Author logo Paper Doll and its significance in A View from the Bridge


This commentary on Paper Doll was written by Tara Kerpelman, a student at the International School of Geneva, La Châtaigneraie, Switzerland. I am grateful to Tara for submitting this commentary, and to Shirley Curran, her teacher, who alerted me to it.

The Song Paper Doll and its Significance in the Play

In 1915, Johnny Black wrote Paper Doll. It was made famous by the Mills Brothers in 1943 and also by Frank Sinatra. It is a love song performed by many artists in many different musical styles. In Arthur Miller's play, it is jazz.

Rodolfo likes to be the center of attention - he is a performer. Singing Paper Doll shows that he is already half converted to American culture since the song is American.

But, why was THIS particular song in the play? Well, it tells us about Rodolfo's life in Italy. “It's tough to love a doll that's not your own” suggests that, back there, he might have been a “ladies’ man”. “(Rodolfo smiling). He trusts his wife” on page 18 seems to support this idea. Even though Marco trusts his wife, Rodolfo thinks she will be unfaithful because she is across the world from him. Rodolfo is probably speaking from experience. The next line of Paper Doll, “I'm through with all of them, I'll never fall again” suggests that Rodolfo has turned over a new leaf and is ready to, and wants to make a fresh start. So he's going to “buy a Paper Doll that [he] can call his own”. He is, of course, referring to Catherine.

Back to top

After Rodolfo sings, he flatters Catherine with flirtatious confidence carried over from the song. The word doll itself has significance because Rodolfo does in fact think that Catherine is one. A doll is a beautiful girl. While Catherine is changing into low-heeled shoes Eddie and Rodolfo are talking.

Eddie: (striving to laugh, and to Marco, but directed as much to Beatrice) All actresses they want to be around here.
Rodolfo: In Italy too! All the girls.
Eddie: (sizing up Rodolfo, and there is concealed suspicion) Yeh, heh?
Rodolfo:Yes! (laughs, indicating Catherine) especially when they are so beautiful!

Eddie does not like this because he can tell that Catherine and Rodolfo like each other. This becomes most evident to him when in the last two lines of this part of the act Catherine says to Rodolfo, “You like sugar?” and he replies, “Sugar? Yes! I like sugar very much!”. Of course here there is a hidden meaning. If you take it literally, Catherine is, in fact, offering Rodolfo sugar for his coffee. But colloquially, giving someone some sugar means giving someone some love. By this point Eddie has become insanely jealous of Rodolfo.

Back to top

Catherine has liked Rodolfo from the moment “she wondrously”, on page 17, admired his blond hair. Everything about him appeals to her - his hair, his personality and the way he exaggerates his stories and dreams. She makes it obvious that she is interested when on page 19 she says “You married too?

When Rodolfo starts singing, Catherine is more than overjoyed. She's “enthralled” with the song and thinks it's great. But is Rodolfo really a good singer or is it just Catherine's love that makes it sound so wonderful?

Eddie tells Rodolfo to stop singing by using the excuse that the neighbors will hear him and that they will become suspicious because they “never had no singers” in that house before. But, what Eddie is really worried about is that Catherine seems to be enjoying this very much. Also, Rodolfo is singing in a high tenor voice, which is not a very masculine thing to do and Eddie gets suspicious about his sexuality.

Back to top

He uses this against Rodolfo on page 33.

Eddie: Wait a minute, I'm telling you sump'm. He sings, see. Which is - I mean it's all right, but sometimes he hits a note, see. I turn around. I mean - high. You know what I mean?
Alfieri: Well that's a tenor.
Eddie: I know a tenor, Mr. Alfieri. This ain't no tenor. I mean if you came in the house and you didn't know who was singin', you wouldn't be lookin' for him, you'd be lookin' for her.”

And then those flirty, flirty guys, With their flirty, flirty eyes” further enrages Eddie because one would expect the “flirty, flirty” people with the “flirty, flirty eyes” to be girls as it sounds like someone more feminine. Eddie now has another reason to dislike Rodolfo because he is singing about feminine men. Eddie is totally against this because it goes against society's norms. In fact, he suspects that Rodolfo himself is gay and Eddie uses this against Rodolfo later on in the play to try and discourage Catherine from liking him.

Back to top


Putting Paper Doll into the play was a way for Arthur Miller to help bring about the development of the story. By using Paper Doll, Arthur Miller introduces you to Rodolfo's life in Italy, Catherine and Rodolfo's relationship seems to depend on this one song. If Rodolfo had not sung it, how would Catherine have gotten close to him and how would he have hinted his attraction to her? Catherine liked him a lot before but after he's finished she nearly loves him. But because of the increase in intimacy between Catherine and Rodolfo, we become aware of Eddie's reactions and his apparent increase in jealousy, which had up till this point have been only a suspicion. Without the song Paper Doll, the story's plot would not have been able to fully develop.

Back to top