West Side Story

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What are the values in West Side Story toward religion, women, marriage, and violence?

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In West Side Story, the female protagonist, Maria, is portrayed as a religious figure. She has the Spanish equivalent of the name Mary, and she is dressed in virginal white in the dance scene in which she meets Tony. Therefore, Maria is like the Virgin Mary, and she stands for traditional ideas of womanhood--purity, chastity, and innocence. The play has many allusions to Christianity and to the idea of good women as pure and innocent. Maria works in a bridal shop, and she is associated with the white purity that is supposed to attend a traditional marriage. However, it is clear that marriage is not possible for her and for Tony when they sing, "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us." In other words, although they love one another, that love cannot be sanctioned by marriage in their world. In their world, Puerto Ricans and whites are not permitted to socialize, much less marry.

As Alberto Sandoval Sanchez notes in the source below, Puerto Ricans in this play are associated with violence. They are characterized as criminals. Sandoval Sanchez points out that in the lead-up to the song "America," one of the characters says of the Puerto Rican men, "You'll go back with handcuffs!" In other words, one of the characters predicts that the Puerto Rican men will return to their island as criminals. In addition, the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang, are portrayed as having weapons that the Jets, the white gang, must try to rid them of. The Sharks are portrayed as inherently violent, while the Jets are portrayed as violent only to stop the Sharks.


West Side Story: A Puerto Rican reading of "America" by Alberto Sandoval Sanchez from Jump Cut, no. 39, June 1994, pp. 59-66, copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1994, 2006.

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