Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues19-2Arthur Miller’s A View from the B...

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge as Cognitive Ethical Narrative

Hossein Pirnajmuddin and Omid Amani

Abstract

This article sheds some light on ethical issues in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge from the cognitive poetic perspective, especially Marie-Laure Ryan’s theoretical framework of the Possible Worlds Theory. It is argued that Miller’s play could be considered as cognitive ethical narrative as it highlights ethical considerations (centrally, issues of right and wrong, value and choice) in relation to the cognitive valences of the characters as well as those of the readers (who are steered to imaginatively apprehend the possibility that narrative actions and values may occur in the real world). As such, viewing the play through the lens of cognitive poetics can illustrate its ethical affordances, particularly with respect to the issue of choices, which ultimately endow human life with meaning. Adding some reflections on the philosophical implications of Sartre and Levinas, it is proposed that the protagonist’s act of betrayal is circumstantially complex. The conflict of values it involves could be illuminated through the consideration of the conflicting anguished W-world/Social O-world of the protagonist and the Communal O-world/hospitable W-world of the community in which he lives.

Top of page

Full text

1. Introduction: Ethical Criticism and Narrative

1Narratives are on a par with our lives in being saturated with ethical considerations. As Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womack observe, ethical criticism, intent on examining the moral and ethical nature of a work of art, evidently “establishes an important bond between the life of the text and the life of the reader” (185). Accordingly, as Marshall Gregory illustrates, every text is furnished with “ethical visions” and any such vision “operates in the same way that it does in our lives”; the story’s ethical vision is “a particular configuration of rights and wrongs that it puts in motion within a represented human context” (“Ethical Engagements” 282). Cognitively, the reader’s immersion into the storyworlds of literature is by analogy “the educational transposition” that partake of “all of those actions, thoughts, motives, and attitudes which we feel that we and others ought to do or ought not to do” (“Ethical Engagements” 282). Thus, it becomes quite difficult for the reader to escape from the questions of morality and ethics, since literary works “exert influence on the development of ethos based mainly on people’s need to learn, to enlarge their stock of experiences, to enlarge their range of human companionships, to acquire information beyond their firsthand lives, and to find models for how to put together a whole life” (Gregory, Shaped 168). Similarly, Wayne Booth notes that any story, no matter how aesthetically elegant and canonical, “entails language loaded with ethical judgments, implants views about how to live or not to live” (25) and, what is more, to some extent has the potential to do harm. In fact, narratives, though deeply insightful, do not coerce effects on the reader, or, to put it another way, narratives incorporate substantial ideas that “constitute the means by which we negotiate our way toward the truth” (Gregory, Shaped 14; emphasis added).

2Likewise, as Booth mentions, “when we really engage with the characters we meet and the moral choices those characters face, ethical changes occur in us, for good or ill” (26). Indeed, of utmost importance in ethical criticism is the issue of choices; that is, the extent to which such choices are ethically viable. In this sense, Marshall Gregory proposes three “consequences” for our ethical formation when we make choices about how to “interact” with other people. Primarily, the choices we make—lying rather than telling the truth, being respectful rather than manipulative, being fair rather than unfair and so on—not only lead to consequences for other people, but also have profound consequences for us. In fact, they uncover our moral character or ethical agency; they do “not merely reflect who we are but create who we are.” The second consequence of our ethical choice ensues in cumulatively “reinforc[ing] our sense of identity” or ethos (Shaped 23). Gregory insists that our identity is not fixed, finished and determined but, as a process, is always in motion and formation; every choice we make in life is “both a reflection of the self we are and a creation of the self we are becoming.” The last issue pertains to the influence of our choices on the kind of agency others have available to them. The simple example is the relationship between children and parents whereby parents’ choices (to be supportive of their children or unloving and neglectful of them) form children’s ethical agency (“Ethical Criticism” 209).

3Clearly every author has some unique ways, or rhetorical techniques, of apprising the reader of which characters deserve sympathy and which do not, whose wishes and desires we should support and whose motivations we should fear, and so on. James Phelan’s notion of “narrative progressions” can illustrate the point. Narrative progressions involve a narrative’s “movement from its beginning to its end” which “is governed by both a textual and a readerly dynamics, and understanding their interaction provides a good means for recognizing a narrative’s purposes.” Textual dynamics dwells on the level of story and consists of “the events and existents, including character and setting, of narrative” which Phelan calls “instabilities,” that is, the relations and conflicts in the interactions of the characters themselves and with their situation. Readerly dynamics operates at the level of discourse and partakes of “tensions” that “involve relations among authors, narrators, and audiences, and they include gaps between tellers and audiences of knowledge, beliefs, opinions, and values” (“Rhetoric/ethics” 212).

  • 1 For philosophical background of Possible Worlds Theory, see the introductions in Ryan, Possible Wor (...)

4Accordingly, to understand the ethical vision of any narrative or, to put it another way, to probe the cognitive aspects of ethical narratives, Gregory observes, is “imaginatively to ingest the possibility that the narrative actions—and the narrative values—we have just encountered may occur in the real world” (Shaped 37). Such “ingested possibilities,” particularly with respect to the issue of choices, ultimately endow human life with meaning or, put another way, make the contours of possibilities in human life correspond to, by analogy, the possible worlds postulated in Possible Worlds Theory (henceforth PWT). By and large, PWT stems from Leibniz’ concern with philosophical logic. It was developed in the second half of the 20th century by philosophers of the analytic school (Kripke, Lewis, Hintikka [1989], Plantinga [1976], Rescher) as “a means to solve problems in formal [modal] semantics” such as possibility, necessity, and probability. (Ryan, “Possible Worlds”). Ruth Ronen holds that the model of a possible world within philosophical logic is significantly different from that exemplified in literary studies and highlights the contrasting uses of possible worlds. Logicians employ them as “a semantic device” and analytical tool for “modal statements concerning what is possible and what is necessary,” whereas literary theorists utilize possible worlds “to describe different states of affairs in fiction” and their interrelationships. “In literary theories”, adds Ronen (1994), “possible worlds are pregnant worlds that carry concrete ontological content and denote an ontological density epitomized in the idea of a ‘world’” (74) underscoring the notion that possible worlds generated by fictional texts are furnished with individuals, objects, and situations.1

