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“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A View From the Bridge”

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Alfieri and Atticus are both lawyers which the authors brought into the texts to highlight themes. Alfieri highlights the themes of justice, social code, social class, immigration and marriage. Atticus Finch, the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, is brought into the texts to highlight racism, law, social division, prejudice and courage. The authors, Harper Lee and Arthur Miller have some first hand experience of what they write about. Harper Lee was born on April 1926 in Alabama, the time the book was set. She also studied law during 1945-1949. Later, in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird was published and she incorporated her knowledge of life in America and law into the book. The author of A View From the Bridge, Arthur Miller, was born in New York on October 17th 1915. Both of his parents were immigrants. This is possibly where he got his inspiration to write the play.

In A View From The Bridge, Miller uses Alfieri to highlight the main themes by introducing a number of scenarios. These themes are also brought into the play by the central character Eddie. The first theme, justice and law, is used to show the reader the contrast between the very lawful New York, with no social code, and the Italian-American community which has a social code and sees justice as being more important than the law and that justice is not always lawful. Alfieri says, “I heard what you told me, and I’m telling you what the answer is… Put it out of your mind! Eddie!” In this speech, Alfieri is saying that Eddie will soon be outcast as a result of informing the Immigration Bureau. This proves how much the social code is valued in this area and also proves that it is stronger than the law itself. The conversation between Eddie, Catherine and Beatrice also proves this point further:

Beatrice: But the family had an uncle that the were hidin’ in the house, and he snitched to the Immigration.

Catherine: The kid snitched?

Eddie: On his own uncle!

Catherine: What, was he crazy?

Eddie: He was crazy after that, I tell you that, boy.

This shows that everyone finds it shocking that he ‘snitched’ on the immigrant. Beatrice goes on to say ‘The whole neighbourhood was cryin”. The quotation shows that Red Hook is a very close-knit community and one breach of trust and the social code affects them all. At the end of the play, Eddie demands justice on Rudolfo for trying to take ‘his’ Catherine and on Marco for abusing his sense of honour. At the same time, Marco demands justice on Eddie for informing the Immigration Bureau about his and Rudolfo’s residence. Eddie wouldn’t settle for half and tried to kill Marco but he reverses it and kills Eddie. As Alfieri is a lawyer, he should be advising Eddie against helping immigrants but instead he advises him not to tell the immigration office about them. This is because he understands the social code and knows the consequences of not obeying it.

When Eddie eventually turns to the immigration bureau to tell them about Eddie and Marco, the main thing on his mind is the fact that he is going to lose Catherine. Alfieri understands this but advises him to let her go:

Alfieri:”…every man’s got somebody he loves, heh? But sometimes…there is too much….there is too much love for the daughter, there is too much love for the niece. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? … Let her go. That’s my advice. You did your job, now it’s her life; wish her luck and let her go.

This highlights the theme of parental role. Although Eddie is not Catherine’s blood father, he is the father figure in her life. When we first encounter Catherine and Eddie, we see them in a very close relationship but we later see (when Catherine gets a job) how possessive towards her he is. He does not want her to go to work and grow up. Eddie wants her to stay a little girl so he can maintain his role as her father. He starts making excuses, “I know that neighbourhood, B., I don’t like it”. He wants to be able to make all the decisions for her. He talks to Alfieri about the situation and he tells him to let her go. It almost seems that Eddie “Wants something else but he can never have her” as Beatrice says. Alfieri is almost indirectly stopping the argument by trying to advise Eddie on what he should do. Beatrice and Eddie’s views conflict very often; Beatrice wants Catherine to work, Eddie does not. Beatrice wants Catherine to marry, Eddie does not. He tells him that he must let Catherine go and that he needs to move on. Throughout the play, we often see Eddie acting in an immature, foolish way, for example, the chair lifting contest. He cannot accept that his niece is going to marry an someone else. He wants Alfieri to help him but he cannot as there are no laws “that a guy who ain’t right can go to work and marry a girl.” He told him all he could but Eddie makes his own choices and they are wrong.

In the play, there are two main instances of people wanting the American dream. The first being Eddie’s ambitions for Catherine. He wants her to get a good job, somewhere away from the ‘slums’ of New York, where she will earn a good pay. This shows that Eddie cares for Catherine but, as the theme of parental role shows, a little too much. The second instance of people wanting the American dream is Rudolpho and Marco immigrating to America from Italy to get a job and earn money. Rudolpho says, “I want to be an American” which means that he probably has a glamorised view of America.

