Study Guide

On the Waterfront Principles

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Terry originally has a bunch of cynical principles that aren't really principles. You know—rules like, "Do it to him before he does it to you," and "Always look out for number one." He sounds like early Star Wars Han Solo.

But, by On The Waterfront's end, Terry's principles have changed—in pretty much the same way that Han's change.

Ultimately, Terry's all about loving his fellow humans, showing courage even when the crowd's against him, and eating a balanced breakfast full of fresh fruits and whole grains. It makes the other longshoremen all want to hold hands and sing, "We are the World."

Questions About Principles

  1. Do the criminals have a code? If so, how would you describe the code the live by?
  2. How do Terry's principles change in the course of the movie?
  3. What are Edie's principles? Are they similar to Father Barry's?
  4. What motivates Father Barry to act on his principles? Does he spread those principles to any of the other characters?

Chew on This

The British philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke, once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This explains why Johnny's been able to rule the waterfront—not enough good people have stood up to him, and instead have remained indecisive and indifferent.

Niccolo Machiavelli said, "It is better to be feared than to be loved, if you cannot be both." Johnny's gang has settled for being feared—this is one of the principles on which they operate.

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