On The Waterfront Theme Essay Examples

Below is a complete analysis of the A2 Music work On the Waterfront (1954): Symphonic Suite (opening) looking at all the elements of music with some taster questions at the end. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.

Be sure to check out the other A2 musical pieces and AS musical pieces I have analysed on Ask Will Online.


  • On the Waterfront is piece music which has been taken from a film and adapted to orchestral music to be played to an audience (film music to orchestral music).

  • On the Waterfront was is a dark film because it is about the story of a lonely individual. We can expect the music to be along the same theme.


  • The texture at the start (bars 1-5) is monophonic.

  • There is a two part canon from bars 7-12.

  • The texture moves to homophonic at bars 13-17. It then moves back to monophonic after that playing in octaves.

  • The dynamics and texture drops at bar 62.

  • There is a homorhythmic tutti (all in) at bar 78 with a forceful bitonality of G, C sharp and now D. It is homorhythmic for 10 bars.

  • The texture turns homophonic at bar 85.


  • The harmony is dissonant which is clear from the blues scale used creating a non-functional harmony.

  • There is dissonance at bar 16 in Trumpet 1 and Harp of a semitone (F flat and F).

  • Tritones are present during bars 24 -31 of the G in the Piano and C sharp in the Timpani 2.

  • The Percussion, when entering at bar 32, is dissonant because the score does not state any pitches.

  • There is an augmented 5th interval in the Horn 1-4 part at bar 106.

  • There is a chordal tritone in the strings at bar 108. Violin II is playing a sustained chord of B major while Violin I is playing F major. F-B is an augmented 4th.  The sustaining chords creates dissonance throughout the Coda.

  • The Horns at bar 108 features a tritone of G and C sharp.


  • The tonality at the start follows the blues scale starting on F. This scale is F, A flat, B flat, C flat, C, E flat and F. It is the G flat in bar 5 in the Horns in F which makes a blue scale.

  • There is a very blues moment on the first beat of bar 11 where there is a C flat being played by the Flutes and a B flat being played by the Muted Trombones. This is a semitone difference providing a large clash and dissonance.

  • The tonality at 24 is hitting towards G major due to the reoccurring B natural.

  • At bars 42-53, the blue scale has changed from being on F to now on G.

  • There is an atonal tonality from bar 72.

  • Bars 110-111 is extremely dissonance. The build up of texture from the canon of parts creates unnerving tension and anticipation for a climax (which is the short demi-semi and semi chords).

  • The Coda feels like it is coming to an end. However, this is no finishing cadence.

  • The piece finishes on short staccato chords by every part but the strings which are playing sustained tritones extremely quiet. This creates a contrast in dynamics due to the chords being played ‘fff’ and string’s chords being played ‘ppp’.


  • There is an emphasis on wind instruments used giving the piece similarities to jazz music.

  • There is a Clarinet and Alto Saxophone in E flat. This means the instrument is transposed a major 6th lower.

  • The instruments in B flat such as the Clarinet 1 and 2 and the Bass Clarinet (which is an octave lower than the normal Clarinet) will sound a major second lower than printed in the score.

  • The Horns in F sound a perfect 5th lower than printed in the score.

  • A ‘con sord.’ is present at bar 7. This is to tell the Trombonists to play with the mute.

  • At bar 20, it is just the Piano and Timpani playing.

  • The wind instrument’s tessitura is high at bar 54. This is where the climax of the piece is. The climax is based on the crotchet/minim idea which has been shortened. Therefore, the climax can be seen to be a diminution of bars 42-53 playing a 3rd higher.


  • There is a fugue-like canon in bar 1. This will be used throughout the piece.

  • The Horns in F at bar 1 features a minor third leap from C to E flat. The minor third interval as an important motif of this piece as it is the interval used in the fugal idea.

  • The melody is finished major at bar 6 from the E natural in the Horns and B natural in the Trumpets (signifying the melody finishes in C major).

  • The opening theme is played in canon between the Flutes and Muted Trombones at bars 7-12. This is a two part canon.

  • The minor third leap reappears at bar 13 in the Oboes and Trumpets.

  • There is a pedal note in the Clarinet and Harp at bars 13-16 providing minor syncopation.

  • The beginning of bar 20 is a contrast to that of previous bars. This is because it is representing the New York docks now.

  • At bar 17 in the Clarinet and Bass Clarinet parts, they are playing fragments of the theme in subtone (very quietly).

