In Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront the metaphor of the American dream is portrayed through some images that reconstruct the mirror of the American working-class society of the 50’s. The mise en- scène used in the film together with the characters’ performance are the key elements that eventually contribute to the connection between the reflection of the desired American Dream and the realistic tone offered in the film.
As regards the stylistic techniques used by the director, the photographic image and the sound are the most important elements to be considered: the use of black and white photography together with the lack of music offers a very realistic portrayal of the work conditions under which American workers had to live on the New York waterfront at that time. These techniques were precisely the ones that made this film be far away from the typical romantic comedies and musicals which were shown in the film industry of the 50’s. Therefore, the techniques used in the film play an essential role when dealing with the realistic style of the film.
Considering the metaphor of the American dream, some points which have to do with the characters’ performance need to be taken into account: Terry Malloy , Johnny Friendly or Edie Doyle are the essential characters through which the American Dream is reflected. Each character’s attitude gives a varied perspective of the metaphor of the American Dream.
Terry Malloy is presented to the spectator as a hero, although his attitude towards the idea of the American Dream differs very much from the prototype American worker who looks forward succeeding in both, his personal and mainly in is professional life. His ideas are represented by a sense of survival and fight for having just enough money to survive. Thus, Terry Malloy may be the representation of a victim of the American Dream, since he has not succeeded in being an important man in society.