On the Waterfront- Penina Safier

Life consists of choices.  There are the simple, petty decisions, like what one should eat for dinner, and there are the morally ambiguous decisions that often require sacrificing happiness in order to do the right thing.  In Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy is faced with the latter inner conflict.  Malloy must decide whether to inform on the corrupt leaders of the shipping union, thereby risking his life and is job, or remain silent and ignore his conscience.  The mise-en-scene, dialogue and symbolism present in the movie contribute to its overall meaning and brilliance, and to a better understanding of Malloy’s challenging decision.

Though the camera shots, set design and overall mise-en-scene allow for a realistic portrayal of events, they often influence the movie’s meaning and mood.  The movie’s setting seems authentically like the docks of a shipping pier; the place is dirty and cramped, and the workers often exhale smoke, an indication to the cold weather and harsh conditions in which they work.  The sounds of the ship whistles and metal chains and the authentic costumes also add to the realistic scenery.  This genuine setting supplies realism to the struggles and decisions of the characters.  The audience is able to witness the true unity among the workers and the real intimidation of the union leaders, and so Terry’s conflict becomes tangible as well.  From the cramped wedding scene in the bar, to the crowded work by the harbor, it is apparent that this is a rough world, and so the coining of the ‘D and D’- Deaf and Dumb- motto makes sense; the people band together and there is no tattling.  It is them against the world.  However, the union leaders take this policy and manipulate it for their purposes.  ‘Deaf and Dumb’ ensures that the workers will remain in servitude silently and will not tattle on the immoral leadership of the corporation.  Though it would seem obvious to the audience that Malloy should testify against the union, the realistic, crowded scenery allows us to sympathize with his struggle and doubts.

The camera also acts as a window for the audience to get a glimpse inside Terry’s head.  When Joey leaves the window to go to the roof, we see Terry look up, and the camera seems to look up with him.  We are able to discover the men waiting on the roof when Terry does.  Furthermore, when Terry endures the fight with the union and wakes up dizzy, the camera itself is blurry and out of focus, reflecting Terry’s own eyes.  Moreover, when Terry admits to Edie that he is responsible for her brother’s death, the audience is only able to witness the scene from afar and can only see their bodily reactions; the audio of the message is blurred by the blow horn of a boat.  This represents the intensity of the scene and the pain it causes Terry to admit.  Words would have taken away from his deep emotions and struggle.

The movie’s dialogue also enlightens the audience as to the social class of the characters and their role in society.  Terry Malloy is described as a ‘bum’ and he is referred to as the uneducated brother.  He speaks like the other lower working class members, especially compared to Edie’s polished dialogue.  In fact, in the ‘romantic’ scene, which contains the slow and sweet background music, Terry tells Edie that her hair used to look like a “hunk of rope”, and she had wires on her teeth, but she grew up nicely.  The specific words used also describe the characters’ standings in society.  The priest describes himself as a “potato-eater”, or someone who lives comfortably and does not work as hard for his food as the others.  People who betray the union and do not keep to the ‘Deaf and Dumb’ policy are referred to as ‘pigeons’ or ‘canaries’, while the leaders are called ‘hawks’.  This represents the predator-prey relationship of the union and its workers.  If someone tattles, it is said that they “ratted” and they are called “cheese-eaters”, a reference to the dirty and low vermin.  However, the symbol of pigeons is seen elsewhere in the movie.  Terry, a macho wrestler, tends to caged pigeons on his roof.  Pigeons are the epitome of freedom, yet they are caged here and unable to fly.  Like the pigeons, the workers have their freedom taken away and are being ‘caged’ by the union.  Terry and Joey both work with the pigeons and seem to sympathize with them, and so they both attempt to break through the constraints of the union and break free.  This comparison between Terry and Joey is also evident in the passing around of Joey’s jacket.  When Joey was killed for doing the right thing, the jacket is presented to Dugan, the next character who dies for making the correct moral choice.  The jacket is eventually passed on to Terry who also obeys his conscience.

Besides for pigeons, alcohol is another symbol apparent in the movie.  Beer is a drink of the working class and serves here as a social beverage and activity.  Everyone drinks, and works, together, and they all live by the same philosophy of ‘Deaf and Dumb’.  When Edie sits with Terry in the bar, she listens to his side of the story- the working class idea that it is every man for himself- and so she drinks their beverage and tastes their philosophy.  However, Edie represents goodness and believes that everyone should care for others, and so she does not want to finish the drinks.  She does not agree with the working group, and she does not ‘drink’ what binds them together.  Similarly, Terry shares a drink with the priest after he decides to tell the truth.  They are on the same team and united in an idea, and so they drink to bind themselves together.  Terry is on his way to do the right thing.

