What is the meaning of this quote from On the Waterfront: "A pigeon for a pigeon"? What is the meaning of this quote: "A pigeon for a pigeon". Discuss how the themes of the film are conveyed as...

What is the meaning of this quote from On the Waterfront: "A pigeon for a pigeon"? 

What is the meaning of this quote: "A pigeon for a pigeon". Discuss how the themes of the film are conveyed as much by the imagery and symbolism as by the events and dialogue.

1 Answer | Add Yours

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

When Terry's young friend hears the rumors about Terry acting in betrayal of the local bosses, the young friend massacres Terry's pigeons and shouts through his tears, "A pigeon for a pigeon!"

Terry is seen as a turn-coat by the local community that had once defined him and offered him some semblance of honor. When Terry comes to realize that the type of honor available to him through this group of thugs was not the kind he can believe in, he seeks out a new path. 

The irony of the situation is that Terry is seen to  be betraying the community's values when he is actually developing into a mature sense of morality and taking the difficult steps that will allow him to be true to himself. 

The theme of self-actualization through hardship is seen in the repeated scenes of conflict and affection in the film. Terry is challenged, again and again, by his brother and other members of the crime organization to meet certain expectations. He is challenged, in the other direction, to change and to recognize the harm caused by the local gang. 

These scenes offer a very clear view of Terry's plight. He has to cajole, convince and fight with his upstanding girlfriend simply to be seen as potentially good. He has to give up safety and status in order to be himself. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,989 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question