Alfieri says that it is now the 23rd of December. Marco and Eddie are working, and Catherine and Rodolpho are alone at the apartment. Catherine asks Rodolpho what he would think about living with her in Italy, instead of in America, since it is so beautiful there. Rodolpho says it would be crazy to go back to Italy with no money or job. He says there are no jobs in Italy.
Catherine wants to make sure that Rodolpho really loves her, and doesn’t simply want to marry into American citizenship. Catherine is fascinated by a romanticized view of Italy, whereas Rodolpho has a more practical awareness of the lack of jobs there, the reason for his illegal immigration to the U.S.A.
Catherine tells Rodolpho she doesn’t want to stay here because she is afraid of Eddie. Rodolpho says they will move out once he is a citizen. Catherine asks if he would still want her if they had to live in Italy. He says he wouldn’t, and says he wants her to be his wife in America.
Eddie’s fatherly concern and affection is so extreme that Catherine actually fears him. Leaving his apartment is like a kind of immigration for her, and she imagines even leaving for Italy with Rodolpho, getting far away from Eddie.
Starting to get mad, Rodolpho says he is not desperate enough to “carry on my back to the rest of my life a woman I didn’t love just to be an American.” He says that America is not really that much better than Italy, that the only thing they have that Italy doesn’t is work. Rodolpho asks why Catherine fears Eddie, and Catherine says that he was always kind to her, and she doesn’t want to upset him. She wants him to be happy with her decision to marry.
Rodolpho speaks out against the idea that America is necessarily better than his homeland. He values the opportunities for work in the U.S., but has no illusions about his new country as some kind of utopia. Catherine has complicated feelings toward Eddie, who she loves and appreciates as a father-figure, but also fears.
Catherine tells Rodolpho that she’s lived with Eddie her whole life, and asks, “You think its so easy to turn around and say to a man he’s nothin’ to you no more?” She talks about how well she knows Eddie, and says she doesn’t want to “make a stranger out of him.” Rodolpho asks if it would be right for him to hold a little bird in his hands and not let her fly just because he loves her so much. He tells Catherine that she must leave Eddie.
Not only is Catherine breaking free from Eddie, but she also stands up to Rodolpho, asserting that she has good reason to be fond of Eddie. Rodolpho’s image of the bird shows how constricting and oppressive Eddie’s “love” is. But in practically commanding Catherine to leave Eddie, he is also ordering her around.
Catherine starts to cry and embraces Rodolpho. She tells him, “I don’t know anything, teach me, Rodolpho, hold me.” Rodolpho takes her into a bedroom. Eddie enters the apartment, drunk. He calls for Beatrice, and Catherine enters the room from a bedroom. Rodolpho appears in the bedroom doorway and says that Beatrice is out shopping for Christmas presents. Eddie is shocked to see that Rodolpho and Catherine have been in the bedroom together, and tells Rodolpho to pack up and leave.
In leaving Eddie for Rodolpho, Catherine risks trading one authority figure for another, as she asks Rodolpho to teach her. Eddie is offended because he feels that Rodolpho is taking Catherine from him, because he may desire Catherine himself, and because he feels that Rodolpho is disrespecting him in his own household.
Catherine tells Eddie that she has to leave, and Eddie says that she will stay, and that Rodolpho is the one who should leave. Catherine says she can’t stay in Eddie’s apartment, but promises she’ll see him around the neighborhood. Eddie tells her, “You ain’t goin’ nowheres,” and she responds that she’s “not gonna be a baby any more.” Suddenly, Eddie grabs Catherine and kisses her.
Catherine is oppressed and under Eddie’s control in her own home, and thus has to “immigrate” in a sense, and leave her childhood home behind. Eddie tries to maintain his control over Catherine in a physical manner, and his repressed desire for her comes to the surface in his shocking kiss.
Rodolpho is shocked and tells Eddie to stop. He says that Catherine will be his wife, and then lunges at Eddie. Eddie restrains Rodolpho and then suddenly kisses him. Catherine attacks Eddie until he lets Rodolpho go. Eddie tells Rodolpho to get out of his apartment, without Catherine. Catherine says she is going to go with Rodolpho, and Eddie tells her not to.
