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Maria in West Side Story is loosely based on Shakespeare's character Juliet. However, the musical takes place in New York City in the 1950s. Both Juliet and Maria are teenage girls caught in the midst of a violent conflict; in Juliet's case, it is the feud between two powerful families, the Capulets and the Montagues, while in Maria's case, it is a racially motivated war between two street gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Polish American Jets. Both characters are awaiting marriages arranged by their parents but instead fall in love with young men from rival groups. Juliet falls in love with Romeo, the son of her father's sworn enemy, while Maria falls in love with Tony, a member of a rival gang. Juliet and Maria both decide to disobey their family's wishes and marry their lovers in secret. Juliet fakes her own death, which in a tragic twist of fate, leads Romeo to commit suicide, believing her dead. Unable to face life without Romeo, Juliet also takes her own life. In West Side Story, however, Tony, who believes Maria has been killed, goes to meet his death at the hands of a rival gang member, but after he is fatally shot, Maria chooses to live and witnesses the end of the gang war.
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