  • There is a perfect 4th interval at bar 26 in the Timpani 2. The F sharp of Timpani 2 and the B flat in the Piano also is an augmented 5th. Again, creating dissonance and a bitonality: the G and C sharp are at the tonal centres.

  • The Alto Sax solo starting at bar 42 is very ‘jazz-like’. This is because during the solo, the three percussions come together to form a riff (repeating phrase) and that is uses a blue scale on G. At bar 44, the melody has a falling 4th which is a motif of this piece.

  • The cadential Alto Sax motif first appears at bar 52.

  • The cadential Alto Sax returns at bar 64 and is developed by the Oboes, Clarinets and Violin I and II.

  • There is a falling 4th in the Bassoon part at bar 66. This is a variation from of the Alto Sax from bar 44.

  • Violin I and II are playing in unison at bar 88 a semitone apart (creating dissonance). The first Violin has the melody copying is from the Alto Sax at bar 42.

  • Bar 91 has most instruments playing a semitone up or down and then to unison.

  • At bar 98, Violin I and II start in unison and then clash. This is a reverse of bar 88 which builds tension from the progressing discordant feel.

  • At bar 105, the Clarinets are trilling, Trumpets are flutter tonguing, drum is rolling and Violins tremoloing – there are lots of different tremolos from different instruments. This helps to add tension.

  • The Coda (bar 106) starts with a repeating motif from bar 52 in Alto Sax which is playing over sustained pianissimo (very quiet) chords in the strings.

  • There are repeating chords during the Coda at bars 108 to 113 (the end).

Rhythm and Metre

  • The crotchet/minim rhythm at the very start of the piece will become to become a feature of this piece with it’s low level of syncopation.

  • The time signature changes at bar 3 to 3/4 (three crotchet beats to a bar) and then back to c (four crotchet beats a bar). This change can be described as going from quadruple to triple and then back to quadruple time.

  • ‘Presto barbaro’ means to have a tempo of being ‘fast and barbaric’ at bar 20.

  • The time signature moves to (c/) 3/4 at bar 20. This is a two time signature which means the time signatures will rotate every bar (e.g. 2/2 then 3/4 then 2/2 and so on). This creates anticipation because it is a dramatic change to the time signature.

  • The crotchet/minim rhythm has returned at bar 42 in the Alto Sax but this time varied to a quaver and sustained note of the value of 5 beats.

  • The crotchet/minim idea is varied again at bar 52 in the Alto Sax. The first note has become shorter and into a pair of notes.

  • The meter at the start of the Coda at bar 106 is c (4/4).

Structure (snippets)

  • The piece starts with the main motif of the piece.

  • The Fugal starts at bar 20 – the counterpoint is extending to a fugal style.

  • The varied percussion section reflects the jazz style of the music.

  • The Alto Sax solo of bars 42-54 has the melodic structure of 12 bars blue. The only difference is that there are no blue chords.

  • The Coda starts at bar 106 and features an ‘Adagio’ (decreased tempo).


The structure of On the Waterfront has three main sections:

Andante (slow)

  • (a) Bars 1-6. This has the introduction of the minor 3rd and triplet rhythms with a solo Horn.

  • (b) Bars 7-12. Repeats the first theme from (a) with a two part canon.

  • (c) Bars 13-19. Two part Trumpets over F pedal.

Presto Barbaro (Bars 20-105)

  • (a) Bars 20-39. Percussion fugal section. Melodic idea of fugal theme comes from the minor 3rd interval in opening two notes of piece.

  • (b) Bars 40-53. Two bar riff in percussion. The woodwind plays loud version of Alto Sax solo here.

  • (c) Bars 67-77. New and quieter section. Based on the descending three note motif which builds to a climax.

  • (d) Bars 78-87. Fortissimo tutti based on fugal theme which is all in homorhythm.

  • (e) Bars 88-105. Suddenly quiet again. Riff continues on snare drum leading to the return of fugal theme.

Coda (Adagio). Bars 106-113 (end).

1. In which bars does Bernstein use each of the following textures?

  • (i) homophonic – Bars 13 – 17 and bar 85 onwards.
  • (ii) monophonic – Bars 1 -5.
  • (iii) two-part counterpoint – Bats 7 – 12.

2. What are the sounding pitches of the first two horn notes in bar 1?

The Horns are in F. This means they sound a perfect 5th lower than scored (if an F is being played, it is actually a C). The first scored note is a C which will sound like a G. The second scored note is a E flat which will sound like a B flat.

