The use of form in A View from the Bridge

Writers choose all sorts of different ways, or forms, to write texts, such as novels, poems, and plays. A View from the Bridge is written in the form of a play, and is therefore intended to be watched in performance rather than just being read. There are stage directions to help guide actors and it is written in dialogue. All productions of A View from the Bridge will be different; some directors may decide to use a very bare set, others may fill the stage with props and background. Every production will therefore be unique and give the audience a different experience.

It might help you if you try to imagine that you are sitting in the audience looking ahead at a stage. The left curtain represents the east coast of America, and the right curtain represents the west coast of Europe. The stage and the space above it represent the Atlantic Ocean. Now that you have this image in your mind, you can see how the stage already tells you a lot about the plot; there is the new world of America, with its laws and morals on one side, and the old world of Europe, also with its laws and morals, on the other side; and the characters have all had to make the voyage across the Atlantic, either themselves or through their ancestors. The voyage is not only a physical one, it is also a psychological one between two different ways of thinking.

A View from the Bridge has elements of a classical (or ancient Greek) tragedy although it is actually a modern tragedy.

Classical (or ancient Greek) tragedy

Classical tragedy dates from around the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. It must contain certain elements. For example, the play has to run in “real time”. For instance, if the play lasts three hours, then that represents action which lasts three hours too, with no breaks or flashbacks.

Also, there is no change of setting; all the action is set in one place. The hero has to be of royal or noble birth and have one great ambition, such as saving his country. By the end of the drama, the hero must lose everything, even perhaps his life, through his own hubris, or pride. A classical tragedy has a chorus, played by a group of people who speak in unison. They explain what is happening, acting as narrators for the audience.

A View from the Bridge has elements of a classical tragedy because events are narrated by Alfieri, acting as the chorus. It has a hero who is on a path to destruction which is his own fault and which nobody, not even he, can stop.

What is the effect of this?

Using elements of classical tragedy lets Miller connect his play with an ancient dramatic form, emphasising that the story of a man brought down by his own weakness is as old as humanity. This is particularly appropriate because Miller refers to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during the play. The audience know from the start that the plot will involve violence and tragedy; and each time that Alfieri appears, the audience realise that Eddie is one step closer to destruction, and they become involved in his headlong rush.

Modern tragedy

A modern tragedy differs from a classical tragedy in that its hero is an ordinary man with a modest dream or ambition. There is the same path to destruction, but instead of being the fault of the hero’s pride, it is his sudden impulsive decisions which bring him down. Another difference is that the stage sets change, indicating that the action does not all happen in the same place. There are also time lapses, sometimes of days, sometimes of weeks.

A View from the Bridge is a modern tragedy because Eddie is an ordinary working man who has one weakness – his wife’s niece Catherine. Despite warnings from other characters, Eddie refuses to see that his feelings for Catherine are inappropriate, and he carries out one impulsive action – phoning the Immigration Authorities - which leads to his downfall.

What is the effect of this?

Miller makes A View from the Bridge a modern tragedy to show audiences that the problems of ordinary people are timeless and repeated throughout history. His main protagonist is an ordinary working man, generally good and kind, but with a fatal weakness. As it is a tragedy, it is likely to end in death, and the audience are placed in the same position as the other characters – forced to watch helplessly as Eddie rushes towards his fate.

How to analyse form

To analyse the form of A View from the Bridge you need to:

  • remember that it is a play and is therefore intended to be watched by an audience
  • understand that Eddie is a tragic hero who, because of his one weakness, is being propelled towards his inevitable fate
  • realise that Alfieri, in his role as narrator, represents the chorus in a classical tragedy