of his own weakness as he feels he is not capable of matching Marco’s strength with only his hands. This refers to the only strength he seems to have within the play, his ability to hold on to his pride. However, this grip on the idea he is stronger and of higher status than Marco or Rodolpho is what leads to his demise. We can infer that Eddie focuses so much on this because of his need to be a leader and authority figure to Catherine and the rest of the Sicilian society he resides in. It is important that Eddie won’t fight Marco with his bare hands as it shows that he already knows he is in danger of destruction, and losing his position as a leader within his family. It also presents him as willing to Kill Marco in order to protect himself, therefore showing how far he has really fallen.

We can also look at how masculinity isn’t the key element to the downfall of the character of Eddie in ‘A View from the Bridge. There is an argument that sexual repression is at the fault of Eddie’s spiral. Eddies niece Catherine is naive, and Eddie has a strong desire to protect and shelter her from the outside world and the rest of society. He takes this desire to an extreme, what seems to be a sexual one, and in doing so tears his family apart. This obsession seems to be an unconscious one, and even until the end we as the reader are unsure if he has become aware of the reality that he has developed feelings towards Catherine of a psychosexual nature. Eddie’s denial over his emotions seems to be the main cause of his downfall, as he projects the frustrations he feels onto others (especially Beatrice) whilst being in denial for the entirety of the play. Critic Neil Carson proclaims that “A View from the Bridge is a two-level play in which the psychological and social elements seem sometimes at odds”. For me, this supports the idea that Eddie is facing issues regarding inner conflicts over his emotions and masculinity, and also his complex feelings towards Catherine. Furthermore, Carson says “Some hint of the possessive and unnatural form of his love is given by his reluctance to let Catherine wear high heels, but the full power of his passion does not emerge until Catherine wants to leave home to get married”. I agree with this to the extent that Eddie’s possessive nature over Catherine’s choices in life is reflected in this point of the play, and this is only foreshadowing the intensity that Eddie is going to reach further on. It could be argued that the audience is inclined to feel some sense of sympathy for Eddie, as he believes he is being a good guardian and believes he deserves better. It is clear he is lost and doesn’t seem to understand his own behaviour- that of which stems from repressed sexual desires and feelings. The destruction of Eddie is broadly focused on these desires, and as Aristotle said “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall”, therefore with Eddie denying this idea of sexual desire over Catherine through till the end, he seals his own fate.

Another destructive factor affecting our protagonist Willy, in ‘The Death of a Salesman’, is that concerning the harsh, ever-changing and developing society he was surrounded by. Willy initially entertains an ambitious idea of the ‘American Dream’, leading him to believe financial success and likability is going to place him in a good and respected position among society. Willy wanted to provide all that society expected of the traditional working man- a car, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner. However, whilst trying to live up to these expectations, he became financially unstable- effecting not just him but the entire household. It could easily be argued that this was the main reason for his death, as when he dies he is to leave behind insurance money. Under the pressure of a demanding society, he did what he thought was the only way to support his family financially. Willy is so desperate to reject the increasingly modernised world, and industrialisation, and so dismisses the offer of a new job from Charley. He believes in the pre-industrial occupation of being a salesman and is clearly unwilling to stray from his beliefs.

Another factor playing into the downfall of our protagonist Eddie in ‘A View from the Bridge’ is how he constantly looks out for his own well-being at the expense of others’ feelings, whilst being ruled by emotions such as personal love and guilt. This is most evident in how Eddie treats Beatrice, forming tension within their relationship. Eddie’s distant and pre-occupied attitude is evident when Beatrice approaches Eddie and “smiles”, to which Eddie “looks away”. Furthermore, we see the relationship begin to collapse through the difference of opinions about the relationship between Catherine and Rodolpho. The sub-text of Eddie’s emotions lies behind Eddie’s questioning over Catherine abandoning her practice of stenography, displaying the anger that is developing within himself over her relations with Rodolpho. It is clear that Beatrice doesn’t feel as though she is enough for Eddie, because Eddie is too busy been consumed by his attention and emotions towards Catherine. This is clear in Beatrice’s questioning “When am I gonna be a wife again, Eddie?”. By veering away from his relationship with Beatrice, his mind becomes consumed by his emotions towards Catherine and her budding relationship.

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Critical Analysis of the Protagonist Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
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Critical Analysis of the Protagonist Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2023].
Critical Analysis of the Protagonist Eddie Carbone in ‘A View from the Bridge’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Sept 30]. Available from:
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