Study Guide

On the Waterfront Family

Family

None of the main characters in On The Waterfront seem to have a giant extended family with big, happy Thanksgiving dinners. Terry and Charley are orphans, and Edie's mother and brother are both dead.

And, in both Terry and Edie's cases, family members try to prevent them from doing the right thing. Charley pressures Terry to stay with the gang and not testify (even pulling a gun on him at one point), and Edie's father doesn't want her to hang out with Terry or keep investigating Joey's murder. He just wants her to be safe.

But Terry convinces Charley to let him escape—which leads to Charley's own death—and Edie is actually able to help her father by trying to right the wrongs on the waterfront. So, these family members do really love each other—it's just that conventional wisdom gets in the way.

Questions About Family

  1. How does family help the main characters, and how does family hinder them?
  2. How does Charley feel towards Terry, and how does Johnny affect their relationship?
  3. Why doesn't Edie's father do more to find justice for his son? Should he have?
  4. Does Johnny's family life help explain why his personality is the way it is? Or would he have been a bad guy regardless?

Chew on This

Family stands against one's development as an individual. Terry has to rebel against his one remaining family member, Charley, in order to assert himself and do the right thing.

Family helps nurture they individual. Without the love and aid of her father, Edie never would've been in the position to seek justice for Joey.

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