5The PWT features “the cognitive representation of the ‘world’ of the [narrative] text—the sets of states of affairs, events and relationships that the text refers to” (Semino 83). According to Alice Bell and Marie-Laure Ryan, a narrative text “establishes a ‘new [textual] actual world’” (35) that projects a universe amounting to the one we live and comprises an actual world at the center encompassed by multiple types of alternate possible worlds (APWs) that are imagined by, wished for, hypothesized by and so on by the characters of that world which Ryan designates as “private [virtual] embedded narratives” (Possible Worlds 156). Ryan’s modal structure of narrative universe, apart from textual actual world (TAW), consists of characters’ beliefs (Knowledge worlds or K-Worlds), expectations (Prospective Extensions of Knowledge worlds), plans (Intention worlds or I-worlds), moral commitments and prohibitions (Obligation worlds or O-worlds), wishes and desires (Wish worlds or W-worlds), and dreams or fantasies (Fantasy Universes or F-Universes) (Possible Worlds 113-115). Ryan theorizes that among these embedded narratives “some reflect the events of the factual domain, while others delineate unactualized possibilities;” for the story to possess “tellability,” it should follow the “principle of diversification,” that is, to “seek the diversification of possible worlds in the narrative universe” (Possible Worlds 156; emphasis added). Hilary P. Dannenberg holds that Ryan’s concept of “diversification principle” hints at “tellable narratives with an ontologically pluralistic event structure, in which conflict is generated by clashes between alternate possible worlds” (438). As we see, Possible Worlds Theory, as a cognitive approach to narrative, has a particular bearing on considerations of ethical issues in narrative. Obviously, this bearing has something to do particularly with one type of the worlds projected—Obligation worlds or O-worlds related to moral commitments and prohibitions though the other projected worlds are also to different degrees engaged. More importantly, however, it has to do with tellability which entails conflict “generated by clashes between alternate possible worlds.” The ethically important issue of choice factors into such conflict as the characters’ choices bear on alternate possible worlds (more often than not, O-worlds vs. other possible worlds).

6Furthermore, with respect to the recent studies on drama and narrative studies, narratologists such as Ansgar Nünning, Roy Sommer and Jan Alber transcend the Aristotelian, firmly-established assumption that “the events in narrative texts are recounted by a narrator, while dramatic presentation relies on a mimetic portrayal of fictional events, normally lacking any form of narratorial mediation” (Sommer 122). Nünning and Sommer make a distinction between what they call the “diegetic narrativity” of novels and short stories, which creates “the illusion of a teller, a personalized voice serving as narrator,” and the “mimetic narrativity” of drama, which “foregrounds the storyworld and its characters” (Nünning and Sommer 338–339). In other words, Alber states that “plays are narrative because they represent worlds that are populated by characters who undergo certain experiences” (Alber 36; cf. Nünning and Sommer 338–339). Likewise, Sommer lists the diegetic elements in drama that, cognitively speaking, along with a character as a storyteller, act in parallel with novels and short stories:

metalepsis (i.e., transgressions of the boundaries between diegetic levels by characters or narrators), direct audience address (prologue, epilogue, asides, summaries, soliloquies, and parabasis, i.e., an opening song performed by the classical Chorus, attacking members of the audience), choric speeches, and messenger reports in Greek drama as well as modern narrator figures such as the stage manager… all kinds of metanarrative comments, stage directions, choric figures, and narrating characters… Other examples of transgeneric strategies include montage techniques (scenic narration) and reversals of chronology. (Herman 107)

7Actually, drama substantially draws on cognitive parameters and is comprised of storyworld which communicates the event and characters’ speeches, thoughts, feelings with the audience/reader. In fact, the characters’ worlds along with the spatiotemporal representation on stage help the audience/reader to work through the mimetic view existed towards drama.

8Before we proceed to our primary subject, it is important to consider some notable commentaries on Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge that delve into the realms of ethics, morality, and responsibility. In his essay “Compromise as Bad Faith” (1986), Steven Centola observes that the play conceives of the Freudian dialectic of order and chaos, representing the eternal struggle between “civilization and its discontents.” Acknowledging Eddie’s struggle to express his inner turmoil, Miller employs a stage narrator, Alfieri as a lawyer-narrator, who assumes the role of a chorus, offering the audience a moral perspective and interpreting the unfolding events. The “possible worlds theory” could be considered as a more nuanced theorization of this basic pattern of conflict. Similarly, Donald P. Costello in “Arthur Miller’s Circles of Responsibility: A View from the Bridge and Beyond” contends that Arthur Miller “positions himself between Williams and O'Neill, so that he searches both self and fate,” that is, his characters violate the circles of responsibility: self, family, society and even universe (444). According to Costello, Eddie Carbone is unique because he violates all the circles of responsibility. The last circle draws the reader’s attention to the way Miller reworks the Greek conception of drama on the grounds of both form and content. Costello maintains that in the play

there is no recognition scene. Eddie Carbone is the least conscious of Miller’s heroes. He blindly sinned against self, family. society, universe. But, as Alfieri tells us in the closing frame, ‘he allowed himself to be wholly known.’ Not to himself but to us. Like Alfieri, we are modem and know ‘it is better to settle for half’; it is better not to reveal one’s self fully. But we have watched someone who did, and, at the end of the play, we join Alfieri in his ‘alarm’ (1:439) at the full revelation, alarm at the human condition which encloses the self within such demanding circles of responsibility. (450)

9Though Costello’s point about Eddie’s violation of “all the circles of responsibility” is correct, his point about Eddie’s total ignorance of what he does is debatable. In a partly different take on Eddie’s awareness of his actions, Terry Otten, in his seminal contribution The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller, maintains that Miller’s characters grapple with guilt and responsibility and employ the claim of innocence as a defense mechanism to conceal the truth. However, this pursuit of innocence often results in further harm and perpetuates a cycle of self-deception and ignorance. In A View from the Bridge, Otten holds, Eddie Carbone tragically succumbs to self-ignorance and attempts to assert his innocence which ultimately leads to his death. Otten adds that when Eddie “informs on Rodolpho and Marco, he in fact does choose, translating the passive and private ‘sin’ of his illicit love for Catherine into a wholly conscious and social act. When he tries to protect his innocence by imposing upon others the cost of violating his personal morality, he acts willfully” (84). Otten pinpoints Eddie’s lack of self-awareness regarding his illicit desire for Catherine but contends that this then turns into a willful act implying that at some stage there is a degree of recognition on Eddie’s part. As we will show in what follows, a reconsideration of the intersection of ethics, cognition and narrativity in Miller’s play could be rewarding as it enjoys a high degree of “tellability.”

10As such, the present research attempts to shed some light on ethical considerations in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge from the cognitive perspective, especially Marie-Laure Ryan’s theoretical framework of the Possible Worlds Theory. In the first section, we delineate Arthur Miller’s version of tragedy in the twentieth century and his distinct dramatic style from the ethical perspective and, in passing, address Sartrean ethics of authenticity. In what follows, we delve into the play and offer a new reading of the play from a cognitive narratological approach with a focus on ethical issues. It is shown that the ethical dimensions of the protagonist’s, Eddie’s, actions, are depicted as his “anguished” W-world—his choices, decisions, desires and ambitions—and “social” O-world (American laws) are incompatible; this is so because Eddie is member of a particular community and as such interacts with the communal obligations in TAW (the Red Hook neighborhood) and the “communal” O-Worlds and hospitable W-worlds of the other characters. The distinction we make between Social O-world and Communal O-world has been taken from the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society (1887). Tönnies observes that modernism marks the transition from Gemeinschaft (rural and stable community) to Gesellschaft (urban and unstable society): “everyone who praises rural life has pointed to the fact that people there have a stronger and livelier sense of Community. Community means genuine, enduring life together, whereas Society is a transient and superficial thing. Thus, Gemeinschaft must be understood as a living organism in its own right, while Gesellschaft is a mechanical aggregate and artifact” (19). In Miller’s play, community is Red Hook, a “genuine” grouping of people “enduring life together,” whereas, society is replete with superficialities (here primarily the legal system). Central here is the notion of obligation. Here is how Ryan defines O-world: “The obligation-world, or O-world of characters, is a system of commitments and prohibitions defined by social rules and moral principles. While the social rules are issued by an external authority, the moral principles may be defined by the characters themselves” (Possible Worlds 116). To analyze the implication of this in the play, we sort out the constituents of O-world and demarcate them into two more determinable worlds. By the same token, we will discuss the distinctions between anguished W-world and hospitable W-world in our analysis. Moreover, we will delve into Alfieri's narration so as to ethically determine/judge the narrator’s position in the play.