Rodolpho stands up for Catherine, but is also claiming her as his own. Eddie’s kissing Rodolpho has unclear intentions. He could be trying to dishonor Rodolpho or imply that Rodolpho wanted such a kiss, but may also be motivated by his own half-repressed desire for Rodolpho.
Alfieri comes on stage and says that he next saw Eddie on the 27th. Eddie came into his office and Alfieri says his eyes “were like tunnels.” He says he kept wanting to call the police, “but nothing had happened.” In Alfieri’s office, Eddie says that his wife is planning to rent a room in an apartment above them for Marco and Rodolpho. Alfieri tells Eddie that he hasn’t proven anything about Rodolpho, but Eddie insists that “he ain’t right.” He says that if Rodolpho wanted to, he could have broken free of his kiss.
Again, Alfieri is powerless to take action, because the law has no answer for Eddie’s problems, and no laws have been violated. Eddie continues to be fixated on Rodolpho’s sexuality, and claims that his kiss proves Rodolpho’s homosexuality, when it may actually suggest that he himself has some homoerotic desires.
Eddie says that Rodolpho “didn’t give me the right kind of fight,” and tells Alfieri that he kissed Rodolpho so Catherine would see what Rodolpho really is. Eddie asks what he can do about Catherine and Rodolpho’s engagement, and Alfieri says that there is nothing he can do “morally and legally,” as Catherine is “a free agent.”
Eddie again insists that he kissed Rodolpho to prove Rodolpho’s homosexuality, though this is not entirely convincing. Alfieri is again caught in a position of powerlessness as an agent of the law. He emphasizes that Catherine is a free, independent person.
Alfieri tells Eddie that someone was going to marry Catherine eventually, and says he should let her go. Eddie leaves and goes to a public phone. He calls the Immigration Bureau and reports two illegal immigrants living in his apartment. He goes to his apartment and asks Beatrice where Marco and Rodolpho are. They have already moved into an apartment upstairs.
Alfieri tries one last time to convince Eddie that he should let Catherine be her own person, to no avail. Eddie can't allow such a thing, and in helping to carry out the law to report illegal immigrants, he is betraying his own relatives, something he earlier wouldn’t even consider doing, as it was so dishonorable.
Eddie says he doesn’t want Catherine to move in with Rodolpho and Beatrice gets upset. Eddie says, “this is my house here not their house.” He says he wants respect and tells Beatrice he doesn’t like how she talks to him. Beatrice asks why he kissed Rodolpho, and he says Rodolpho “ain’t right.” He demands Beatrice’s respect, and then says he doesn’t want anymore conversations about “what I feel like doin’ in the bed and what I don’t feel like doin’.”
Eddie wants Catherine to stay in his apartment both because he has a controlling love for her and because he feels consistently disrespected by Catherine and Beatrice disregarding his wishes. Eddie’s own sexuality is now in question, even as he continues to obsess over questioning Rodolpho’s.
Eddie says that a wife should believe her husband, and insists that Rodolpho “ain’t right.” He says that Catherine is a baby and doesn’t know what she’s doing with Rodolpho. Beatrice replies that Eddie “kept her a baby.” She tells Eddie that Rodolpho and Catherine are going to get married in a week. She advises him to support Catherine and wish her good luck. She asks Eddie to tell Catherine that he’ll go to the wedding.
Eddie demands respect from Beatrice, but has an understanding of respect only as obedience. He rather implausibly insists on Catherine’s immaturity, and Beatrice accuses him of trying to keep her “a baby.” His strange feelings for Catherine involve both a desire to protect her as a child and to be with her as a woman.
Eddie starts to cry, and Catherine enters. Beatrice encourages Catherine to ask Eddie a question. Catherine tells him that she is going to be married in a week, on Saturday, in case he wants to attend. Eddie tells her he “only wanted the best” for her. Desperate, Eddie tells Catherine that she can go out at night if she wants to now, and maybe meet another man, someone other than Rodolpho. Catherine says she is settled on Rodolpho.