3. Explain the meaning of ‘con sord.’ in the trombone part of bar 7.

‘con sord.’ means to play the Trombone with the mute on.

4. What two features do bars 20 and 78 have in common?

Bars 20 and 78 are in the same time signature of two time signatures altering from bar to bar. Both bars are in ‘c/’ being two minim beats to the bar but then change at bars 21 and 79 to ‘3/4’ which is three crotchet beats to the bar. Bars 20 and 78 also both have the same rhythm of two quavers, followed by a quaver rest and then four quavers finally followed by a quaver rest.

5. Explain how the trumpet and alto saxophone parts are related in bars 52-53.

They are both playing the crotchet/minim idea but varied. The crotchet in the alto saxophone and trumpet have both been varied to a pair of semi-quaver notes. This is then followed on by a long held note which happens straight away in the alto saxophone and starts at beat 2 in the trumpet. Both instrument’s dynamics are in unison with there being a crescendo to a sforzato.

6. Describe the two different types of tremolo on page 385 of NAM.

There are lots of tremolos in the instruments on page 385 of NAM. The Clarinet is trilling by moving back and forth between two notes. The Trumpets and Flutes are flutter-tonguing to tremolo. The drums feature a drum roll with the Violins playing the same note extremely quickly back and forth the bow.

7. The film On The Waterfront sometimes depicts an atmosphere of bleak despair, but at other times a mood of anger. Show how Bernstein’s music reflects both of these moods.

Bernstein creates an atmosphere of bleak despair through a number of ways. The atonality and incoherence of a key makes the piece feel lost struggling to find a clear tonality. This is strengthened then by the strong dissonances such as at bars 110 -11 which is clearly a moment of anger. The anger is built up through the canonizing of parts at the end which lead onto a short loud staccato from all the parts in homo-rhythmic  Ultimately, Bernstein uses the dissonances to create an atmosphere of despair. When the texture thickens to homo-rhythmic and dynamics increase ever louder, he then creates a mood of anger: especially from the sharp repeated chords at the very end which leads to a lack of a cadence but finished abruptly.


On the Waterfront: one man’s fight against corruption

By Dr Jennifer Minter (English Works Notes, 2016)

Set in the 1950s, Elia Kazan’s film On the Waterfront captures the essence of oppression endured by the stevedores on the Hoboken Docks, New Jersey. Dependent upon Johnny Friendly’s ruthless coterie of “executive-style” mobsters, the longshoremen are not only physically but psychologically oppressed. Whilst many of the longshoremen suffer, Kazan focuses, in particular, on Terry Malloy’s anguish as he decides to act upon his increasingly uneasy feelings of injustice. Kazan’s scrupulous direction allows audiences to gain an understanding of the hardships the longshoremen brave every day. While Terry’s decision culminates in the death of his brother Charley, there are some rewards for the unlikely hero (Marlon Brandon) as he becomes increasingly more committed to Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint).

Some background

In April 1952, Elia Kazan revealed to playwright Arthur Miller that he was prepared to “cooperate with the Committee”. ( The House of Un-American Activities Committee was set up in 1938 to investigate the presumed infiltration of communists into American society. During the 1940s, the investigation developed into a witch-hunt of anyone with “left” or “red” leanings. Many artists and writers were accused, on the basis of hearsay, of “un-American” activities and their careers were ruined. ) The President of Twentieth Century Fox gave Kazan an ultimatum. They would not employ him unless he satisfied the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Kazan confessed to Miller, who writes in his autobiography, Timebends: “He (Kazan) had been subpoenaed and had refused to cooperate but had changed his mind and returned to testify fully in executive session, confirming some dozen names of people he had known in his months in the Party so long ago.” (Timebends) Kazan’s confession was announced on the six o’clock news. As  Miller relates, “the announcer read a bulletin about Elia Kazan’s testimony before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and mentioned the people he had named.” (Timebends) Miller laments, “that all relationships had become relationships of advantage or disadvantage.”

In this regard, there lingers a deep sense of Kazan’s own shame at the fact that he, too, “ratted” on his mates.

The power and authority of the mob

Kazan deliberately depicts Johnny Friendly’s cohort of men as controlling and dangerous. The bleak water-front setting dominates the film’s introduction and clearly depicts the gloomy and depressive mindset of the majority of the longshoremen. During the 1950s, the time of depression, the longshoremen struggle to earn an honest living and the skyscrapers in the distance such as the Empire State building remind the longshoremen of the American dream of wealth and opportunity which has escaped all but the most corrupt chiefs like Johnny Friendly and Mr Upstairs.

