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In On the Waterfront, how does being loyal bring trouble to the characters?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The idea of the characters experiencing trouble for being loyal is rooted to the notion that if the characters are loyal to transcendent aims, difficulty arises.  For example, Father Barry is loyal to his ideals of the Catholic faith, and this brings trouble to him as it represents his fundamental marginalization by the mob bosses like Johnny Friendly.  Being shamed into the idea of taking action represents how Father Barry must be loyal to his conscious, and thereby experiences trouble in the process.  Edie's loyalty to finding out what happened to her brother ends up bringing her trouble because she defines herself against the mob controlled atmosphere of the setting.  Charley's loyalty to Terry is what hastens his own demise, demonstrating again how loyalty brings trouble to a character in the film.  It is loyalty to something more transcendent and less contingent that ends up bringing the most amount of trouble to Terry.  He stands tall at the end, remaining loyal to his course of action in testifying.  Even when he receives a brutal spate physical abuse, Terry remains loyal to this transcendent aim, something that brings trouble to him.  When Terry was loyal to that which is contingent, in terms of remaining "D & D" even though he knew what he was doing was wrong, it caused difficulty because of the consistent nagging of doubt that was within him.  Terry's character displays the idea that loyalty will always bring some level of difficulty because it forces choice and that which is not chosen will always remain.  The film argues that "the other" does not dissipate simply with a course of action taken and loyalty shown.  In fact, "the other" intensifies when we show loyalty and this is what ends up defining who we are and in what we believe throughout our being in the world.  The characters in the film demonstrate this.

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