In West Side Story the protagonist is the former leader of the Jets, Tony, who falls in love with Maria, who is one of the Puerco Ricans; their love is forbidden, just like in Romeo and Juliet. In this essay post-colonial theory, structuralism, semiotics and feminism will be discussed. As the film is set In the mid-sass this means that this was post the Second World War, marking the beginning of a new era. The Civil Rights Movement took place within this decade Of the sass.
The civil rights are the rights Of citizens to receive equal treatment and be protected from discrimination and unfair treatment. There was a massive movement in America at this point, the African-Americans were in the spotlight for racial inequality and discrimination. In the upper west side of New York city it was classed as the ethnic blue-collar neighborhood. Stephan Shoeshine, the lyricist, was brought up in the upper west side of Manhattan amongst the blue collar society and gang warfare which is where the inspiration of its synopsis and setting has come from.
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In ethnic neighborhoods there was a lot of people that were in the working class that conducted manual labor jobs, which involved jobs like warehouse work, maintenance, sanitation, mining etc. The choreographer, Jerome Robbins, was born in the lower east side of Manhattan which is where a lot of immigrants settled and joined the American society, for example the Puerco Ricans.
This could have been his influence in choreography, keeping two separate ethnic groups separate encouraging them to not socialize with one another and opening the audiences eyes to the reality of gang violence within society. Gangs mainly fought over territory of land, in West Side Story the gangs were split into the Puerco Ricans (Sharks) and the Americans (Jets). They would have ‘rumbles’, which is when gang members from each gang would arrange a particular place to fight, for example, a park, school playground, a courtyard etc.
Rumbles could result in broken bones and in some cases death. Post-colonial theory is evident in the synopsis of West Side Story as there is rivalry and conflict be;men the two gangs. Post-colonial theory is about how the implications before and after colonialism which could result with liberation and oppression that could be ongoing. Edward Said is an American theorist, he discusses how the areas that migrants are forced to move in to, are made to make the migrants feel inferior to the native Americans who feel superior than them. Most professional humanists are unable to make the connection between the prolonged and the sordid cruelty of practices such as leaver, colonialism and racial oppression, and imperial subjection on the one hand, and the poetry, fiction, philosophy of the society that engages in these practices on the other” (Said 1993) This is evident in West Side Story where the Puerco Ricans enter the Americans turf and the Jets send the Sharks back to their own turf.
The idea of otherness is evident in West Side Story where the sharks are Puerco Rican by culture but their nationality is American because they moved to America, however, they are willing to different and distinct from the Americans, allowing them have their own unique identity and keep their strict roots. This also suggests that both the sharks and jets are also totalities as they are culturally generalized, which suggests because they are distinct and different from one another they are inspired by the colonizers rather than the colonized.
However, there is conflict due to their different cultural identities. The Puerco Ricans are essentialist because of their way of living and accents, they are also much more upbeat and have a more sociable culture compared to the Americans. “illustrating asymmetrical divisions between the orient and the occident to the advantage of the west” (Said 1978). Said is saying that conflict happens where there is conflict due to different cultural identities. His theory of orientation is where the west sexualities the east.
There is a division and it is evident in West Side Story when the rumble takes place. This scene symbolizes and shows that people will defend their culture and territory by all means necessary. On the other hand, the Puerco Rican females try to assimilate and integrate into the American society. This is clearly evident when Anita and Maria sings ‘America’ with some other Puerco Rican women. Homo Bah is an Indian heurist who suggests the idea of mimicry, where there is imitation from the colonized society and take on the culture of the colonized. Mimicry is shown in the song ‘America’.
In this song they saying that they would much prefer to stay with their now new American nationality rather than sticking to their roots of being a Puerco Rican. The male Puerco Ricans choose to resist the American culture and stick to their Puerco Rican stereotypical social structure. The men suppress the females aspiration of integrating into the American society. Integration should be looked differently compared to being totalities. Spiral is a theorist suggests the idea of subaltern where the social group is politically, geographically and socially outside of the power structure of the colony and the colonial homeland.
In West Side Story, the Puerco Ricans are the subaltern because they are on their own in a foreign land, which enables them to try to adapt to their new environment and surroundings leading to warfare with the Jets and Sharks. The love affair between the former leader of the Jets – Tony and a Puerco Rican female called Maria causes an conflict and an immense amount of distress from both cultures. After the death of Bernard, it is evident that the resistance of integration begins to emerge properly. She posits not a monolithic idea of woman or brown person, but subaltern as a divided rather than transparent subject” (Spiral 1988). However, one could argue that to not encourage our own cultural identities, can result in harm being done to our mental health and by having verbal and physical violence it can be very dehumidifying. Franz Fanons argues this as well as stating “colonists inculcate a servile mentality upon natives” (Fanons 1961) which is why human exploitation and further resistance to colonialism appends.
During the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks the resistance to colonialism is present when the Sharks come onto the Jets ground. The Puerco Ricans are seen as the subculture by society as a whole for attempting to invade their territory which makes it dehumidifying. Bah suggests the idea of ambivalence, this is evident in West Side Story where both the Sharks and the Jets have opposite dimensions and perceptions within their cultural identities, which leads to conflict as mentioned earlier.