2. Arthur Miller’s Ethics of Tragedy: Theory and Dramatic Technique

11The connection between Miller’s concept of tragedy and his style in A View from the Bridge has implications for the discussion of ethics in the play. First, a few points about why tragedy has such particular ethical affordances. Ethical criticism, as Peter Hajdu points out, traces its roots back to Aristotelian interpretation of Greek tragedy whereby Aristotle defines tragedy as the imitation of human action notably akin to ethical issues (20). Actually, Hajdu adds, tragedy is “processed by ethical choices of the dramatic agents, interpreted and evaluated by the audience on ethical grounds” (20). Analogously, Martha Nussbaum maintains that tragedies are endowed with “the cognitive content of the real-life emotion” and, concerning this, alludes to Aristotelian catharsis that evokes the authorial audience’s emotions of compassion and fear (Upheavals 245). Furthermore, she encourages the authorial audience’s “eudaimonistic judgment” in order for “compassion” to be active. The person, she adds, “must consider the suffering of another as a significant part of his or her own scheme of goals and ends [and] take that person’s ill as affecting her own flourishing. In effect, she must make herself vulnerable in the person of another” (Upheavals 319).

12In this regard, Miller believes that the storyworld of his play is vigorously anchored in the Greek tragedy wherein the hero is “a whole man” constructed from the coalescence of the psychological and the social and is over and above “not either his subjective or his social life alone” (“On Social Plays” 54). Miller’s play, in Brenda Murphy’s words, features “the dialectic of personal self-actualization in conflict with social responsibility” (“The Tradition” 11). Nonetheless, we should note that Greek heroes—Agamemnon, Oedipus, and Creon, for instance—are all kings, who define their lives and make their choices in terms of public responsibilities. Antigone’s life, as the designated mourner, is entirely devoted to others, even those who are dead. Oedipus comes on stage at the beginning of Oedipus Rex as the savior of the city, determined to once again rid the city of its ills. He cares deeply for the city, the polis, as Antigone cares for the family, the oikos. The conflict between Creon and Antigone is not between state and individual, but between two social spheres, polis and oikos, city and household. It is against this background that the Greek heroes do not seem to be able to think of the self except as belonging in some way to other people, to specific social settings. However, Miller's Eddie Carbone, comparable with Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman with his unfulfilled dreams and John Proctor and his individual conscience in The Crucible, is afflicted by an illicit passion for Catherine, his wife’s niece. He is an individual sufferer that leaves behind his familial and societal commitment.

  • 2 For more on the advent of the philosophy of existentialism in the United States see Cotkin. Cotkin’ (...)

13In his seminal essay “Tragedy and the Common Man,” Miller assumes the role of a thinker and strives to lay the theoretical foundation for tragedy to persuade the reader/authorial audience that in the twentieth century a modern Antigone is not an impossibility and there is no need for the tragic hero to be a king or queen (3). Miller opines: “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were” (“Tragedy” 3). Given that, in modern times, Miller postulates, there still exist some moral principles to fight for; he explains: “the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggles are that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society” (“Tragedy” 4). This famous statement made in 1949 well reflects the ambience of post-World War II America in 1950s and 1960s when French existentialism was very much in vogue.2 In his conversation with Mel Gussow, Miller asserts: “I’ll tell you the one guy I’m sorry I never met and I could have: Sartre. I have an affinity for him” (156) Likewise, in another interview, Steven R. Centola aptly calls Miller’s vision, congruent with Sartre’s little essay’s title, “existential humanism” (344). Sartre opines that all individuals are condemned to freedom, and, thus, are “not only free to make their own choices but obligated to do so and to be responsible for the consequences” (Daigle 30). Basically, Sartre claims that authentic human beings are anguished and “anguish is the immediate given of my freedom;” moreover, if one’s consciousness tries to lie to itself, this is fleeing from anguish—“bad faith” or inauthenticity/conformity (Daigle 61). Sartre famously says that “existence precedes essence” (20) which means our being, self, ontology and rights take priority over the other, ethics and responsibility (more on this later).

  • 3 See Steven R. Centola’s dissertation titled Freedom and Responsibility After the Fall: A Sartrean P (...)

14Additionally, with respect to “the ethics of style” or ethics of aesthetics, in Gregory’s definition of the term, inquiring into Miller’s dramatic techniques, in Brenda Murphy’s words, known as “the subjective realism,” indebted to Tennessee Williams’ “plastic theater,” could be illuminating. As mentioned, as for theoretical framework, Miller also tends to practice “the wholeness” in his own way: the juxtaposition of “the purely protagonist subjective with the objective, social reality that is the experiential field of representational realism” (Murphy, “Arthur Miller” 190). Miller projects subjectivity on stage in an expressionistic way by virtue of light and transparencies, making it sufficiently plastic to have access to the protagonist’s mind. The problem in purely realistic drama in Miller’s view is that it “has become wedded to the idea that man is at best the sum of forces working upon him and of given psychological forces within him” (“Introduction” 169-170; emphases added). As a disciple of Sartrean existentialism,3 Miller is hostile to a purely deterministic style. Adopting a limited perspective, though the play includes a narrator, Miller’s dramatic technique, in line with his definition of tragedy, is extremely individualistic.

3. The Possible Worlds of Ethical Dilemmas in A View from the Bridge

  • 4 Despite Eddie’s concerns, Catherine for a while tests Rodolpho by asking that they go and live in I (...)
  • 5 Actually, it is Alfieri who originally plants the idea in Eddie’s head that calling immigration wou (...)
  • 6 For further information, see Hogan 9-39.