Terry initially becomes aware of the correct decision in the cab scene with his older brother.  Terry blames Charlie for his reputation as a ‘bum’; he has not looked after his younger brother properly and manipulates him for the union’s needs.  Charlie seems to have been in denial to this and would not make eye contact with Terry throughout the accusation.  He wakes up to the truth when he pulls out a gun in order to make Terry listen; he tries to force Terry to ignore his heart, just like he did those years ago at the boxing match.  It is Charlie’s fault that Terry is a bum; without his brother’s influence, Terry would have “been a contender.”  When Terry pushes the gun aside, refusing his brother’s control, and says, “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie,” the pain in his voice is almost tangible, and the audience can feel the stress of the situation.  Once Charlie lets Terry go, the younger brother is now free to do what he feels is right.  He can change his status as a bum through his own actions.  Once he is free, Terry does the right thing.  He embraces his conscience.  He is finally a contender.


During Wednesday’s seminar class, we were privileged to have Professor Diaz speak to us about film and all the effort that is invested in movie-making.  I have been told in my previous schools that movies are a waste of time and distracting, and so I found it interesting to see that movies can be a form of art in many ways.  Just like artists have a reason behind every brush stroke, and a poem contains meaning beneath every word, there can be a deeper significance behind the different aspects of a movie that contribute to its meaning.

Firstly, the use of black and white, or color quality, is often symbolic.  In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy leaves the drab black-and -white Kansas to enter the vibrant, colorful Oz.  Another example of this can be the older version of The Secret Garden; when I was forced to watch this with my grandmother, I noticed that most of the movie was filmed in black and white, but Mary’s garden was colorful.  This clever technique makes the garden seem special and exotic.  The movie Manhattan was also filmed in black and white.  When I first saw the movie, I thought that the use of black and white made the city seem grand.  It is said that people often dream in black and white, and so the lack of color gives New York a dream-like quality.  However, in class we spoke about how color can be distracting and so the use of black and white got the point of the movie  across more effectively.

Furthermore, the zoom of the lens contributes to the emotions  and feeling of the film.  Long shots were used to show where the characters are, and there was a medium zoom when the characters were having an intimate dinner.  During emotional parts of the movie, the camera shoots close up.  This allows the audience to connect to the character’s feelings and witness his facial expressions.  When Isaac broke up with Tracy, the cameras zoom in on her face so we are able to focus on her pain exclusively.

I hope that I will be able to use the information that we discussed in class to analyze the movies that I will watch in the future.  I realize that movies do not have to be a waste of time, and can be considered art, just like any painting or poem.


During Monday’s seminar class, we began discussing the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s Manhattan.  Although there was not a lot of music present in the movie, the George Gershwin music that Allen used was very meaningful.  Allen was writing a tribute to NYC, and so it makes sense that he would open his movie with the smooth, relaxing Rhapsody in Blue.  The music that Allen chose was picked specifically in order to to arouse certain feelings and emotions; the movie’s musical score really influences our perception of the movie.  For example, the ominous Jaws theme song achieves a feeling of alarm and pulsating terror.  The vibrant theme song in Pirates of the Caribbean creates a triumphant and victorious feeling.  So in Manhattan, the movie also arouses nostalgic feelings in the audience.  The music itself seems to show how big, diverse and romantic New York City is.

We also spoke about the archetypes present in Catcher in the Rye.  Ackley was a nerd and Spencer was the archetype of the wise old man.  There is also a situational kind of archetype in this book.  Holden Caulfield seems to be the same type of character as Huckleberry Finn.  Both are adolescents who go out on their own and encounter situations and problems while on their way to maturity and adulthood.


This past Wednesday, we watched Woody Allen’s Manhattan in class.  I thought that the absence of color in the movie sophisticates New York city and gives it a feeling of antiquity.  The camera also served an interesting role in the film.  We sometimes saw the characters from far away, and there were times when we were unable to hear what they were saying. For example,when Ike was touring the city with his son, music was playing in the background and the dialogue was blocked.  The camera focused on them through the store window and showed the two arguing over toy boats.  This gives the audience a sense that the characters are just one of millions of people in New York.  The characters and their problems are really unimportant; we are just getting a glimpse into typical New York life, but these people can be exchanged with any New Yorker.  This is further accomplished with the still camera shots of New York between scenes.  The city is huge and scandals are common.


On Monday evening, we finally finished the poetry presentations with Stephanie’s poem, The New Colossus.  This poem was the perfect ending to the New York poetry unit, because it represents American freedom and pride.  The statue on which this poem is inscribed is the symbol of America and its open gates.  America is a country of immigrants, and everyone has a story about why they came and how it felt to finally be free.  My grandfather was a survivor of the Holocaust and after losing his whole family in the war, he set out to America in order to start a new life.  After being on a boat for fourteen days, he finally reached New York.  In the poem, the statue is personified and tells the other countries to “give [her their] tired, [their] poor, [their] huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  My grandfather was one of those “homeless, tempest-tost” people, and was welcomed by the statue with open arms.  As the poem suggests, all refugees are invited to America, and are welcomed sincerely by the ‘Mother of Exiles’.