Bah is concerned with the discourse of colonialism, how its language, metaphoric and Teutonic patterns structure the colonized as a stereotype to dominate, discriminate against and exploit them. Homo believes that there should be the idea of hybridism in society, where different cultural identities are accepted also known as multiculturalism. Hybridism is evident at the very end of the production where Tony dies and both the Jets and Sharks come to the realization and conclusion that no matter what difference is culturally they are still the same individuals and should accept their differences. For those who attempt to resist the imperialist ideology, therefore is necessary to work n ‘betterments’ in strategies that tied to fragmentation and displacement, which can be a form of revolt against the seemingly monolithic, seemingly rational and materialistic authority of imperialism. ” (Bah 1992). The failure to recognize and accept different cultural identities of colonies that may enter a new territory, can result in a broken society of displacement where individuals are unable to adapt to idea of having a multicultural society which could lead to a lot of conflict.
In this part of the essay Structuralism, semiotics and a touch of feminism will be discussed. In the terms of West Side Story, some would come to the conclusion that the authors did not write anything ‘really new, because their work has the same structure as Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet. Both introductions of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story gives the audience a general outline of the story foreshadowing future events. The start of Romeo and Juliet starts off with a prologue where both families have been feuding for a long time and in West Side Story the audience is introduced to the two gangs and why these events are happening.
There are some semiotics in the ere beginning of West Side Story. After the Jets leave the Basketball court they bump into the leader of the Sharks, Bernard. He is wearing a red shirt. After the Jets Leave Bernard, is still wearing his red shirt but the background behind him is red and he has left fist clenched hitting the wall. The fact that both the wall and his shirt is red indicates that there is a lot of danger and death for Bernard. His fists being clenched indicates anger and frustration. You can also tell this from Bernard looking straight into the camera, the look in his eye and his facial expression shows anger.
Both West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet experience the theme of forbidden love. In the terms of Romeo and Juliet the first incident that set the story happened after the party, this is when Romeo meets Juliet for the first time and they fall in love with each other- love at first sight. This is the same in West Side Story, at the dance Tony meets Maria for the first time and they dance together, this romantic encounter is then abruptly broken up by the leader of the Sharks, Maria’s brother Bernard. In the neighborhood dance Maria is wearing a white dress with a red strip in the waist, white symbolizes rutty and innocence.
Maria is sweet and naive. The red on her dress symbolizes love and can also symbolism danger because Tony falls in love with Maria and ends up dying, foreshadowing the outcome of the plot. In their first encounter Tony asks Maria is she is joking and she says ‘l have note learned how to joke that way. Her brother Bernard and his girlfriend Anita try to shield her from trouble as people view her as pure and virginal. Reinforcing this imagery, we see Maria pray in front of the Virgin Mary and in ‘Maria’, Tony sings ‘say it soft and its almost like praying’.
However, Maria tries to resist the able of purity as she tells her brother a white dress is for babies. In contrast with Maria is, Anita is opinionated, saws, charismatic and flamboyant. Anita wears colorful frocks, as opposed to Maria’s white gowns. Anita reinforces the feisty Latin harlot stereotype. Anita proudly asserts her sexuality, eagerly singing about how she ‘goanna get her kicks’ and ‘have a private little mix’ with her boyfriend Bernard in Tonight. The chemistry between Anita and Bernard is evident and their relationship is framed in sexuality.
However, even though Maria and Tony sleep together, their allegations is constantly surrounded by dreamy words of love, commitment and marriage. In ‘Tonight’, Anita sings about sex and Maria croons about seeing her love and how the ‘stars will stop where they are’. Anita is portrayed as the ‘Madonna’, in ‘A Boy Like That’ Anita warns Maria to stay away from Tony as he Wafts one thing only’ but Maria’s buoyant hope stave off Anta’s concerns. Another interesting female is the tomboy that longs to be part of the Jets is known as Nobody’s’ later known as ‘Buddy Boy.
She hangs around with the guys, spits on the floor and insults women. She sees that male ender as far more desirable, instead of depicting gender variance or even trans-character, the Jets view her as a defective female. Some of the Jets taunt her so that no one would want to sleep with her. According to society and to the Jets, a woman’s status is dependent on their beauty, sexuality and desirability. In the ‘Tonight’, Maria is on top of the balcony and Tony is at the bottom of the balcony shouting for Maria. This is also a similar setting to Romeo and Juliet, where they are on a balcony.
In both Romeo and Juliet and in West Side Story they both proclaim their forbidden love as they are both ‘star-cross oversee’. Tragedy is a common theme in West Side Story and in Romeo and Juliet; the lovers were forced to take their own lives or to be killed because of the fate and the actions of others. In Romeo and Juliet, one of the characters who is partly responsible deaths of both Romeo and Juliet is Table. Table enrages Romeo and causes him to kill Table, this brings out Romeos exile from Verona. If this did not happen, Romeo would have heard Friar Lawrences plan to keep Juliet from getting married.
If he had known of the plan, he would not have gone to the vault and killed himself over what he Hough was Gullet’s dead body. In West Side Story, a character with a role similar to Table is Bernard. The killing of Bernard enrages Chino to the point where he takes out his gun to search and kill Tony. While the Jets are trying to protect Tony from Anita, they cause her to become extremely upset and says that Maria is dead. Upon hearing this, Tony leaves the drug store in search for Chino. When Tony eventually finds Maria, Chino kills him.
This could have been avoided if Bernard had not gotten into a fight with Tony, so he would not have been killed. In conclusion, it is evident that within this musical there is a cultural difference between the Puerco Ricans and the Americans and with they way they treat their own kind. However, integration is taken for ease in today’s society, people have different cultures but we are still the same individuals. This suggests that our current society could be universalistic as everyone accepts different religions within society, however, this is not always the case as different cultural identities can cause conflict.