Study Guide

On the Waterfront Setting

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Home Sweet Hoboken

A Gloomy Gem of the East Coast

Beautiful Hoboken, New Jersey. Nowadays, it's mostly famous for having a slightly ridiculous-sounding name—no offense, Hoboken—but it also used to have a fun family attraction: longshoremen unions controlled by gangsters. (Woo-hoo!)

On the Waterfront is set in the seedy world of these mob-run unions. They're ripping off the workers and shippers, taking money for themselves, and killing people who cross them. It's not a great scene.

And Kazan doesn't try to sugarcoat this grim reality with pretty visuals. Hoboken looks more like Hobroken—gloomy filled lots, expressionless brick buildings, and perpetual cloud cover.


In a town like mid-century Hoboken, you need a place you can run and hide. You need a place that you can forget about your troubles—say, on the top of a roof among your pet pigeons, in a cozy pub, or in the peaceful confines of the church.

Too bad there's nothing like that on offer in On The Waterfront.

Want some carefree rooftop time? Tough luck: roofs are where you get killed…or, if you're lucky, your cage of pigeons gets killed. The pubs are smoke-choked and full of mob-connected dudes ready to shake you down. The mobsters even break up a church meeting and start roughing up dockworkers.

In this Hoboken, there's nowhere you can go to escape the long arm of the mob. There is no sanctuary. It's a claustrophobic, dangerous town—and the only way to change it is by changing the men who run it.

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