The experiences of Terry Malloy can be viewed as a reflection of Kazan’s own life story in terms of the conflict he faced due to McCarthyism. A fear of Communism was prevalent in America in the 1940s and 1950s and McCarthy established the House of Un-American activities to investigate people assumed to be wanting to challenge the democratic, capitalist and ‘free’ American way of life. As Terry, Johnny and the mob were investigated by the Waterfront Crime Commission, Kazan and his peers were were investigated by HUAC. As Terry was put under pressure to speak up against the waterfront crime lords, Kazan was put under pressure to name who he knew to be a Communist that could be classified as an enemy of the state. As Terry testified, Kazan provided provided names to the HUAC. However, is their story actually the same? Is On the Waterfront a straightforward hero narrative that is simply a tale of the good guys versus the bad guys? Or is it more complicated when you analyse it for various perspectives of justice, loyalty, guilt, survival, honesty, human rights and freedom.
Elia Kazan pores over the ‘On the Waterfront’ screenplay.
1. RESEARCH: We have discussed in brief the historical context of On the Waterfront, now it is time to delve that bit further. This will require further thinking and research of some of the key elements and influences of the text. The focus areas we have outlined are:
2. WRITING TASK: Discuss the connection between Elia Kazan’s HUAC experience and Terry Malloy’s narrative journey in On the Waterfront.
You need to decide on your own interpretations of the text. Do you view Terry as a hero or a villain? What do you believe Kazan wants the viewer to think and why? What is your overall summation on the message of the narrative?