On the Waterfront suggests that it is more important for an individual to obey their conscience than to conform to group expectations. Discuss.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would say that the statement is true in reference to the Kazan film.  The argument with which Terry must struggle in the  course of the film is how the individual navigates between conforming to that which is wrong and their own sense of conscience, which might lie against the group expectations.  Terry understands through his own perceptions and through Edie and Father Barry that complying with the system is wrong.  In a more metaphysical point of view, if he remains silent about the unfairness of the system, Terry is affirming this system.  It is not merely good enough for Terry to reject group expectations on a subjective level.  Rather, he must outwardly speak out against these expectations in a tangible form.  I think that this is where the film makes very clear that conformity with that which is wrong is being complicit in wrong and with evil.  Here it becomes evident that if individuals wish to be on the right side of the issue, they must obey their conscience and speak out against an authority structure which is morally wrong and ethically incorrect.  In this, the film makes a profound statement about obedience and activation of one's conscience in times of struggle and doubt.

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