Study Guide

Grease Themes

  • Identity

    High school has three main goals: pass finals, find friends, and find yourself. The first two are a breeze compared to the last one.

    Many attempt to define their identity from the outside in—wearing an ironic t-shirt, growing a moustache, dying hair a funky color. But as Frenchy in Grease learns, beauty is only skin deep. And you can't find your identity until you figure out who you are all the way to your core.

    Sandy and Danny might change their external appearance at the end of the film, but they won't truly know themselves until they're singing "You're the one that I want" into the mirror.

    Questions About Identity

    1. What prompts Danny and Sandy to change to please each other?
    2. Do you think Rizzo is happy with who she is?
    3. Why is Frenchy encouraged to drop out of beauty school? Does she make the right choice?
    4. What does each character learn about him- or herself during the movie?

    Chew on This

    Danny and Sandy, as impressionable teenagers, totally change themselves to be with one another.

    Or, Danny and Sandy, as young adults, make mature compromises to make their identities more compatible with one another.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Hormones are nuts.

    Hitting puberty is often compared to a roller coaster…but people pay money to ride on roller coasters, while no one in their right mind would pay to go through the pimples-and-crying-and-anger-and-restlessness-and-growing-pains of puberty.

    In Grease, our main characters have been taken over by raging hormones. To make matters worse, they live in the 1950s, when changing bodies, safe sex, and consent are never talked about.

    Questions About Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    1. Is Sandy's sexy makeover at the end of the movie only skin deep? Or has she changed her wholesome ways? What about Danny? Has his boasting attitude changed, or is he only being quiet about his sexual exploits for Sandy's sake? Does it even matter?
    2. How are the similar attitudes of the characters similar to sexual attitudes of teens today? How are they different?
    3. Why do all the T-Birds talk about sex, then criticize Danny for "pick[ing] a chick over his buddies"?

    Chew on This

    Sandy's wholesomeness doesn't directly affect Rizzo in any way, yet Rizzo still dislikes it and tries to change Sandy.

    Rizzo dislikes Sandy's wholesome demeanor because Sandy conforms to the gender norms of the 1950s—norms which Rizzo is trying to challenge.

  • Men and Masculinity

    In The New Statesman, India Ross credited James Dean with creating modern masculinity. In 1955, Dean slicked backed his hair, smoked cigarettes, and raced cars. Sound familiar? (Source)

    The T-Birds are basically all James Dean wannabes. Danny Zuko has the slicked back hair, the cigarettes, the racing skills, and the attitude. So Danny Zuko might have out-Deaned Dean…but Dean was a rebel without a cause.

    When Danny gets a cause—named Sandy—it shakes up his masculine worldview.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. What are the traditionally masculine attitudes depicted in Grease?
    2. Is Rizzo more masculine or more feminine?
    3. Do the T-Birds display any stereotypically feminine traits, or are they 100% masculine?
    4. Why do the T-Birds want to look masculine?

    Chew on This

    The T-Birds make themselves look macho by talking about sex non-stop, but they're all talk, no action.

    The Pink Ladies are arguably more "masculine" because they are more sexual than the T-Birds are. They don't talk; they do.

  • Love

    It must be a requirement for a Broadway musical to have a love song. It seems like every Valentine's Day, blogs roll out a list of great Broadway love songs. The Sun Times recommends "If I Loved You" from Carousel. Broadway.com recommends "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" from The Lion King. And Theater Advisor recommends "So in Love" from Kiss Me Kate.

    None of these recommend "You're the One that I Want," so we don't know if we should trust their advice on anything.

    We have no idea why they omitted it, but maybe it's because Grease isn't a simple love story. Danny and Sandy don't love each other for who they are; they seem to love each other for who they become.

    Or is that true? Maybe Danny and Sandy do love each other for who they are: people willing to compromise for their partner. Grease is messy and imperfect when it comes to love…just like love itself often is.

    Questions About Love

    1. At the beginning of the movie, why does Sandy think she's in love? Does Danny feel the same way?
    2. At the end of the movie, are Danny and Sandy in love? Are Rizzo and Kenickie?
    3. Does Kenickie offer to raise Rizzo's child (when he thinks she's pregnant) out of love or obligation?

    Chew on This

    It's difficult to tell the difference between love and lust, especially for a hormone-addled teenager. Sandy and Danny might be in lust at the beginning of the film, but they're closer to love at the end.

    Rizzo grows to love Kenickie when she sees what a responsible, stand-up guy he is.