Study Guide

Rear Window Morality and Ethics

Morality and Ethics

There's something unwholesome about obsessively spying on your neighbors from the rear window, even if it does lead to a killer's capture. Jeff gets a voyeuristic thrill out of secretly intruding into people's privacy, and the film raises (but doesn't answer) the question of whether or not that's crossing a moral line.

It's not the only morally dubious thing Jeff does: he takes the law into his own hands, writes fake notes to Thorwald, and gets other people involved in his questionable caper. Is he justified in doing it? After all, it leads to Thorwald's capture, so don't those little moral questions become irrelevant? Do the ends justify the means? Rear Window never answers those questions. Hitchcock didn't like making moral judgments. Lots of Hitchcock protagonists find themselves operating in a moral gray zone; that's what makes them interesting.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. Why is it not okay to look in on, say, Miss Lonelyhearts' despair, but it is okay to look in on Thorwald disposing of evidence?
  2. Are Lisa and Stella any more ethical than Jeff?
  3. Does Jeff's accident reflect a moral lapse on the job?
  4. Does a murder committed in an ordinary, normal neighborhood by an ordinary salesman in an ordinary marriage say something about all of us in general?

Chew on This

Jeff is on a slippery ethical slope with his spying, and he knows it.

By giving Thorwald a motivation for killing his wife, i.e., he's desperately unhappy, Hitchcock presents a moral gray area.

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