Work on the waterfront is inherently dangerous to those who seek to confront the corruption, deceit and lies that protect and entrench the power of Johnny Friendly and his cohort. Indeed, Kazan deliberately opens with the death of Joey amid a wall of secrecy to show the dangers of “ratting”. That the men are psychologically entrapped by the perverted loyalty codes dooms them to a life of servitude and despair. Those like Joey, and Andy before him, and then Dugan become the true heroes in a film that privileges courage and honour. Likewise, Terry, takes up the fight after he realises the degree to which he has compromised his integrity. The earlier boxing match which he lost and the encounter with the beggar become metaphorical representations of Terry’s low self esteem and his loss of dignity and power. However, armed with love and spiritual guidance, he is determined to testify at the commission and brave the risks.

Some film techniques

  • Kazan depicts Johnny Friendly and his gang in pseudo-business attire to draw attention to a certain air of respectability that defies and conceals the extent of their entrenched corruption. As chief director, Johnny Friendly slaps anyone who questions his authority.
  • The dark and seedy interiors, such as the bar, reinforce Johnny Friendly’s power and aggression, while the dingy, shabby and cramped apartments highlight the workers’ desperation. Pa Doyle is one of the most desperate of the workers, caught because of his desire to support Edie’s education. He like many others are psychologically imprisoned by the “deaf and dumb code”. Anyone who breaks the code or is suspected of dubious loyalty is unlikely to receive a work token.
  • The competitive fight for the tokens on the wharf literally shows the “dog eat dog” environment that belittles and dehumanises the men. Kazan uses circus-like music to reinforce their animal-like behaviour as they become play-things of the bosses.
  • The rooftop symbolises Joey’s attraction to the birds; he becomes one of many pigeons outplayed by the hawks. The pigeon cages reflect the longshoremen’s inability to break out of their prison-like oppressive conditions on the wharf and their basic preoccupation with survival and existence. The hawks symbolically represent Johnny Friendly and his gang. The hawks ‘go down on pigeons’, which reflects the bosses’ philosophy of looking after their own interests.

Terry Malloy’s awakening

As Johnny Friendly’s fall guy, Terry follows instructions, lures Joey to his death, and is well-rewarded by a comfortable leisurely stay in the loft. However, he is uneasy and fidgety at the realisation that he betrayed his friend, who was, after all, seeking to uncover corruption.
Techniques: Kazan uses a range of cinematic devices such as shady lighting to emphasise Terry’s moral struggle. Terry seems uneasy about cheating people of their jobs and money and feels dejected about his friend’s death.
Symbols of entrapment abound such as ominous prison bars as Terry feels implicated in the death of his friend, who was about to testify at the Waterfront Crime Commission.

  • Terry’s nervous body language shows his uneasiness. He is constantly anxious, defensive and dismissive of anyone who asks about Joey and the circumstances of his death. He often avoids eye contact. Although a “slugger” and a ”bum” he does not appear comfortable with the mob. He thought they would only “lean on him a little bit”.
  • Terry, in contrast to others in Johnny’s gang, is dressed poorly and strangely, showing a big distinction between Johnny and Terry.
  • The encounter with the beggar: becomes a physical reflection of his psychological state of mind. He bumps into the begger after he has been “ratting” on the workers in the church. The beggar’s comments reveal that Terry knows more than he reveals to Edie. The beggar reflects Terry’s sense of worthlessness and shame.

Terry breaks the “deaf and dumb” code

When Edie asks him “whose side are you on” Terry does not answer. At first, he is loyal to the mob. He starts changing sides after he hears Father Barry’s sermon after Dugan’s death. Terry punches Tullio to stop him from throwing rubbish. The fact that he wishes to hear the end of Father Barry’s sermon signals a move from the mob.


  • Significantly, Terry’s attachment to Swiftly, who represents truth and fidelity, becomes a metaphor of his loyalty to Edie and Joey.
  • In a dramatic and pivotal scene, Terry confesses to Edie and breaks the deaf and dumb code. The director uses setting and positioning of characters to symbolise their moral stature. He positions both Terry and Edie in the distance on a hill, symbolically occupying the moral high ground, to emphasise the importance of Terry’s confession about his involvement in Joey’s death and to capture the change of his allegiances. Viewers cannot hear his dialogue, which is smothered by the blast of the coal ship in the port which suggests that the waterfront constantly dominates his life. This is disorienting for the audience. However, at the same time it forces viewers’ attention on the deep-focus camera shot of Edie’s face and witness her devastation and anguish. For example, there is a lot of white smoke in the background which appears like a halo around Terry, symbolizes his burst of honesty.

