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Symbolism in ‘On the Waterfront’
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  1. Symbolism in ‘On the Waterfront’ Students will study the use of symbols in ‘On the Waterfront’ and explain how they add meaning to the film.

  2. Joey Doyle’s Jacket • JoeyDoyle is the first character we learn who has tried to stand up to Johnny Friendly and the mob to end the corruption. He is a true morally righteous character. His jacket is representative of his character and his action. It is passed onto other characters in the film who attempt to follow in his footsteps and ‘get their rights’

  3. Terry and the Jacket • Terry is given the jacket by Edie after the death of Dugan. Edie is another morally righteous character, who helps guide Terry on his own moral journey. It is significant that she gives him the jacket as he looks up to her and doesn’t want to disappoint her. • It is also interesting to take note of Terry’s own jacket. It is shown to become more worn and torn as the movie progresses. Showing that his own clothing and previous way of thinking doesn’t fit him anymore.

  4. Terry and the Jacket • Interesting that Terry does not wear the jacket straight away. He doesn’t even put the jacket on when he is testifying against the mob in court. • Indicating that even though he is doing the right thing through testifying, he perhaps doesn’t truly feel that it is right. • Remember that Father Barry had to stop and convince him to not murder Johnny Friendly and rather testify.

  5. Terry and the Jacket • Terry does put the jacket on during the ending when he is finally and truly convinced that he has done the right thing to take stand against the mob.

  6. Clothing in general • Makes a distinction between the different classes and hierarchy on the waterfront. • Johnny Friendly and Charley wearing expensive suits and coats. This is symbolic of their power • Interesting that Johnny Friendly has to remove his coat in the court room – demonstrating his loss of power

  7. Pigeons and Hawks • ‘You know this city is full of hawks? That’s a fact. They hang around on the top of big hotels’ • Terry says this to Edie when she visits him on the rooftop for the first time. Symbolically this is connected to the constant feeling of surveillance throughout the film. Also that Johnny Friendly and his mob is always watching Terry – the pigeons – throughout the film and will pick them off and kill them whenever they appear weak and threatening. • ‘Big hotels’ connects them to Johnny Friendly’s bar where most of the business is carried out.

  8. Pigeons • There are two meanings • Pigeons are known as rats of the sky. Rats are people that ‘dob’ or tell on their “friends” • Therefore pigeons also have the same meaning as rats, people that are talking to the Crime Commission • ‘Stool Pigeon’ Terry says to Charley ‘I would just be stooling for you’ which means that he would just be ratting on the people at the meeting to Johnny Friendly and the mob.

  9. Pigeons • They also have a positive meaning. • Edie ‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d be so interested in pigeons’ • Edie is perhaps making a connection between pigeons being associated with rats and given that men on the waterfront don’t want to be seen this way they may distance themselves from this. A sign of hope here to Edie that not all is lost for Terry? • Terry ‘There’s one thing about them, they’re very faithful. They get married just like people • Tommy ‘Better’ • Terry ‘They stay that way until one of them dies’ • Shows how Terry admires pigeons for their loyalty and this is why he looks after and cares for them so much. • Demonstrates how to Terry values loyalty in his life. Later in the film he needs to decide who he will be loyal to.

  10. Rats and Canaries • Some of the men are described as being ‘cheese eaters’ and this is another way of describing them at rats (because rats eat cheese!) • This is a description given to men who will go to authorities - police and crime commission • Think about a rat – dirty, disgusting animals that live in sewers and other disgusting settings. They are making this association with people on the waterfront • Its no wonder that they are afraid of authority if this is the attitude they have and label they give to people who turn to them for help

  11. Bars, Spikes and Fences • These are there to demonstrate a barrier that is keeping the character trapped or restricted in some way • Normally we see these in scenes with Terry to show how difficult his situation is and the decision he has to make. • Examples - Fences, pigeon coop, tight alleyways on the street

  12. Rooftops • Hawks sit on top of them – watching what is happening below • Terry spends his free time on the rooftop caring for his pigeons • It is suggested that there is more freedom or space on the rooftop. Not as crowded as the street below. • Terry escapes here to clear his head. The very next scene after Dugan’s death Edie finds Terry here and gives him the jacket. Shows how he is feeling confused now that Dugan and Joey have been killed and both times he had the information that could have stopped it. • Edie and Terry share their first kiss here, away from all the prying eyes of the mob. • Straight after this scene Terry goes to Father Barry – showing that he has made a decision of sorts. He wants to clear himself of the guilt he feels, he needs to tell someone.

  13. Fog • You can’t see clearly through a fog or mist • It is used in the film to show how characters, mainly Terry are confused and aren’t able to see the picture clearly. • This is a useful symbol to use to describe why Terry needs to be convinced of the right things to do. Because he has some many things that are influencing his opinion.

  14. Light and Dark • Straightforward… • This creates shadows. Indicates that things are hidden or concealed. Think about the shadows from the opening scenes, indicating how the truth has been concealed from Terry. Then all the lights turn on and he begins to realise that he has been lied to.