While poetry reading was fun, I am excited to begin watching, and comparing, New York movies in class.  I do not watch a lot of movies at home, and so it is refreshing and interesting to be doing this in class.


I’m not going to lie, this past Wednesday’s seminar class was one of the scariest classes for me so far.  I never had a problem with public speaking in high school, but when I finally stood up to perform my poem on Wednesday, I was literally shaking.  With Professor Kahan’s help, I hope that I was able to present the poem with the tone and emotion the poet intended, showing her annoyance at modernization in the city that took away the respite that one would usually get at night.

I also really enjoyed Brendon’s poem, Checkmate.  I thought the poem was clever in that it was written by someone who died in the twin towers.  It reminded me of the book The Book Thief, which is written in the Death’s point of view.  I don’t know how to play chess myself, but I was still able to appreciate the metaphor that the game represented.

Rob’s poem was also really great.  The musical accompaniment, along with the mellow way he read the poem, allowed me to feel the emotion behind the poem and made me feel like “I had the blues”. Overall, the poems were all great once again, and I am excited to hear the rest of the poems on Monday!



This past Monday, we were lucky to have Professor Powers speak to us in Seminar class.  He came in the room with a motorcycle helmet, riding boots, and an extensive knowledge of architecture.  I have never taken an architecture class before, and so I was really interested in learning about how the architecture in a society can be a symbol of its ethos; the type of buildings themselves can provide a context and frame for the lifestyles of the society.  For example, Athena was a symbol of intellect and reason, and so the repeated columns of the Parthenon shed light on the peoples’ interest in order in the world.  Therefore, it makes sense that the US capitol would be built with this ancient civilization as its inspiration.  With its tall, white, repeated columns, the capitol building becomes a symbol of order and rationalness.  The building itself lets us know about the type of country the founding fathers wanted to have.  I remember going to Washington DC with my eighth grade class and feeling awe when walking into the capitol building.  The walls were blindingly white and the columns towered over us, and I am glad that I now know the reason for this.  The building itself provided the feeling of justice, order and power.


Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”  After seminar class today, I see that this intelligent statement clearly applies to poetry.  Since most of the class have read their poems already, I was able to witness many different styles and techniques in poetry reading, and I have found that the poems that had emotion tied to it were the most beautiful.  After Andrew read the poem Return of the Native, the whole class took turns saying the phrase “BangClash!” with the emotion that comes along with the words,  and we saw how the feeling really adds to the poem.  This can also be seen in the poem that Andrew wrote himself.  The poem literally gave me chills.  Once again, it was the emotion behind the words and his connection to the poem that made it so beautiful.

Naomi also demonstrated in her performance the importance of connecting to the emotion behind the words.  Though her poems weren’t long and flowery, she did a great job of making them beautiful by acting them out and reading them as if she wrote them herself.  Though I still did not get to read my poem yet, I hope that I will be able to perform it with the same confidence and emotion that my classmates had when performing their poems.


Although there was not enough time for me to recite my poem today, I really enjoyed seminar class anyway; since my other classes are math and science based, I  did not have a chance previously to see the performing side of my classmates.  Everyone did an incredible job and exuded confidence during their performances.  I particularly liked Amber’s poem.  The sound effects made her sound professional, and she really took on the attitudes of the characters in her poem.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the discussions that came along with the readings.  The discussion about Marilyn Monroe made me think of all the other media-based misconceptions we have.  Newspapers and magazines often run on reader’s gullibility; the photos of models are often products of photoshop, yet readers believe that pretty people should look that way.  Similarly, people believed that Marilyn Monroe was a sex-symbol, even if that was not really who she was.  We should be aware of this problem and not allow ourselves to be blinded by media propaganda!


When we discussed Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” in seminar class today, I realized that my favorite part of the poem was the ninth stanza.  The speaker seems to be commanding nature to continue as it is, for the nature is what connects the generations and different people; time proceeds and the world changes, but the waves will still “cross from shore to shore countless crowds of passengers (stanza 9 line7)”.  In fact, this stanza reminded me of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Brook”, in which the speaker, the brook, says, “I chatter, chatter as I flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.”  The brook, and all of nature, connects generations.  People benefit from the brook, and when they pass on, their children, and eventually grandchildren will enjoy from the same water. Though I’m not really a conservationist, and I am guilty of throwing soda cans into the regular trash, these poems make me feel a little worried about our environment.  Trees are constantly being cut down to make room for more buildings, and we are losing a source of connection between generations.  So, “flow on river! (Whitman stanza 9, line 1)” “For men may come and men may go but [you] go on forever (Tennyson 11)”.