Catherine has asserted her independence from Eddie, but still has some respect for him and his opinion, as shown by her wanting him to come to her wedding. Eddie’s dislike of Rodolpho may have something to do with his own problematic desire for or infatuation with him.
Eddie learns from Beatrice that two other illegal Italian immigrants are staying upstairs in the same apartment as Rodolpho and Marco. Eddie worries that these two other immigrants might get caught, and lead the authorities to Marco and Rodolpho. Eddie tells Catherine to move Rodolpho and Marco to a different apartment building. Two Immigration Bureau officers knock on the door, and Eddie sends Catherine to go up the fire escape to go and try to get Rodolpho and Marco to escape.
Eddie has betrayed Rodolpho to the Immigration Bureau, but still values the sense of justice held by his community over the law, and worries about unintentionally getting other illegal immigrants caught. He now regrets his rash, dishonorable decision in calling the Bureau.
The immigration officers come in and look around. Eddie tells them, “we got nobody here.” The immigration officers go to search the other apartments in the building. Beatrice is terrified and asks Eddie, “My God, what did you do?” The immigration officers come down the stairs of the building with Marco, Rodolpho, and two other immigrants. Catherine tries to say that Rodolpho is American and was born in Philadelphia.
Eddie prioritizes his neighborhood’s idea of justice over the law in lying to the officers, and acts surprised to see them, though Beatrice has guessed his dishonorable act of betrayal. Marco and Rodolpho now face the prospect of being forced to return to the home they love, but left behind.
Catherine and Beatrice plead with the officers, but they carry the immigrants away. Marco breaks free, runs up to Eddie, and spits in his face. Eddie lunges at Marco, but the officers break them up. Eddie screams that he’ll kill Marco. The officers take the immigrants outside. A butcher named Lipari, whose apartment Marco and Rodolpho had moved into, sees the other two immigrants, his family members. He and his wife kiss them goodbye.
Marco realizes what Eddie must have done, and though he earlier had been careful to respectful now in response to Eddie's betrayal offers the deepest act of disrespect. Dishonored in front of the entire neighborhood, Eddie becomes furious. While the immigration officers are behaving legally in taking away the immigrants, they are not necessarily behaving justly, as they forcefully separate Lipari from his relatives.
As the officers take the four immigrants away, Marco points at Eddie and says, “That one! I accuse that one!” Eddie tells Lipari that Marco is crazy, but Lipari walks away, not believing him. Eddie tries to talk to Mike and Louis, who ignore him and walk away. Eddie shouts that he’ll kill Marco if he doesn’t take back his accusation.
Marco’s public accusation attacks Eddie’s reputation among his neighbors, and his neighbors (Lipari, Mike, and Louis) quickly shun him for turning his back on his family and his community. Eddie is willing to kill over his reputation and honor, even though he actually did what he is being accused of doing.
Later, at a prison, Alfieri and Catherine visit Marco and Rodolpho. Alfieri says that Marco can be bailed out until his immigration hearing, but only if Marco promises not to seek revenge on Eddie. Marco says that in Italy Eddie would be dead by now for what he did. Catherine and Rodolpho try to persuade Marco not to try to harm Eddie.
Alfieri, Catherine, and Rodolpho try to persuade Marco to defer his sense of personal justice to the law. Eddie has betrayed his family, but has technically done nothing illegal, showing again the gap between justice and law.
Marco says he cannot promise not to kill Eddie, as this would be dishonorable. Alfieri says that as long as Eddie obeys the law, “he lives,” and tells Marco, “To promise not to kill is not dishonorable.” Marco counters that “all the law is not in a book,” and emphasizes how Eddie has dishonored and wronged him. Alfieri says Eddie has broken no law, and tells Marco that “only God makes justice.” Marco finally promises not to harm Eddie.
For Marco, to behave according to the law would violate his own sense of justice and honor, which demands that he get revenge on Eddie. There is a distinction being made here, perhaps, between the United States and the Old World of Italy. In the United States, the law rules. In Italy, honor and retributive justice do. While Alfieri concedes that the law does not cover all instances of right and wrong, he tries to calm Marco by appealing to God as the only source of real justice.