When Marco and Rudolpho come to America, Beatrice tells them that they are poor and that they don’t have the best living conditions. Rudolpho says, “This will be the first house I ever walked into in America! Imagine! They said they were poor!” This implies that the house that he lived in in Italy was a very poor house, fairly primitive. The tragic part about this theme is that the American dream happens for neither of the two scenarios. Eddie destroys them both by informing immigration about Marco and Rudolfo. Firstly, he destroys it for Catherine by not allowing her to get a job and to marry Rudolfo and secondly destroying it for Marco who has to be sent back to Italy because he immigrated illegally. This proves that Eddie is not listening to Alfieri’s advice as he is breaking the social code in both situations – he won’t settle for half. This highlights how Alfieri is in a powerless position, linking to the theme of destiny.

Settling for half is an important theme seen mostly at the end of the play when Eddie wouldn’t settle for letting Catherine marry Rudolpho; he would lose Catherine but she would be happy. Alfieri says, “Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better.” He could have said this to highlight the fact that Eddie is not a sensible person and that if he was, he would settle for half – he would compromise – he would have let Catherine and Rudolpho get married without informing immigration.

The theme of marriage is also an important one. At the start, we find that Eddie and Beatrice get along as every marriage should but later in the book (the first instance is when Catherine gets a job) we see them have divided opinions. Beatrice can accept change whereas Eddie cannot. They then disagree about the immigrants. Eddie is then pressurised into letting Catherine go as she wants to get a job and marry but Beatrice finds this irritating (“You going to leave her alone? Or you gonna drive me crazy?”) and we again see the marriage under stress. Eddie is almost jealous of Rudolpho as we see in the chair-lifting contest, Rudolpho just sees it a fun but he wants to hurt Rudolpho and yet again, Beatrice disagrees. The most important part of this theme is when Catherine is talking about her wedding and Eddie says, “Now if that’s more to you than I am, then go. But don’t come back. You be on my side or on their side, that’s all.” She decides to go to the wedding and this surprises Eddie as he expects her to stay with him. As before, Alfieri tries to effectively break up the arguments between Eddie and Beatrice from his ‘View from the bridge’ role.

The most important theme in this book is the theme of social codes. Justice here is more important than law. This code is far from lawful. The community see it as a good thing that people let immigrants into the community and if anyone (like Eddie) break that code then it is seen as a very bad thing. Alfieri states, “You won’t have a friend in the world, Eddie! Even those who feel the same will despise you! Put it out of your mind.” Here Alfieri is saying that Eddie will be outcast from the community as the social code is that strong. He is a lawyer and he is not doing anything about the immigrants as he knows what the consequences are for Eddie if he informs anyone.

Miller portrays Alfieri as being more than a lawyer by having him as a narrator. He has “the view from the bridge” role in the play. This is who the title relates to. He acts as a narrator, he is omniscient. For Example:

Alfieri: “On the night twenty-third of that December a case of Scotch whisky slipped from a net while being unloaded…house.”

The set up of the play is like that of a Greek tragedy, the main character, Eddie, shows an inescapable fate. Eddie could not escape Catherine growing up. It shows his path to self destruction by his own actions. It also portrays him as a tragic hero; he dies for what he believes in. Alfieri plays the part of the omniscient chorus as he seems to know everything about Eddie, “This one’s name is Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman working the docks from Brooklyn Bridge to the breakwater where the open sea begins.” There are also other instances of this happening throughout the play. Alfieri can also be seen as a ‘guider to life’ as when Eddie goes to see him, he talks about not keeping Catherine and moving on, he can’t have her forever. He also advises him not to inform immigration about the immigrants because everyone in the neighbourhood will reject him. Alfieri, throughout the play creates a sense of foreboding and dramatic tension with regard to Eddie.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the lawyer, Atticus Finch, is involved more directly in the themes. The main themes are; racism, law, growing up, prejudice, the mockingbird, social division, education and courage. The book is based in a time where racism was normal and every white man was to hate the blacks and every black man was to respect the whites. This book shows people of different ethnical origins in a variety of scenarios; the most significant being Atticus taking on the case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl (Mayella Ewell). Many of the residents in the neighbourhood dislike Atticus for this and are constantly wondering why he agreed to this case. When Scout and Jem first go to school, they hear people calling their father a “nigger lover”. Scout reacts to this badly and gets into a fight with the person who called Atticus this. Later on, Scout goes home and asks him what it means and Atticus explains. He says that the whole neighbourhood think that he shouldn’t be defending the case to which she replies, “If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?” Atticus shows his views on racism by saying, “If I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head up in town.”