At the core of Terry’s moral conflict lie the competing loyalty codes that reflect the main protagonist’s moral awakening and struggle for justice. He struggles with his perverted sense of loyalty towards his brother and Johnny Friendly as well as with the fact that to break the ‘deaf and dumb’ code spells certain death. He is aware of the need for the protection of the “mob” and knows that he and Charley have benefited from its support.  Kazan deliberately opens the movie with the reference to Andy’s death and with Joey’s death from the roof top to depict the dangers of defying the mob’s power and betraying their ‘deaf and dumb’ codes. He laments the fact that Charley also betrayed him during the fight and he has forever been judged as  a “bum”, as literally symbolised by the encounter with the beggar outside the church. His increasing attachment to the pigeon Swiftly symbolises his obsession with loyalty, fidelity and commitment. His observation, “they get married, just like people” reflects his inspirational devotion to Edie.

Charley’s death

Charley tries to talk him out of “ratting” at the commission. He wants to believe that Terry’s stance is just the sign of a “confused kid”. However, Terry wants to make his own decisions and break away from the mob’s control. Terry’s dilemma is that he knows there will be serious consequences if Charley does not convince him to change his decision. The stakes are high. Charley states, “I will tell him (Johnny Friendly) that I couldn’t find you… ten to one he won’t believe me.”

  • Terry’s body language becomes more confident; his physical movement reflects his increasing moral stature.
  •  Terry is also motivated by a desire to prove himself worthy in Edie’s eyes and shrug off the label of the “bum”.
  •  Terry has the strength to tell Charley that he harbours a grudge because he was forced to lose the fight. Since that time, he knows that he has always sold his honour to the mob and blames Charley. Terry believes that Charley set him up for failure in life when he yielded to the demands of the mob. Terry states, “you should have looked after me a little.” Terry expresses his regrets. He states, “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum. Which is what I am”.

Setting/ technique:

  • The journey in the car that winds through a combination of dark and light settings reflects the dim encounter between Charley and Terry. As Charley desperately encourages Terry to take the ‘comfy job’ that will earn him ‘400 dollars a week’, close ups and shining street lights shine directly on Terry’s tortured face.
  • Sorrowful music adds sympathy to Terry’s exasperation at the lost opportunity to be ‘somebody’ and we are positioned to realize the significance of the dilemmas between the two brothers.

A moral victory

Terry’s decision to reveal the truth at the Commission has many repercussions, but firstly it shows how he gains in stature through adhering to his conscience. It leads to Johnny’s death because he failed to convince his brother to stay loyal. In the cab scene, the halo of shining light predicts Terry’s decision to adhere to his conscience. This then leads to his final confrontation with Friendly, as he wants to settle his “rights”. Terry’s conscience becomes evident throughout the film whenever a character dies for trying to break the “D&D” principle. Rather than escape or disappear at Edie’s behest, Terry seeks to claim his rights. He has done nothing wrong and so believes he must “go down there and get my rights”. He finally overturns the label of the bum. He becomes a contender, not because he necessarily has a chance of winning, or will profit from his stance against the mob, but because he will regain his dignity and enable him to win Edie’s affection. His stance against the mob becomes a personal victory, whereby Terry abides by his conscience.


Charley gradually realises that his duty to the mob caused him to neglect his responsibility to his brother and, remorsefully, he makes the ultimate sacrifice. The butcher’s hook becomes a symbol of the price he has to pay to save Terry. Depicted as a Christ-like figure, Kazan shows that redemption, even for the antagonist, is possible. Despite his anguish, he hands over the gun to Terry sealing the death warrant of Charley, “the Gent” Malloy.

Father Barry

s self worth is important. does he risk his life by speaking out against a larger and stronger force, or live the rest of his life with a guilty secret harboured deep in his heart. The priest constantly empowers the congregation with moral superiority and Father Barry urges Terry and the workers to tell the truth, otherwise, they will live a tortured existence with a cowardly soul.