15The central instability in Miller’s family tragedy, A View from the Bridge, revolves around an individual’s choices in his life and the grave consequences ensued by his betrayal of his family, relatives, and, by and large, community. Eddie Carbone is a longshoreman who lives in an Italian community in Red Hook, near Brooklyn bridge in New York, with his wife Beatrice and Beatrice’s niece, Catherine who has been living with them since her childhood. Eddie agrees to provide shelter for Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, who are illegal immigrants from Sicily, Italy. In Christopher Bigsby’s words, “[h]aving, in his own eyes, succeeded in realising the American dream himself, he [Eddie] understands what drives them [the cousins] and takes pride in allowing them in his home” (178). As we enter the storyworld of the play, we become aware of a tension: Eddie’s illicit, incest-like passion for Catherine, of which he does not seem to be fully aware. Catherine is now on the threshold of womanhood and ambitious to start a new life; while Eddie seems reluctant, Beatrice insists on Catherine’s independence. The tension mounts with the arrival of the cousins. Marco, Wertheim explains, is “swarthy, laconic, married with three children [has] wrestler’s build [that] fits the socially acceptable Sicilian virile stereotype,” yet his younger brother, Rodolpho, “challenges the stereotype at every turn. Blond, effusive, single, lithe of gait, skilled in sewing and singing” (110). Catherine finds Rodolpho very attractive. Eddie does his best to stigmatize Rodolpho: “The guy ain’t right…. He’s a blond guy. Like ... platinum” (A View 35). Actually, he implies that Rodolpho is effeminate, both because of his appearance and because he sings, cooks, sews and generally has a sense of humor. Eddie contends that Rodolpho wants to marry Catherine because “he’s only bowin’ to his passport” and he is “a hit-and-run guy” (A View 30). However, Catherine has already fallen in love with Rodolpho.4 Eddie can stand this no longer and, as the stage direction clearly shows, he moves towards the phone booth and calls the Immigration Bureau to inform on the cousins.5 As the immigration officers take Marco to the prison, he publicly accuses Eddie in front of his neighbors and friends. Disgraced, Eddie insists that Marco give him his name and honor back in front of the neighborhood. But, later on Marco, bailed out of the prison and thirsty for revenge, appears before Eddie’s house demanding an apology. Eddie, filled with anger, goes to fight Marco but is killed in the fight. Eddie’s way of handling his ethical dilemma—whether to betray Rodolpho and his brother or not—which is ultimately a matter of choosing between desire and duty. If the former is mostly based on social rules, the latter seems to be mostly based on a personal code (more on this later). Eddie’s ethical dilemma could also be understood in terms of the famous distinction between two orientations in discussions of ethics. Considering the deontological perspective, Eddie’s dilemma concerns the moral rules and obligations (right and wrong), whereby Eddie honors his duty of overcoming his illicit desire or, succumbing to his desire, betrays Beatrice’s cousins as illegal immigrants regardless of the consequences. The consequentialist that emphasizes the consequences of Eddie’s choices and decisions to himself, his family and his community.6 A related point is to what extent, if at all, Eddie becomes conscious of the consequences of his actions. As we will see, possible worlds theory has a bearing on these issues.

16In his autobiography, Timebends, Miller speaks about his interest in the Brooklyn waterfronts stirred up by one of his friends, James “Vinny” Longhi, and his acquaintance with one of its neighborhoods, Red Hook. There, he informs the reader of the source of this play:

In the course of time Longhi mentioned a story he'd recently heard of a longshoreman who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on two brothers, his own relatives, who were living illegally in his very home, in order to break an engagement between one of them and his niece. The squealer was disgraced, and no one knew where he had gone off to, and some whispered that he had been murdered by one of the brothers. But the story went past me. (152)

17Miller’s play has a “metaphorical relationship” with the real world insomuch as the ethical vision of this story “metaphorically ‘stands for’ the world of real-life experience and events” (Gregory, Shaped 51). In this sense, cognitively, Lubomir Doležel conceives of the role of the reader to be encyclopedic “as shared communal knowledge [that] varies with cultures, social groups, historical epochs, and for these reasons relativizes the recovery of implicit meaning” (177). Doležel also postulates that the actual-world encyclopedias partake of “our knowledge about human actions (e.g., that we usually have motives for our actions)” (205). The story Miller heard from his friend, extensively modified into the storyworld predicated on ethical deliberations, is commensurate with “inference” on the store of knowledge or the actual-world encyclopedia among “the numerous encyclopedias of possible words” (Doležel 205), and ultimately speaks very closely to the reader. In the same vein, Ryan introduces her “principle of minimal departure” to tell us that those fictional worlds “are generally assumed to resemble the actual world in all respects other than those which are textually suggested to be different” (Possible Worlds 86). The reader would reconstrue TAW of the storyworld congruent as far as possible to his/her representation of the actual physical world.

18A View from the Bridge does not directly grant access to the mind of the protagonist or the tragic hero; thus, there is a mediator, or (heterodiegetic) narrator, Alfieri, who like a bridge “establishes a view” for the audience (Marino 191). As Manfred Jahn observes, the narrator in drama is

the agent who manages the exposition, who decides what is to be told, how it is to be told (especially, from what point of view, and in what sequence), and what is to be left out. Of course, this is not to deny that a narrator will often overtly speak or write, establish communicative contact with addressees, defend the tellability of the story and comment on its lesson, purpose, or message. (670)

19Jahn’s point tallies with James Phelan’s concept of “ethics of the telling” that concentrates on “text-internal matters” as implied authors, narrators, and audiences. Phelan offers some questions related to tensions regarding the ethical responsibilities of storytellers to their audiences, the ethical dimensions of the narrative technique and the values assumed by it (“Narrative”). Hence, Alfieri is “‘a generative narrator’”, the character who comes on stage and narrates events which are then enacted before the audience [and] is part of the story world he or she describes” (“Rhetoric/ethics” 152). He, as a “personal narrator,” has “a mind interposed between the facts and the reader, and the discourse reflects the contents of his mind” (Ryan Possible Worlds 113). The reader in this case cannot “perceive the narrative actual world directly, but apprehends it through its reflection in a subjective world” (Ryan, Possible Worlds 113). In effect, the narrator is the authorial substitute to project the TAW of the story and, ultimately, in terms of rhetorical/ethical criticism, the judgment is on the part of the reader that must determine what conjectures are oriented towards objective facts and which ones are aimed for the narrator’s beliefs. It is his perspectival, indeterminate K-world that inaugurates several binaries such as law vs. private measures (personal handling of issues/disputes, the Sicilian way), Italian vs. American, civilization vs. savagery, modern vs. premodern, citizen vs. foreigner/stranger/immigrant and absolute measures vs. half-measures. The following passage from the play illustrates the point:

A lawyer means the law, and in Sicily, from where their fathers came, the law has not been a friendly idea since the Greeks were beaten.
I am inclined to notice the ruins in things, perhaps because I was born in Italy.... I only came here when I was twenty-five. In those days, Al Capone, the greatest Carthaginian of all, was learning his trade on these pavements, and Frankie Yale himself was cut precisely in half by a machine gun on the corner of Union Street, two blocks away. Oh, there were many here who were justly shot by unjust men. Justice is very important here.
But this is Red Hook, not Sicily. This is the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world. And now we are quite civilized, quite American. Now we settle for half, and I like it better. I no longer keep a pistol in my filing cabinet. My wife has warned me, so have my friends; they tell me the people in this neighborhood lack elegance, glamour. (2)