This shows that Atticus does not believe in holding judgement against people just because of what they can’t help. He believes it to be morally wrong to not do the same for one race as another. He then gives Scout a lesson in self control and tells her not to let the “nigger lover” ordeal go to her head. This shows how he is more than a lawyer, teaching Scout not to be violent and his views and opinions on life. Atticus knew, before trying to make Tom Robinson win, that he wouldn’t win it, just because he is black.

This links to Alfieri who is also aiming to stop the fate of Eddie. Tom Robinson says (at the trial) that he “felt sorry for Mayella”. The white people find this shocking as a black man is not meant to feel sorry for the ‘better’ whites, he is meant to respect them. Jem shows the difficulties at this time of being a mixed child. “You’re half white and the black people don’t want you, and you’re half black and the white people don’t want you.” This shows the themes of racism and growing up. Atticus shows the theme of growing up by teaching Scout and Jem the right and wrong things to do. He teaches them that people are not just what they look like on the outside as in the case of Boo Radley who saves Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell as this wasn’t expected of him. Atticus says to Scout;

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This is teaching Scout not to be prejudice towards other people.

The second major theme in the book is the one of social class. As Atticus’ family are on neither well off nor very poor, they can see both sides. The most important feature of this is linking to the theme of racial prejudice. Tom Robinson is a polite, law abiding citizen yet ‘white trash’ in the form of Bob Ewell is ranked above him. Walter Cuningham comes from a very poor family and many people humour him for it. Scout and Jem ask him to come over to dinner. While at dinner, he pours maple syrup over his dinner and Scout does not think this to be right and starts to ask him why when she is told by Calpurnia to come into the kitchen. She tells her not to make fun of what other people do. This is her first lesson in growing up. Throughout the book, we see instances of growing up. Atticus is constantly told about him not taking care of his children properly as Scout is a tomboy and people think she should act more like a lady. Although people say this to Atticus, his children are miles ahead in school. When Scout and Jem go to school, they are the only ones that can read. This is Atticus’ input into their school lives. He also teaches them not to judge things and people before “you climb into their skin and walk around in it.” This teaches them not to judge people before you know what they’re like, for example, the Tom Robinson case.

A ‘scene’ that shows Jem and Scouts’ childhood innocence is when Atticus is being threatened by the group of men. Scout goes in and asks Mr. Cunningham to say ‘hi’ to Walter. This innocence causes the gang to go away from Atticus. This shows the theme of courage. Another instance of courage is when Jem and Scout are sent to school by Atticus and they already know how to do everything they are trying to be taught things that Atticus has already taught them. They showed that they are able to stand up for themselves when faced by a peer. Atticus too shows a great amount of courage by fighting for Tom Robinson. Atticus highlights Lee’s message of what true courage is through his conversation with Jem and Scout about Mrs Dubose. He tells them that she is sick and rather than giving up on life she has strived on through her later life taking medication at regular intervals, just to be alive.

The mockingbird plays a significant role in the book. Tom Robinson is seen as the mockingbird, an innocent person who was killed for doing nothing more than helping people. When Atticus says, “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” it’s almost like he is saying that if he didn’t fight for Tom Robinson then he would effectively ‘kill’ him. Atticus is too a mockingbird, he always sees the good in people, he accepts their differences. He is also willing to ‘sing’ his heart out in the courtroom for Tom Robinson. Boo Radley is too a mockingbird. He is ridiculed by the community for doing nothing wrong.

Use miss maudies quote about the mockingbird

I conclude that there is quite a significant difference between the lawyers in the two books. Atticus is the same in court as he is on the streets, polite and well mannered. We don’t really see Alfieri out of his office. They both understand the social codes and they both know the place they work in very well. They both deal with the situations well. How?

Both of Alfieri and Atticus are related to the titles of the texts which highlights their significance.

The similar themes in the books are; justice and the law, growing up/parental role and social class. The themes cover the same areas within the themes except justice is more important in The View From The Bridge than in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Miller and Lee use Alfieri and Atticus to highlight main themes by placing the in a number of scenarios mainly to do with justice, law and social code.

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