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How does Arthur Miller build up tension in Act 1 of 'A view from the Bridge'?

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Introduction

How does Arthur Miller build up tension in Act 1 of 'A view from the Bridge'? This play takes place in 'Red Hook', a dirty place dominated mostly by illegal immigrants from Italy. It is a poor, nefarious place where crime is rife and gangsters and the Mafia are well known. The play is about an Italian family, the Carbones and centres around Eddie Carbone in particular. He lives in a small apartment with his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine who they both treat as a daughter. Tension in 'A view from the Bridge' is defined as the anticipation and suspense of the audience and the conflict between characters. Tension in the Carbone household is present right from the beginning of the play and even though the narrator, lawyer and family friend Alfieri, has subconsciously warned the audience of an ill-fated ending, they are still unaware of any existing tension. In the opening paragraph, he tells the audience that 'In this neighbourhood to meet a lawyer or a priest on the street is unlucky. We're only thought of in connection with disasters, and they'd rather not get too close.' Eddie is unconvinced of this, as he is well acquainted with Alfieri. Through the narrator's opening speech, Arthur Miller is hinting that Eddie and the rest of the Carbone family are going to experience a disastrous fate because of their connection with Alfieri. Alfieri is a good narrator. He is a neutral and wise character and knows Eddie very well. Like the audience, he is an outsider with a reflective view; a 'View from the Bridge' into the closed world of Red Hook and he directs the audience's responses. Alfieri is familiar with the Carbones and the troubles they experience but when he tries to offer valuable and intelligent advice throughout the play, stubborn Eddie ignores him and refuses. Alfieri is unsuccessful and therefore 'powerless' towards Eddie's actions but Alfieri knows that he will not be the victim of Eddie's stubborn and ignorant nature. ...read more.

Middle

By the end of this scene, the audience start to realise that Eddies is not such an 'angel' as they see more of him. More tension is created as Eddie stresses how important it is to keep Beatrice's illegal cousins a secret and goes on to tell Catherine about the case of Vinny Bolzano who 'snitched to the Immigration' about his hiding uncle. He tells Catherine: 'you can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away.' This is almost like a threat to Catherine and it is as though Eddie does not trust her to keep the cousins a secret. The case of Vinny Bolzano also highlights strong community values on informing on your own family and shows how a family can turn violent on one of its own if that person breaks community value. This possibly leads the audience to wonder about the future relevance of this story, preparing us for the key moment of the play. In this part of the scene there are also a few references to Eddie 'taking out his watch'. Eddie must be waiting for the cousins to arrive and his anxiety may be reflected in the audiences. Rodolpho and Marco arrive, just off the boat from Italy. At first the conversation is pleasant and Eddie is welcoming. Marco is the more straight talking of the two brothers but the conversation is manly dominated by Eddie who seems to prefer Marco as he is the more polite, serious and mature brother. Rodolpho gradually is introduced into the conversation and Eddie discovers that he is attractive, talkative and friendly individual and also has a good sense of humour. He can see that Catherine and Rodolpho are showing interest towards each other and again changes his mood. He becomes very defensive. The audience can see that there is a distinct fondness and Catherine is clearly interested in Rodolpho's status: 'You married too? ...read more.

Conclusion

Marco who is aware of Eddie's dislike for his brother and objecting to the humiliation he just caused him, shows a different side by implicitly threatening Eddie with his show of strength, to lift a chair with one hand only. He feels that Eddie has been too confident in himself and that he is influencing Rodolpho to do something out of character. Just like the incident where he made Catherine take off her shoes, he is trying to embarrass and scare Rodolpho because everything else that he had tried had failed. There has been no tension linked with Marco up until this point. Eddie is shocked when he cannot lift the chair but Marco wants Eddie to realise that he will fight for Rodolpho and that Eddie is not as clever or strong as he thinks. In any other circumstance, Eddie and Marco could have been good friends because they are both very similar; they both have a strong value for family; not much to say; respectful and strong. At this point, the tension is extremely high, even Rodolpho and Catherine stopped dancing. 'MARCO is face to face with EDDIE, a strained tension gripping his eyes and jaw, his neck stiff, the chair raised like a weapon over EDDIE'S head - and he transforms what might appear like a glare of warning into a smile of triumph, and EDDIE'S grin vanishes as he absorbs his look.' Finally, Eddie is left utterly humiliated and he knows that he cannot do anything to stop Catherine and Rodolpho marrying. He gives up. To conclude, Arthur Miller has built up tension by hinting at various issues and then slowly developing them, scene by scene, juxtaposing scenes that are distant in time for dramatic purposes. The tension in the scenes is gradually built up until the climax, the moment where Marco picks up the chair and Eddie is left stunned. Miller uses Alfieri to direct the audience towards anticipating some violent end to this play. He also uses Eddie's continual spontaneous changes in mood to make the build up of tension more intense. ...read more.

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