20Here, Alfieri’s situation partakes of a double positionality in that though himself an Italian immigrant, he serves as a lawyer within the American civil law and, as stated by Stephen Marino, “readily acknowledges the status that his legal profession gives him in the Brooklyn neighbourhood” (191). He considers himself “quite civilized,” modern and law-abiding and looks at Red Hook’s inhabitants as premodern, as “lack[ing] elegance and glamour.” In Alfieri’s selective K-world, one has to, of necessity, settle for half measures. Ethical issues as such are more often than not matters of half measures as no single position seems to be fully justifiable. In a sense, Alfieri who bridges the past and the present (two moments in the life of the immigrants, before 1900s and after) is supposed to be in a position (above the bridge and hence seeing things more comprehensively) enabling him to judge things more unbiasedly, humanely, perspicaciously—in a more ethically viable way. Alfieri's view as such, though humane, is inevitably limited as there is always the distance. “A view from the bridge” accords circumspection but paradoxically it also distances the viewer from what is being viewed beneath the bridge (the life of poor illiterate immigrants viewed by an educated person, socially above them). Alfieri is, then, both one of those he judges and not one of them, both of the order of the familiar and of the stranger. Moreover, his K-world and Social O-world are in accord with the American Society; “Justice is very important here” which is quite divergent from the Red Hook’s Communal O-world wherein its residents maintain their moral codes of loyalty and friendship.

21Furthermore, apropos of the dramatic technique explained above, it may seem that Miller’s deployment of a narrator does not fully work out to both appreciate the values of the ethical dimension of his technique and the ethical responsibilities of the storyteller to the audience. On the one hand, Alfieri, through fragmented K-world, somehow obstructs the “view” of the reader, preventing him/her from having access to the consciousness of Eddie, the intricate web of relations, emotions, motivations and ambitions that circumscribe his life. And, on the other hand, the experience of objective, social reality—the fuller “view” from above the bridge—does not seem to have been adequately realized for the reader. However, from a cognitive perspective, Miller’s use of this narrator seems to be shrewd, drawing attention to the fact that Alfieri’s “view,” like all human views, is also limited.

22Eddie’s K-world at the beginning of the play is fully compatible with both his own and his neighborhood’s communal O-World. Prior to Marco and Rodolpho’s arrival, Eddie strongly asserts that no one must talk about them outside the house: “You don’t understand; you still think you can talk about this to somebody just a little bit. Now lemme say it once and for all, because you’re makin’ me nervous again, both of you. I don’t care if somebody comes in the house and sees them sleepin’ on the floor, it never comes out of your mouth who they are or what they’re doin’ here”; he emphatically adds: “They got stool pigeons all over this neighborhood they’re payin’ them every week for information, and you don’t know who they are. It could be your best friend” (A View 12, emphases added). As the play advances, Eddie’s words start to grow highly ironic because he, as the supposedly “best friend,” turns into the “stool pigeon.” He is acutely aware of the fate of the person, Vinny Bolzano, who once snitched to the Immigration Bureau. Beatrice goes on with the story of the snitch: “they spit on him in the street, his own father and his brothers. The whole neighborhood was cryin,” to which Eddie adds: “You’ll never see him no more, a guy do a thing like that? How’s he gonna show his face?” (A View 13). This F-universe, the fictional construct within the storyworld of the play, acts as a grim warning about the consequences of being an informer. The crying of the whole neighborhood urges the evaluation of human conduct as right or wrong. In this part, both Eddie and Beatrice evaluate or judge Vinny Bolzano’s action/choice/decision as betrayal of his own community where he would never “show his face” again.

  • 7 As one more example of the complexity of ethical considerations in the play it is worth mentioning (...)

23Like Alfieri, Eddie also assumes a double positionality, though of a different order. As a first-generation Italian-American (though not an actual immigrant himself), he becomes a stranger after the act of betrayal. At issue here is an essential conflict. Ryan generally explicates the conflict of O-world with TAW in this way: “Conflicts of the O-world occur when a character's ‘moral account’ falls in a state of debt through the violation of laws or through unfulfilled personal commitments” yielding into a common thematic sequence: narrative: prohibition-violation-punishment (Possible Worlds 121). We have already addressed the prohibition through the story of Vinny Bolzano. Eddie’s falling in love with Catherine, who is like his daughter, is an act of betrayal which is a breaking/violating of law (the taboo of incest); this initial betrayal recursively leads to another violation, that is, betraying the two brothers7—who are also relatives, also guests—who have taken refuge in his house. And eventually, the punishment for such betrayal (both the incest-like desire and the informing) would be death.

  • 8 Of course, a detailed discussion of the contrast between the philosophical accounts of Sartre and L (...)
  • 9 As indicated in his dialect, Eddie is American born and has never been to Italy in person. However, (...)

24Of utmost importance here is the central binary of self vs. other in ethics. We briefly discussed Sartrean conception of the existential, authentic, self above but we need to elaborate more on Eddie’s role as a Millerian existential tragic hero. One of the salient conflicts in Ryan’s theorization is that between the characters’ W-worlds and O-worlds within TAW. Ryan declares that “the realization of a private world [APW] requires the nonsatisfaction of some world in the domain of another character[s]” (Possible Worlds 122). Here we suggest coining two terms based on Ryan’s APWs and W-world and Levinas’s concept of hospitality: anguished W-world and hospitable W-world. Eddie’s private world is affiliated with anguished W-world, since he is intensely incumbent on his own existence, self, personal rights and dignity in society. Eddie’s responsibility is that of becoming a self in a Levinasian sense. Therefore, he becomes an antagonist within his inter-ethnic community, or, to put it differently, his anguished W-world confronts communal O-world of the residents of Red Hook. Likewise, in hospitable W-world we appropriate from Emanuel Levinas’ philosophy and its utmost respect for inter-personal relationships.8 For Levinas, the other comes first and the Sartrean being/self comes second. In his preface to Totality and Infinity, Levinas “present[s] subjectivity as welcoming the Other, as hospitality” (27). Another Levinasian keyword is “the face,” that is, the other encountered as face which is, in Levinas’s sense, precisely in its destitution, vulnerability, need and nakedness. Thus, it becomes our ethical responsibility to welcome the other into our home, in other words, to share our home with the other (Meijer-van Wijk 51). Crucial to our discussion here is the relation between the host and guest. Eddie as the host both literally and philosophically fails to act responsibly (ethically) and betrays the guests while he is himself hosted by the host country (America). Moreover, not only he betrays his own relatives, but also two other men, Lipari’s relatives, who have just arrived. He has been already, at least partly9, an alien (“other”) as an Italian-American though he has been accorded the status of citizenship (a vector of identity).

