Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’ depicts the development of the female character, Catherine, from a young girl to a mature woman in 1950s America while also depicting the attitudes, responsibilities and roles of females during that time. Miller presents Catherine’s growth by showing her in relation to other characters around her, such as Eddie, Beatrice and Rodolpho. Through her, Miller also presents multiple themes and catalyses the plot’s climax to showcase both her evolvement and Eddie’s devolvement.
Catherine is the first female character on the stage, and her immediate conversation with Eddie initially characterises her as a young girl dependent on a patriarchal figure. Eddie is shown as the adopted father figure for Catherine, being the main financier of her education and needs while also providing her with a home and a sense of fatherly devotion. This is why when Catherine comes out with a new dress and hairdo, she seeks Eddie’s praise in a similar way as a daughter does from a father, evidenced by her repeated question, ‘You like it?’ to Eddie. Her identity is largely dependent on Eddie because she must have his approval for whatever she intends, such as dressing in a different manner or taking her first job offer. Catherine is both academically talented, ‘And (the principal) says to me that I’m the best student in the whole class…‘ and highlighted for a professional position with decent pay, ‘it’s a stenographer first, but pretty soon you get to be secretary’ – both of which can provide her with independence and a secure path into the adult world. However, she is still governed by Eddie’s decision to adhere to either path where Eddie initially asserts that ‘she’s gonna finish school’ and then tells her that he wants her ‘to be in a nice office. Maybe a lawyer’s office…’ This presents how Catherine’s aspirations and independence is completely decided by what Eddie wants for her, showing the audience that Catherine is essentially a cocoon for Eddie to shape as he sees fit.
Furthermore, Catherine is largely sheltered by Eddie from going out into the outside world to prevent her from being sexualised. This also prevents her from achieving a sense of maturity because she is constantly treated like a child, ‘You’re a baby, you don’t understand these things’. Her manner of dressing, the heels she wears and her way of walking are criticised by Eddie constantly with comments such as ‘You’re walkin’ wavy’ or ‘you’re the Madonna type’ both of which have sexual innuendos. It is interesting how Miller showcases Catherine’s development as a woman through her choice of clothing and the reactions she receives through them. When Rodolpho enters the stage for the first time, Catherine deliberately wears high heels to present herself as more mature and sexually appealing. The high heels for both Catherine and Eddie symbolise a sense of female sexual awakening where wearing these marks Catherine as a person to be desired. This is why Eddie criticises her for wearing the high heels by openly humiliating her, ‘What’s the high heels for, Garbo?’ because he wants her to remain the child that he can protect. This is contrary to Beatrice who remarks to Catherine that she cannot be wearing her slip dress around Eddie because she’s no longer a child, emphasising that she’s a ‘grown woman and…in the same house with a grown man’. This is the point where Catherine’s identity as a female begins to develop drastically as she is made to recognise the sexual attraction that might be encouraged by what she wears in and outside of the house, even when it comes to a man she sees as a father figure.
Catherine becomes more aware of her role as a grown woman through her relationship with Rodolpho. This is initially marked by her going out with Rodolpho late at night to watch a cinema. She also believes that Rodolpho loves her, and thus develops a need to be loyal to him and defend her relationship with him to Eddie, such as when Eddie tells her that Rodolpho is only interested in attaining American citizenship by marrying her and she directly protests against this, ‘He loves me!… I don’t believe it and I wish to hell you’d stop it!’ Through Rodolpho, who is the second male figure in her life, Catherine starts to become independent of the first dominant patriarchal figure, Eddie. Beatrice helps Catherine understand that she doesn’t need Eddie’s approval for anything, ‘He’s not your father, Catherine… you gotta be your own self more…you gotta give him to understand that he can’t give you orders no more.’ This provides Catherine with the important revelation that she has the ability to make decisions for herself without relying on Eddie’s approval.
The pinnacle of Catherine’s growth as a mature woman is shown in Act 2 when she is completely transformed and recognised as a sexual being. This begins with her asking Rodolpho about marriage and them entering Beatrice and Eddie’s bedroom in an empty apartment. The atmosphere that Miller presents in this scene is filled with sexual tension as Eddie drunkenly enters and sees Catherine adjusting her dress while Rodolpho comes out of the bedroom. There are clear suggestions to Catherine having lost her virginity, which Eddie can also understand and this becomes the final nail in his coffin as he sees the young girl he had raised as a daughter becoming a woman with sexual apparatus and appeal. This is why Eddie immediately goes out to kiss Catherine to sexually claim her as his own, now only seeing her as a woman with whom he can have an extra-marital relationship rather than the daughter he had nurtured. Here, Eddie’s paternal identity is completely diminished while Catherine fully rises as a ‘woman’ and not as a daughter or a child.
The play ends with Catherine leaving Eddie completely, and this marks the final stage of her growth as a woman in society. She is no longer dominated by the paternal figure but is now a woman who can account for her own needs and follow her desires. Audiences can clearly note the difference in Catherine’s reaction to Eddie in the beginning of the play in contrast to the end where the girl who sought acceptance and approval for everything now bluntly confronts Eddie with ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ Yet, she is not completely emancipated from a masculine figure because the play does end on the day of her marriage to Rodolpho. Thereby, she leaves the play being the betrothed and possibly later, the wife of Rodolpho, and we can even imagine her having the same life as Beatrice as the loyal wife who stands by her husband until the end.
Catherine’s development in the play marks the growth of females in 20th century America where they are subservient to a patriarchal figure, who are either their fathers (adopted or biological) or their husbands. Yet, we still see some semblances of independence within her as she understands what it means to be a woman in this society and is the one who has the main power to give Rodolpho a better life, not the other way around. She also receives an opportunity to possibly earn more than Eddie or Rodolpho had, while being educated and brought up in a safe home for most of her life. Therefore, while Miller demonstrates her being subservient and sexualised for the most part of the play, he also shows Catherine as a figure who becomes both independent and responsible for her own life.