  • As a priest, Father Barry believes in a glorious afterlife, but only for those who have done their best to cleanse their souls. This conversation foreshadows Terry’s final explosion on the docks in which he reclaims his conscience and forges an individual identity: “I been rattin’ on myself all these years.”
  • Father Barry intercepts Terry at a critical time after Charley’s death. Terry seeks revenge and yet Father Barry encourages him to fight with the truth. The calm and persistent priest meets him at the bar and explains that if he were to confront Friendly by himself, he would be killed and Friendly would “plead for self-defence”. Instead, he invokes Terry to “fight him in the courtroom with the truth”. This idea is instantly drilled into Terry’s mind.

The “Sermon on the Mount”
The sermon delivered by Father Barry after Dugan’s death on the docks plays a pivotal role in both Father Barry’s and Terry’s redemption. Father Barry shows he has the courage to inspire the workers and delivers his sermon as a direct moral challenge to Johnny Friendly’s power. Kazan uses a high to low camera angle which exposes Father Barry’s vulnerability as the longshoremen humiliate him and pelt him with food. Kazan depicts Johnny Friendly and the mobsters looking down the hatch. Despite his vulnerability, Father Barry also appears invincible as he delivers a stirring sermon which revolves around the theme of injustice. Three times he emphasises “it’s a crucifixion” to highlight how Joey’s death, dropping a crate on Dugan and burying good men are wrong. He clearly uses religious overtones and parallels to describe the importance of their sacrifice.

Edie Doyle
Because of her moral simplicity and her single-minded pursuit of the truth and justice for her brother, Joey, Edie helps Terry follow his conscience and prioritise values such as justice and loyalty. ”

  • Edie’s innocent, angelic soul reinforced by her blonde hair, starched-white clothes and gloves, helps Terry to reclaim his conscience, ‘she’s the first nice thing that’s ever happened to me’. She constantly tells Terry that ‘things are so wrong,’ and that everyone ought to show compassion and concern. After all, ‘isn’t everyone part of everybody else?’

Pigeon imagery throughout the film

  • The roof setting and the pigeon cage reflect Terry’s desire for freedom and rejuvenation. The pigeons symbolise the longshoremen who are trapped. Throughout the film the pigeons are a symbol or motif and function as a metaphor of the Union’s power structure.
  •  The pigeons are weak and inferior and yet they have the capacity to be loyal and faithful. This gives them moral superiority. The pigeons are also trapped in cages and let out only at the whim of their owners. This is also a metaphor of how the bosses control and entrap the workers.
  • The hawks are identified with Johnny Friendly and the bosses. The hawks “go right down on pigeons” and mirror the bosses’ philosophy of each one looking after his own interest.
  • Swiftly is one of Terry’s favourites because he does not let the other birds take his place. He explains that he is faithful, like people should be. Swiftly also shows that there is hierarchy among the pigeons as well. This becomes a metaphor of Terry’s fidelity to Edie and Joey.
  • Terry states that the pigeons are “faithful. They get married, just like people.” This shows his desire for a relationship based on love and trust
  • Dugan is referred to as a “crummy pigeon”.
  • Although the birds are eventually killed, Terry takes over their moral superiority when he summons the courage to confront the Union and remain true to Edie and Joey.
  • Tommy destroys the pigeons after Terry testifies at the Commission as a signal of death. He states a “pigeon for a pigeon”.  His comments highlight the danger of breaking the deaf and dumb code of allegiance. It is a sign that betraying the mob ushers in death. It is designed to morally wound Terry.

See Sample Essay plans and models: Edie Doyle is by far the most powerful agent of change in ‘On the Waterfront.’ Do you agree?

The film ‘On the Waterfront’ directed by Eilia Kazan is set in 1950’s Hoboken, New Jersey and depicts the oppressive social environment of the post-depression period in the industrial waterfront suburb. Controlled by the tight grip of organised crime, men were selected daily to work on the dock, and to secure their job and own safety. Blind obedience is the norm until the main characters, Edie, Terry and Father Barry start to influence and encourage those around them to agitate and seek change. Edie Doyle plays a significant role in providing the initial inspiration to the main protagonist Terry as he seeks to withstand the pressure of the mob. In addition, Father Barry becomes an even more significant character because of his role in challenging the longshoremen to value justice and fairness. As a result of their collective power, the waterfront is transformed.


  1. On the Waterfront: a comparison with Macbeth
  2. For excellence in Language Analysis: Arguments and Persuasive Language

By Dr Jennifer Minter, On the Waterfront, VCE Study Notes,  English Works, (www.englishworks.com.au)


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