25One of the momentous scenes of the play takes place when Marco “spits into Eddie’s face” (A View 63) before the people of the whole neighborhood: “That one! He killed my children! That one stole the food from my children!” (A View 64). Yet, Eddie’s K-world and anguished W-word are in conflict at this point, since, the satisfaction of his desire is “only made possible by his ignorance of facts” (Ryan, Possible Worlds 121-2). As much as the reader/audience knows through dramatic irony, Marco is rightly accusing Eddie; however, Eddie strives to ignore the fact and still, through his mock-belief world, struggles to restore his honor. He addresses Rodolpho thus: “I want my name! He didn’t take my name; he’s only a punk. Marco’s got my name—to Rodolpho: and you can run tell him, kid, that he’s gonna give it back to me in front of this neighborhood” (A View 69-70). Actually, if we want to put Eddie within the framework of Miller’s definition of tragedy, he is the hero, similar to Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman who is also wrongheaded in his imagined idea of his “rightful position” in society. Eddie goes on striving even after he is disgraced. Our term “anguished W-world” designates the harrowing conflict between desire and honor he is subject to. Moreover, we have to note that the word “right” typically appertains to the discourse of modern liberalism, whereas the words “name” and “honor,” repeated several times in the play, are associated with more traditional/premodern (prior to the advent of modern liberalism) societies that primarily hinge on values of loyalty, duty and responsibility. Thus, restoring honor / name is not synonymous with gaining the rightful position, despite the fact that we are acutely made cognizant of Eddie’s attempt to exonerate himself of his morally wrong act.

26Also worthy of note here is Julian Young’s reading of the Millerian concept of tragedy. Young contends that Miller’s tragedy is morally simplistic and restricted, one mostly concerned with indignation: “‘indignation’ against one’s oppression by an unjust order is too restrictive an account of tragic motivation to cover anything like the full range of great tragedies.” Young continues:

A peculiarity concerning the ‘indignation’ requirement is that it actually excludes Miller’s own Death of a Salesman from counting as a modern tragedy. The order of things that brings about Willy Loman’s downfall is (one version of) ‘the American Dream’: the idea that the right thing to do is to get rich. Life is made up of rich ‘winners’ and poor ‘losers’; greed is good. The play is a devastating critique of the effects of this cruel and shallow ethos. The difficulty it creates for Miller’s theory, however, is that Loman is destroyed not because he opposes that ethos but because he loves it. (252-3)

  • 10 The link between Eddie and Willy can be explored further. In a similar vein, when they realize that (...)

27Young’s contention is that Willy Loman’s anger at being wronged is misdirected. Instead of being angry at the capitalist ideology of which he is a victim, he is angry at/with circumstances and people (those deemed ungrateful or unfriendly by him, like his former boss’s son). As Young further notes, this indignation evades a clear distinction between “perceived injustice and actual injustice” (252). In his account, the failure to identify the source of oppression/injustice makes less a tragic figure of Willy Loman. This squarely applies to Eddie in A View from the Bridge. Eddie hardly thinks that he is oppressed by “an unjust order”; rather, he thinks that the American Dream is more or less realized by him as an American citizen. Thus, it is that he blames the two illegal immigrants from Italy for making a mess of his life. It is this “perceived injustice” that pushes Eddie through his K-world and anguished W-world forward in his struggle to gain his “rightful” position in his community. Arguably, he is even more illusioned than Willy Loman as he seems to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this to the end and look into his true motivation (his incest-like passion for Catherine) for his act of betrayal. In other words, his judgment about matters of right and wrong is even more dubious than Willy’s.10 Does this make Eddie even less of a tragic hero? Or is it that this way the playwright encourages the readers to ponder matters of right and wrong more profoundly?

28Martha Nussbaum calls to mind that “[o]ur experience is, without fiction, too confined and too parochial”; literature extends our life and our experience, “making us reflect and feel about what might otherwise be too distant for feeling” (Love's Knowledge 47) An ethical reading helps the reader cultivate his/her inner vision, activating his/her faculty of sympathy and empathy by experiencing the emotions conveyed through the literary works (Nussbaum, Cultivating 88). In this regard, Marco’s last conversation with Alfieri in the prison requires further consideration:

MARCO, gesturing with his head—this is a new idea: Then what is done with such a man?
ALFIERI: Nothing. If he obeys the law, he lives. That’s all.
MARCO rises, turns to Alfieri: The law? All the law is not in a book.
ALFIERI: Yes. In a book. There is no other law.
MARCO, his anger rising: He degraded my brother. My blood. He robbed my children, he mocks my work. I work to come here, mister!
ALFIERI: I know, Marco—
MARCO: There is no law for that? Where is the law for that?
ALFIERI: There is none. (66)

29Integrating Nussbaum’s view with Gregory’s notion of ethiotic influences that shape a moral character/self who is in process, “negotiat[ing] vicariously among different lines of action and thought” (Gregory Shaped 62; emphasis added), the reader of A View from the Bridge, along with the people in Red Hook, would experience feelings of shame, anger and antipathy towards Eddie and also sympathy and grief for Marco and the other two immigrants arrested to be sent back to Italy. Overall, the rhetorical thrust of the passage compels the reader to sympathize with Marco, to understand his K-world and communal O-world, and to feel antipathy towards American civil law.

30Recapping on what has occurred as plot progression thus far through the lens of Ryan’s theory of tellability, Eddie has “initiation of a line of action” (“Embedded” 321) by way of his mental acts—his anguished W-world and plan—triggered or caused by “a physical state,” that is, Catherine’s presence. Then, there is “the progression in the execution” of his plan specified by his intent giving rise to the motivation of an action—to compete with Rodolpho in Catherine’s love. Eddie’s attempt fails as a new state (Rodolpho’s and Catherine’s mutual love) enables another action to be planned which is to call the immigration bureau and turn Rodolpho and Marco in. The execution of this plan ultimately leads to an arc of termination. Marco’s intent to take revenge terminates Eddie’s intent/mental act. However, Eddie’s reliance on his own personal moral code, which is actually the moral infraction of TAW, has grave consequences both for himself and others, specifically the Italian brothers. At issue here is the extent to which Eddie is aware of the consequences of his actions. Eddie's agony, his increasing sense of alienation after the act of betrayal, betokens his increasing consciousness about what he has done and why as well as the grim consequences both for himself and those betrayed. While dying, Eddie appears remorseful:

CATHERINE: Eddie I never meant to do nothing bad to you.
EDDIE: Then why— Oh, B.!
BEATRICE: Yes, yes!
EDDIE: My B.! (A View 72)

31This last scene exhibits the women’s support and reconciliation with Eddie (Griffin 90). Eddie shows up guilt-ridden in the last moment of his life; calling his wife twice is an appeal for forgiveness which seems to have been already granted, given that in the preceding scene Beatrice takes on the blame too: “Whatever happened we all done it” (A View 68). Rhetorically, an appeal is made to the audience to understand Eddie’s plight, to judge him more leniently. That Eddie, as discussed above, is ready to die for his sense of personal dignity and that he is capable of seeing the wrongness of what he has done (his contrition) offers a moral lesson. Eddie ultimately comes across as an ethical agent who is, in Phelan’s words, “on the verge of fulfilling the requirements” of his communal codes (“Rhetoric/ethics” 214).

