On the Waterfront Essay

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‘On The Waterfront is the story of a one’s quest for redemption. Discuss.’

Complex in nature, one’s search for atonement is critical in the journey of self-exploration and understanding. Kazan’s classic On the Waterfront follows the protagonist, Terry in the multifarious and multifaceted changes he undergoes in the hostile environment to seek redemption. Certainly, his metamorphosis is driven by his burgeoning conscience to atone for his culpable part in Joey’s death and his ethical imperatives to be a good citizen. Kazan explores the idea of gaining acceptance and acknowledgment in the sacrificial deaths of Dugan and Charley. Father Barry’s liturgical role also elicits the deliverance of others. However, whilst Kazan imbues the importance of individuals seeking liberation from one’s past, it would be remiss to consider that the collective redemption of united longshoremen ultimately influences their long awaited victory. These paths taken by individuals may not in fact be the resulting impact of their squalid and sordid world, but the means of coming to grips with their respective pasts.

The search for redemption can arise from the need to atone for one’s guilt. In the opening scenes of the film, the lament of the lone French horn warns viewers of the struggle Terry will face in his quest for salvation. The juxtaposition of the crucifix boat marks the unyielding hope that stands up defiantly in the midst of its deadly environment and further accentuates the urgency of Terry’s journey. As the cacophony of fast and furious percussion comes to a crashing halt, Joey Doyle is thrown from rundown tenement rooftops and is labeled as the ‘canary’ that ‘can’t fly’. Terry’s own unwitting part in Joey’s death and the mob’s macabre jokes alienate him and highlights the beginning of his transformation. His guilty conscience plagues his soul and the crime weighs down heavily on him like a ‘monkey on [his] back’. This inner turmoil provokes him to confess to Father Barry...
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