Study Guide

Rear Window Community

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LISA: A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window.

JEFF: Why not?

LISA: Why, for all you know, there's probably something a lot more sinister going on behind those windows.

JEFF: Where? Oh, no comment.

Jeff has been watching more than Thorwald, and through him, we can see the details of the whole neighborhood emerge. Maybe this makes him a strange champion of the community since only he is pulling those threads together.

STELLA: I can see you now, in front of the judge, flanked by lawyers in blue double-breasted suits. You're pleading, "Judge, it was only innocent fun. I love my neighbors like a father." The judge answers, "Congratulations. You just gave birth to three years in Dannemora."

Always the voice of common sense, Stella pulls no punches in telling Jeff that what he's doing could land him in jail. Dannemora is the home of New York's Clinton Correctional Facility. Actually, Jeff's actions likely aren't illegal, but Stella is trying to make a point. (FYI, many "peeping Tom" laws require that something be recorded for it to be illegal. )

LISA: That's what is known as "manless melancholia."

JEFF: Miss Lonelyhearts. At least that's something you'll never have to worry about.

Lisa and Jeff aren't unsympathetic to neighbors who deserve sympathy, and while it's not cool to judge the way they do, you can see some neighborly concern here. At least they feel bad for Miss Lonelyhearts and want her to do well.

LISA: Where's that music coming from?

JEFF: Oh ... some songwriter. In the apartment. Lives alone. Probably had an unhappy marriage.

LISA: I think it's enchanting. Almost as if it were being written especially for us.

JEFF: No wonder he's having so much trouble with it.

The songwriter's music gives a sense of community since everyone can hear it. Not only does it make Jeff and Lisa's night more romantic (despite Jeff's snarking), but it eventually keeps Miss Lonelyhearts from killing herself.

JEFF: Look, Doyle, it's just one of those things I can't tell you on the phone. You have to be here and see the whole set-up. It's probably nothing important, just a little neighborhood murder, that's all. As a matter of fact, I did say "murder."

Jeff invokes his community with the word "neighborhood," implying that Doyle has an occupational obligation to get down there and protect everyone from the murderer in their midst.

DOYLE: Keeps to himself, and none of the neighbors got close to him, or his wife.

We've had some suggestions that there is a real sense of community, but now Doyle is quietly refuting that. "Keeps to himself" is seen as a virtue, as is the neighbors' total lack of involvement in his life. Is minding your own business always a virtue? This is Manhattan, not some small friendly town.

DOYLE: That's a secret and private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private that they couldn't explain in public.

Doyle implies that community also means respect for privacy: that a community only works if everyone can live without their neighbors all up in their business. On the other hand, look at poor Thorwald, living a life of quiet desperation, apparently isolated from anyone who might be able to be helpful and sympathetic.

NEIGHBOR WITH DOG: Which one of you did it? Which one of you killed my dog? You don't know the meaning of the word "neighbor." Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies. But none of you do! You don't talk, you don't help, you … you don't even see. But I couldn't imagine any of you being so low that you'd kill a little helpless, friendly dog! The only thing in this whole neighborhood who liked anybody!

Interesting that a peripheral character cuts to the chase here. In her tragedy and grief, she accuses the whole neighborhood of being utterly indifferent to those around them, of spurning the sense of community that the courtyard is supposed to foster. And while plenty of them look sad and concerned (Miss Torso is practically heartbroken), they listen to her cry and then turn around and go back to their lives. Even Jeff and Lisa see the dog's death only in terms of their investigation, proving that every word the distraught woman says is true.

STELLA: Miss Lonelyhearts! Call the police!

As a counterpoint to the charges leveled against the community, Stella proves that there is a sense of interconnection in this courtyard and that people can take action to help their neighbors. We've felt bad the entire movie for Miss Lonelyhearts, a woman getting older and just trying (and largely failing) to find a little companionship in her life. When she finally decides to end it all, Stella and Jeff are compelled to act.

SCULPTOR: Get away from him! Get away from him, he'll be after you!

The sculptor is talking to the little dog that Thorwald kills, and it's another small indication that people here are more neighborly than they appear—and that Thorwald would have poisoned the Good Neighbor Well even if he hadn't committed murder.

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