32Respectively, David Palmer in his 2014 article entitled “Miller, O'Neill, Moral Despair, and Tragedy” observes that, Miller, in his plays of the 1940s and early 1950s, shares a Kantian view of “objectivist, highly moralistic vision of the human condition” (27). Miller’s characters are depicted as “self-servingly deluded about the immorality of their actions or confused about their places and obligations in the world.” “By violating this objective moral order,” Palmer continues, “the characters are led into suffering” (31). However, we should bear in mind that though Miller does not reject Kant’s ethical imperative, his conception of tragedy could be said to be in a sense un-Kantian. In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant underscores the notion of “a pure moral philosophy, perfectly cleared of everything which is only empirical” (50-1). However, Miller’s by and large liberal sensibility, one also affected by existentialism, requires that ethical issues be considered in their circumstantial modality. Practical considerations are inevitable. A thought-provoking case, once again, is Alfieri; this time his last remarks:

ALFIERI: Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better. But the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was, and his death useless, I tremble, for I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory— not purely good, but himself purely, for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients. And yet, it is better to settle for half, it must be! And so I mourn him—I admit it—with a certain . . . alarm. (A View 72)

33Alfieri, as Terry Otten notes, is “a “minor” but “crucial” character, the lawyer-narrator who “represents common sense in the way that Greek choruses did. That is, common sense in relation to excess”. Alfieri judges Eddie less in terms of Kantian deontology than a humane realization of human frailty: “not purely good, but purely himself” (80).

4. Conclusion

34In our discussion of Arthur Miller’s A View for the Bridge we tried to unpack some of the ethical valences of the play by combining insights from Ethical Criticism and the Possible Worlds Theory. We discussed the significance of character’s ethical choices, beliefs, decisions and actions in relation to other characters. We argued that Miller’s play could be considered as cognitive ethical narrative as it throws into high relief ethical considerations in relation to the cognitive valences of the characters and readers. Viewing the play through the lens of cognitive poetics sheds light on its ethical affordances, particularly with respect to the issue of choices. Thus, the protagonist’s act of betrayal is shown to be circumstantially complex, involving conflict of values which could be illuminated through the consideration of the conflicting possible worlds projected. Actually, consistent with Terry Otten’s reading of the play, Alfieri could be regarded as an unreliable narrator who makes Eddie more conscious of his desire for Catherine and, even, plants the idea of informing the brothers in his mind. While Alfieri may bear a formal resemblance to the Greek chorus, he is much more than a mere commentator in the play. Also, Eddie is not completely unaware of the choices he makes and the consequences that follow.

35We also noted how the depiction of a certain social milieu, an Italian community on the margins of an American metropolis, bears particular relevance to the presentation of the conflicts between characters’ APWs and their TAW and, as such, to the consideration of ethical issues in the play. Also related to this is an examination of the Millerian concept of tragedy. Eddie’s choices and decisions in the play, partaking of Sartrean existentialism, constitute his anguished W-world operating in violation of his commitment to his family, his guests, and his community. Miller depicts a social space in which the sense of responsibility and consideration for the other prevail over individual rights and self-consideration, one in which hospitable W-world and communal O-world take priority over anguished W-world and Social O-world.

36As noted, the sense of recognition, however partial, problematizes Costello’s contention that Eddie violates “all the circles of responsibility” “blindly” and “dies uncomprehendingly” (448, 450). Ryan’s definition of O-world is worth recalling in this regard: it is “a system of commitments and prohibitions defined by social rules and moral principles.” However, “the social rules” are “issued by an external authority” while “the moral principles may be defined by characters themselves” (Possible Worlds 116). While Eddie violates ‘the social rules’ he seems to at least partly adhere to his personal code (of not settling for half?). In other words, his O-world is split. His choice of fighting Marco to take back his reputation, whether it is an act of punitive suicide or not, could be read as a conscious gesture of defiance of fate; it is a wise choice, for if he wins (projection of a dim world of expectations or, Prospective Extensions of Knowledge worlds in Ryan’s words), he would clear his name and if he loses, it would be an honorable exit out of his unbearably angst-ridden situation. Importantly, what arguably drives this sense of recognition is Eddie’s attempt at narrativizing his quandary (to himself and others, esp. to Alfieri), it affords him a better “view” of his situation.

37Ultimately the play proposes to just offer “a view” (the title) on ethical issues as no single view can do justice to such issues. Martha Nussbaum’s contention that only the novel—because of its dialogic, polyphonic nature and not even philosophy—can do justice to the intricacies of and the contingencies of ethical issues seems partially borne out by Miller’s play. Drama arguably is not as polyphonic as the novel. (Love's Knowledge 14). Miller’s tragedy, however, uncannily demonstrates the urgency of moral issues as well as the difficulty of representing them in literature.

Top of page

Bibliography

Alber, Jan. Unnatural Narrative: Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama. U of Nebraska P, 2016.

Bell, Alice and Marie-Laure Ryan. Possible Worlds Theory and Contemporary Narratology. U of Nebraska P, 2019

Bigsby, Christopher. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study. Cambridge UP, 2005.

Booth, Wayne. C. “Why Ethical Criticism Can Never Be Simple.” Ethics, Literature, & Theory: An Introductory Reader, edited by Stephen K. George. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. pp. 23-35.

Centola, S. R. “Compromise as Bad Faith: Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba.Midwestern Quarterly, vol. 28, 1986, pp. 100-113.

Costello, D. P. “Arthur Miller’s Circles of Responsibility: A View from the Bridge and Beyond.” Modern Drama, vol. 36, 1993, pp. 443-451.

Cotkin, George. Existential America. The Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

Daigle, Christine. Jean-Paul Sartre. Routledge, 2010

Dannenberg, Hilary P. “Plot.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman et al., Routledge, 2005, pp. 435-39.

Davis, Todd F. and Kenneth Womack. “Introduction: Reading Literature and the Ethics of Criticism.” Style, vol. 32, no. 2, 1998, pp. 184-193.

Doležel, Lubomir. Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds. Johns Hopkins UP, 1998.

Freshwater, Lori. “Hearts that Refuse to Burn: American Existentialism in the Plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.” The Arthur Miller Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, 2010, pp. 29-45.

Gregory, Marshall. “Ethical Criticism: What It Is and Why It Matters.” Style, vol. 32, no. 2, 1998, pp. 194-220.

---. “Ethical Engagements over Time: Reading and Rereading David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights.Narrative, vol 12, no. 3, October 2004, pp. 281-305.

---. Shaped by Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives. U of Notre Dame P, 2009.

Griffin, Alice. Understanding Arthur Miller. U of South Carolina P, 1996.

Hajdu, Peter. “The Ethical Discourse of Tragedy and (Pseudo-)Historiography.” Forum for World Literature Studies, vol. 8, 2016, pp. 19-27.

Hogan, Patrick C. Literature and Moral Feeling: A Cognitive Poetics of Ethics, Narrative and Sympathy. Cambridge UP, 2020.