The play then jumps to the day of Catherine’s wedding. At Eddie’s apartment, Beatrice is getting ready for the wedding and tries to convince Eddie to attend. Eddie tells Beatrice he wants her respect as his wife. Eddie insists that unless Marco apologizes to him, nobody from his home is going to the wedding. Catherine suddenly bursts out and shouts at him, “Who the hell do you think you are?” She says that Eddie has no right to dictate what she or Beatrice does.
Beatrice is still trying to get Eddie to attend the wedding, but Catherine appears to have grown completely independent and does not care about Eddie’s opinion. She now stands up for herself and Beatrice, whereas Beatrice earlier had to stand up for Catherine. Eddie feels that both characters’ independence is a form of disrespect to him.
Catherine calls Eddie a rat and says he belongs in the sewer. Beatrice tells Catherine to stop saying this, and shows some sympathy for Eddie. Rodolpho comes in, and tells Eddie that Marco is coming. Beatrice tries to get Eddie to leave the apartment with her, but Eddie says that it is his home and he won’t leave it. Rodolpho apologizes to Eddie for disrespecting him in not asking his permission to see Catherine, but says that Eddie has also insulted him.
Catherine has changed so much that it is now Beatrice who must restrain Catherine’s anger at Eddie, when she formerly had to encourage Catherine to defy his authority. Rodolpho apologizes, but still maintains that Eddie, so concerned with his own honor, has disrespected him.
Rodolpho tries to tell Eddie that they can still be “comrades,” and Eddie says he wants Marco to apologize to him in front of the whole neighborhood. Referring to his reputation, he says, “I want my name!” Beatrice tries to reason with Eddie, and asks what if an apology from Marco is what he really wants. She says that Eddie wants something else, and then tells him, “you can never have her!” Catherine and Eddie are both shocked at this.
Eddie does not want Rodolpho’s apology, and only wants Marco to reestablish his reputation in the neighborhood with a public apology. Beatrice finally explicitly says what she has long suspected—that Eddie secretly wants Catherine for himself, romantically. Eddie is not even aware of this desire himself, and is as shocked as Catherine to hear the idea.
Beatrice says she is just telling the truth, as Marco arrives. Eddie goes outside to meet him. Rodolpho begs Marco not to kill Eddie, and Beatrice tells Eddie to get back in the house. Eddie asks if Marco has come to apologize for humiliating him, after he let Marco stay in his own home. He tells Marco to “gimme my name.” A crowd of neighbors has now congregated to see what is going on.
Marco and Eddie now must face each other over their respective reputations and senses of honor. It is important that they meet publically, in front of the close-knit neighborhood community, whose opinion crucially determines the reputation of each man.
Eddie approaches Marco and calls him a liar. Marco hits Eddie and calls him an animal. Eddie falls over, and Marco is about to stomp on him when Eddie pulls out a knife. He again calls Marco a liar and lunges at him. Marco grabs his arm and turns the knife on Eddie, stabbing him. Eddie falls over, and Catherine exclaims that she never meant to hurt him.
Desperate to salvage his reputation, Eddie calls Marco a liar when it is ironically he who is the real liar. Marco ends up committing murder in order carry out his own idea of justice. Eddie's own knife being turned against him is in some ways a metaphor for his fall in the play, as it is he himself who has caused his own fall. Despite her recent outburst, Catherine still has love and concern for Eddie.
Eddie calls out for Beatrice, and Beatrice and Catherine hold Eddie up. He dies in Beatrice’s arms. Alfieri comes forward and addresses the audience. He says that even though Eddie behaved wrongly, he still thinks of Eddie as a pure person—“not purely good, but himself purely.” He says that for this he will always love Eddie, and mourn him, while regarding him “with a certain . . . alarm.”
Eddie behaved wrongly, and yet he is the one who has obeyed the law. Beatrice and Catherine show love for Eddie in his dying moments, though it is worth noting that Eddie seemed to care more about respect than love. This, along with Alfieri’s closing speech, grants Eddie a measure of a positive reputation both among the neighborhood and among the audience of the play.