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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Play Review: A View from the Bridge (1955) and Toxic Masculinity

"This is my house here, not their house."
Narrated by an Italian lawyer named Alfieri, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge describes Eddie Carbone’s descent into madness as he begins to uncover the truth behind his own identity. The play begins as a very light and comedic one and although the characters’ dialogue is slightly uncomfortable and problematic when it comes to its depiction of male and female relationships, it can be easily written off as humorous and almost even satirical to a modern-day reader. However, as play progresses what is highlighted is the fact that these people live in a world riddled with gender stereotypes, sexism, toxic masculinity that they cannot seem to escape.
The Good Men Project describes toxic masculinity as “designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.” This ideology revolves around a person’s manhood being so closely tied to their own identity that it defines their very existence. And this is done to the point that any sort of emasculation by way of femininity or being introduced to someone more masculine than them could result in dangerous consequences to them and the people around them. By asserting sexist gender roles that anything associated with femininity in check with how they see fit, men like our main character, Eddie Carbone, can lead seemingly perfect lives. However, this is as long as no one there to disprove these gender roles or to make them question their manhood and this is exactly what occurs when Eddie's wife's cousins, Rodolpho and Marco, decide to move in with them.
Before Rodolpho and Marco move in with Eddie and his wife, things are practically normal. Beatrice is the lovely, submissive wife that does exactly what her husband tells her to do. She doesn't work and spends all day doing wifely duties like cleaning the house and making dinner. This is probably due to the fact that during the time, this was all that everyone believed women were good for. They weren’t really involved in the workforce because of the largely believed myth that women weren’t capable of doing the same work as men. However, as the story progresses, the two women do find the nerve to stand up to Eddie's nonsense, but because Eddie is a product of his time, it is all in vain as he refuses to let go of his hyper-masculine, traditionalist mindset. “A wife is supposed to believe the husband,” Eddie states when Beatrice talks of Aldolpho and Catherine's relationship. Beatrice believes that Aldolpho is alright and Eddie disagrees with this for reasons he chooses to ignore at the time. He repeatedly tells Beatrice that Aldolpho “isn’t right” with little reason behind his statements and expects her to go along with his nonsense simply because she is his wife. Beatrice knows the reason why Eddie doesn't like Rodolpho and she often counters Eddie's statements by blatantly telling him that he cannot marry his niece. She openly supports Rodolpho's relationship with Catherine and it is through this support that she challenges her role as the submissive wife character that Eddie is used to, but in the end, she is his wife and she does suck to to Eddie when she needs to. An example of this can be seen when she tells Catherine that she cannot go to her wedding simply because Eddie told her not to and an even further example of this can be pulled from the fact that she doesn't leave her husband even after he kisses both Catherine and Rodolpho. She's a housewife in the 1950's and even though times are slowly changing, she's still trapped in that role by society regardless of how many times she talk back to her husband.
A majority of the play revolves around the conflict between this Eddie, Beatrice Catherine, and her boyfriend, Rodolpho, and Eddie's toxic masculine personality is what causes a majority of that conflict. Though he is a product of his time, Eddie is still making these choices for his own personal gain. There are multiple instances where he clearly has some sort of agency over his actions such as when he calls Immigration on Marco and Rodolpho. At the beginning of the play, he and Catherine are talking about how horrid it was when another man called Immigration on his family and this foreshadows the ironic moment where Eddie does the same thing simply out of spite because he feels threatened by Rodolpho who just wants to marry his niece. It is when the idea of her leaving and being taken by another man that scares him not only because he's in love with her, but also because having one of his "possessions" taken away by another man is an act of disrespect in his eyes. All throughout the play, he calls for "his name" to be given back to him and he demands respect from everyone, but no one seems to know how they've wronged him because they're just trying to live their lives and be happy. Toxic masculinity and honestly, masculinity in itself, are a societal constructions. They're things that we cannot see, but as a society, we've created these concept and given them meaning and power over how we view ourselves and other people. Though these social constructions tend to shift over time, and we can see that times are changing in the play, Eddie, for whatever reason, refuses to accept this and it's basically what causes him to suffer and lose his sense of self in the play.
As I've already stated, Eddie is in love with Catherine. Though why he has these feelings is not particularly clear, I believe it is because of the fact that Catherine's role as his niece is very ambiguous. She sits on his lap and lights his cigarette and even sits around her slip around while he shaves his legs. Catherine has to beg for his permission to take a job, much like Beatrice, his wife, who also also has to ask his permission to do anything In addition, both these women rely on Eddie to take care of them almost to the point that it inhibits their growth as people. Her and Beatrice's role are almost synonymous with each other in Eddie's eyes, but now that Catherine is grown, the lines between what separated woman and girl have blurred. Beatrice tells him constantly that because Catherine is all grown up, she can make her own decisions, but he refuses to accept this fact because to him, she is his object. When Rodolpho comes along wanting to marry Catherine, it especially really shakes him because Rodolpho is younger and better looking than Eddie is and he is threatening Eddie's masculinity by attempting to take Catherine away from him. During the play's climax, Eddie's breaking point in his struggle to prove his masculinity to both Catherine and Rodolpho occurs when he kisses the both of them. Though many critics would say that this points to ambiguity in relation to Eddie's sexuality, I feel that it more-so relates to his struggle for control against the womanly possession that is Catherine, and the man that is attempting to steal her way. Forcibly kissing the both of them could be a way to feminize or exert control over them as it symbolic of a rape, which is the one of the most ultimate and extreme forms of control over another person's body. 
After the events of the kiss, Eddie tries to pretend that it didn't happen, like he does with most of his feelings. Though his wife and Catherine both know what happened, he refuses to believe that it meant anything and ultimately this is Eddie's tragic flaw. His blatant denial of everything along with his selfishness are what lead him to his downfall. Though Eddie is a product of his time and this is a time period that is apparently riddled with sexism and toxic masculinity, he does make his own choices and it harms him and everyone around him. But it's because of how harsh society is when it comes to masculinity that it is hard for him to accept that times are changing, pushing him to doing the things that he does. It is only through his death that Eddie can find some peace, but that doesn't mean it comes without causing pain to those he's hurt along the way. In the end it is ultimately Eddie that caused his own undoing, but most of us can say the same for our many own problems, too. The only thing that aids us in our ability to accept reality is the fact that we live in a much more accepting, positive society that we can only hope will continue to further evolve some of the negative social constructions from before that still linger around. 

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