Jahn, Manfred. “Narrative Voice and Agency in Drama: Aspects of a Narratology of Drama.” New Literary History, vol. 32, no. 3, 2001, pp. 659-679.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Thomas K. Abbott, edited by Lara Denis, Broadview Edition, 2005.

Levinas, Emanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne UP, 1969.

Marino, Stephen. “A View from the Bridge.” A Student Handbook to the Plays of Arthur Miller: All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, Broken Glass edited by Enoch Brater, Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2010, pp. 157-203.

Meijer-van Wijk, Kim. “Levinas, Hospitality and the Feminine Other.” The Routledge Handbook of Hospitality Studies, edited by Conrad Lashley, Routledge, 2017, pp. 43-56.

Miller, Arthur. Timebends. Grove Press, 1987.

---. “Introduction to the Collected Plays.” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, edited by Robert A. Martin, Viking, 1978.

---. “On Social Plays.” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, edited by Robert A. Martin Viking, 1978.

---. “Tragedy and the Common Man.” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, edited by Robert A. Martin, Viking, 1978.

---. A View from the Bridge: A Play in Two Acts with a New Introduction. Penguin, 1977.

Murphy, Brenda. “Arthur Miller: Revisioning Realism.” Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition, edited by William W. Demastes, The U of Alabama P, 1996, pp. 189-202.

---. “The Tradition of Social Drama: Miller and His Forebears.” The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, edited by Christpher Bigsby, Cambridge UP, 1997, pp. 10-20.

Nünning, Ansgar, and Roy Sommer. “Diegetic and Mimetic Narrativity: Some Further Steps towards a Narratology of Drama.” Theorizing Narrativity, edited by J. Pier and J. Á. García Landa, De Gruyter, 2008, pp. 331–354.

Nussbaum, Martha. Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. Oxford UP, 1990.

---. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Harvard UP, 1997.

---. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge UP, 2001.

Otten, Terry. The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. U of Missouri P, 2002.

Palmer, David. “Miller, O’Neill, Moral Despair, and Tragedy.” The Arthur Miller Journal, vol. 9, no. 1-2, 2014. pp. 27-42.

Phelan, James. “Rhetoric/ethics.” The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, edited by David Herman, Cambridge UP, 2007. pp. 203-216.

---. “Narrative Ethics.” Living Handbook of Narratology, edited by Peter Hühn, John Pier, Wolf Schmid, and Jörg Schönert, Hamburg UP, 2014. http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/ narrative- ethics. Accessed 15 Nov. 2023.

Richardson, Brian. “Drama and Narrative.” The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, edited by David Herman, Cambridge UP, 2007. pp. 142–155.

Roudané, Matthew. Conversations with Arthur Miller. UP of Mississippi, 1987

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Embedded Narratives and the Structure of Plans.” Text, vol. 6, no. 1, 1986, pp. 107-142.

---. Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory. Indiana UP, 1991.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism Is a Humanism. Translated by Carol Macomber, Yale UP, 2007.

Semino, Elena. “Possible Worlds and Mental Spaces in Hemingway’s ‘A Very Short Story.’” Cognitive Poetics in Practice, edited by Joanna Gavins and Gerard Steen, Routledge, 2003, pp. 83-98.

Sommer, Roy. “Drama and narrative.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman et al., Routledge, 2005, pp. 119–124.

Tönnies, Ferdinand. Community and Civil Society. Translated by J. Harris and M. Hollis. Cambridge UP, 2001.

Wertheim, Albert. “A View from the Bridge.” The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, edited by Christpher Bigsby, Cambridge UP, 1997, pp. 101-114.

Young, Julian. The Philosophy of Tragedy: From Plato to Žižek. Cambridge UP, 2013.

Top of page

Notes

1 For philosophical background of Possible Worlds Theory, see the introductions in Ryan, Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory, and Bell and Ryan, Possible Worlds Theory and Contemporary Narratology.

2 For more on the advent of the philosophy of existentialism in the United States see Cotkin. Cotkin’s survey addresses the contribution of the American literature 1600s-1970s to the tradition of American Existentialism.

3 See Steven R. Centola’s dissertation titled Freedom and Responsibility After the Fall: A Sartrean Perspective of Arthur Miller’s Existential Humanism (1982) as well as his articles such as “‘How to Contain the Impulse of Betrayal’: A Sartrean Reading of The Ride down Mount Morgan.” American Drama, vol. 6, no. 1, 1996, pp. 14–28. Also, see Christopher Bigsby’s “The Fall and After: Arthur Miller’s Confession”, Modern Drama, vol. 10, no. 2, 1967, pp. 124-136, and Arthur Miller.

4 Despite Eddie’s concerns, Catherine for a while tests Rodolpho by asking that they go and live in Italy to which Rodolpho replies, “How can I bring you from a rich country to suffer in a poor country?” (A View 49). In Eddie’s conversation with Alfieri, Alfieri lets him know that he has no recourse to the law to prevent the marriage; “She wants to get married, Eddie. She can’t marry you, can she?” says Alfieri (A View 37).

5 Actually, it is Alfieri who originally plants the idea in Eddie’s head that calling immigration would actually be a solution.

6 For further information, see Hogan 9-39.

7 As one more example of the complexity of ethical considerations in the play it is worth mentioning that one of the brothers is also Catherine’s actual blood-related cousin; as such there may be a sniff of incest here. If so, there could be a hint of justification in Eddie’s act of informing on the brothers.

8 Of course, a detailed discussion of the contrast between the philosophical accounts of Sartre and Levinas regarding subjectivity and ethics is beyond the scope of this article.

9 As indicated in his dialect, Eddie is American born and has never been to Italy in person. However, he is not fully considered as being of the same order of the self in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon America.

10 The link between Eddie and Willy can be explored further. In a similar vein, when they realize that they cannot reclaim their reputation, both characters choose to end their lives (Willy through a car crash and Eddie by knowingly engaging in a fight armed with a knife against a much stronger opponent). Eddie's death is often interpreted as a possible suicide.

Top of page

References

Electronic reference

Hossein Pirnajmuddin and Omid Amani, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge as Cognitive Ethical NarrativeEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 19-2 | 2024, Online since 07 June 2024, connection on 25 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/21963

Top of page

About the authors

Hossein Pirnajmuddin

Hossein Pirnajmuddin currently works as associate professor at the Department of English, University of Isfahan. Hossein does research in Literary Theory, Renaissance English Literature, Contemporary English Fiction, and Translation Studies. His current project is an investigation of the discourse of liberal humanism in a number of contemporary American writers. He has several publications on narratology, cognitive poetics, literary criticism, and modern literature, to name but a few.

Omid Amani

Omid Amani is an assistant professor of English literature at the Department of English, faculty of Humanities, Malayer University, Malayer, Iran. His research interests are Literary Theory, Contemporary British and American Fiction and Drama. He has published several articles on narratology and cognitive poetics. His most current project is to explore Richard Ford's fiction through affective narratological reading.

Top of page

Copyright

CC-BY-4.0

The text only may be used under licence CC BY 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search