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How does On The Waterfront position the viewer to support Terry’s decision to speak...

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xinchaoyo | Student, Grade 11 | Honors

Posted April 27, 2012 at 9:17 AM via web

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How does On The Waterfront position the viewer to support Terry’s decision to speak out against his friends?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 27, 2012 at 9:38 AM (Answer #1)

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The question is seeking to probe the depths of how "coming clean" and "speaking out" are valued in the film.  In the dilemma between being silent and voicing dissent, how does the film condemn the former and praise the latter?  I think that the film accomplishes this in a couple of ways.  The first is that the design of the social system in which Terry lives in terms of life on the docks is defined by a malevolent force.  Friendly is a force of evil and this controls life on the docks.  The force of the law and of the "normative" elements of society exist outside of this.  Such a configuration means that right from the start, Terry is defined by a "good" and "evil" contrast.  His life is defined by complying with life in an "evil" paradigm, and outside of that which is good.  In presenting life in such a manner, the film makes it clear that Terry's choice is between "Good" and "Evil" in terms of speaking or remaining silent.  Additionally, Terry's love interest and conscience- raising interest are also outside of him, seeking to move him towards speaking out.  Terry and his friends are pitted in the middle of this world, seen as pawns of the establishment.  The movement of Terry to speak out is seen as both a part of dramatic structure as well as the forces exerted upon him by Edie and Father Barry.  In this structure, Terry's decision to speak out is praised, something that affirms good triumphing over evil.  When the rest of the workers stand up for him, it represents how social solidarity is synonymous with goodness and righteousness.  Kazan and Schulberg have constructed consciousness as one in which being part of a group is the natural result of doing the right thing, in terms of speaking out.  They have also constructed a reality where "speaking out" means doing so against evil, making it evident that the viewer wishes to support Terry's decision.  In the end, when Terry speaks out against his friends it becomes a validation that when there is wrong, authoritarian structures can intervene and support that which is righteous and just.  In this, the viewer has little choice but to concede that Terry was right.

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