Study Guide

West Side Story Quotes

  • Love

    TONY AND MARIA: Today, the world was just an address A place for me to live in, no better than all right. But here you are And what was just a world is a star!

    These two sing about the sun and stars a lot when professing their love. It's a beautiful image: stars that shine forever, wishing on a star, all that super romantic stuff. But it's also a great way to reference Romeo and Juliet, whom Shakespeare called "star-cross'd lovers," stars in this case being what decided people's fates. Romeo promised to "defy thee stars!" and Juliet at her balcony is actively compared to the sun. If you're going for an adaptation, adapt the best.

    MARIA: I feel pretty, oh so pretty! I feel pretty, and witty, and gay!

    Here's Maria, beaming from ear to ear and so fantastically happy she's in love that her feet practically leave the floor. If you remember your first crush, you know that buzzy feeling: you're walking around in a daze and the the whole world is just wonderful and your friends are looking at you like you're nuts.

    TONY: Tonight, tonight
    Won't be just any night
    Tonight there will be no morning star.
    Tonight, tonight
    I'll see my love tonight,
    And for us, stars will stop
    Where they are.

    Tony's talking about halting time and making the night last forever. It's another great description of infatuation—the world falls away and it's just you and your sweetie.

    TONY: Maria!
    I've just met a girl named Maria,
    And suddenly that name
    Will never be the same
    To me.
    Maria!
    I've just kissed a girl named Maria,
    And suddenly I've found
    How wonderful a sound
    Can be!
    Maria!
    Say it loud and there's music playing,
    Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

    This is love in its first bloom. He talks about her name like it's something he'd never heard before, and is now just the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world. That's what young love feels like.

    BERNARDO: Everywhere grime in America,
    Organized crime in America,
    Terrible time in America.

    ANITA: You forget I'm in America!

    "America" turns into a feisty give-and-take between the guys and the gals. Anita loves life in the U.S. Bernardo doesn't, but you come away with the real sense that these two are going to have epic, earth-shattering nookie when this little number is over.

    ANITA: Anita's gonna get her kicks
    Tonight.
    We'll have our private little mix
    Tonight.
    He'll walk in hot and tired,
    Poor dear.
    Don't matter if he's tired,
    As long as he's here
    Tonight!

    Never forget that Anita loves Bernardo almost as much as Tony and Maria love each other. That sends her into very, very dark places once her true love dies. Her love is a little, let's say…more "mature" than Maria's.

    TONY AND MARIA: There's a place for us,
    A time a place for us.
    Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
    Hold my hand and I'll take you there
    Somehow,
    Someday,
    Somewhere!

    These two are engaged in magical thinking: their love for each other feels strong enough to make miracles happen. It's a beautiful thought, but there's a real feeling of hopelessness to these lyrics once you've seen the movie more than once (or twenty times, as the case may be).

    MARIA: It isn't true, not for me,
    It's true for you, not for me,
    I hear your words,
    And in my head
    I know they're smart
    But my heart, Anita,
    But my heart
    Knows they're wrong.

    Is love rational? In a head vs. heart smackdown, the heart wins this round hands down.

    TONY: I'm gonna see her tomorrow an' I can't wait!

    DOC: Tony... things aren't tough enough?

    TONY: Tough? Doc, I'm in love!

    It's the heart for the win again. Doc thinks Tony's being a fool for love, ignoring all the trouble it will get him into. He turns out to be right, but Tony feels no need to explain; he's in love, and that will take care of everything.

    MARIA: Hold my hand and we're halfway there.

    MARIA AND TONY: Hold my hand and I'll take you there,
    Somehow . . .
    MARIA: Some day, some—

    The song pretty much ends here, without that last word "somewhere" being delivered as the last words Tony hears. That's not an accident: these kids won't get a somewhere. But because she loves him, Maria has to keep that hope alive for him until his last breath.

  • Loyalty

    RIFF: When you're a Jet,
    Let them do what they can,
    You got brothers around,
    You're a family man!
    You're never alone,
    You're never disconnected!
    You're home with your own--
    When company's expected,
    You're well protected!

    The Jets define themselves by loyalty. It's more than just sticking up for each other. Loyalty makes them strong, and gives them a level of power and control over their lives that they couldn't hope for otherwise.

    RIFF: Now I know Tony like I know me, and I guarantee you can count him in

    Riff's counting on Tony, even though he hasn't asked Tony whether he'll back the Jets' in the rumble or not. Even though he's out of the gang, Riff knows you're a Jet "till your last dying day." It's not like Tony's going to fall in love with the sister of the head Shark or anything, right?

    RIFF: Four-and-a-half years I live with a buddy and his family. I think I'm digging a guy's character. Boy, I'm a victim of disappointment in you.

    TONY: End your suffering, little man. Why don't you just pack up your gear and move out?

    Here's some insight into why Riff and Tony are so close: Riff's lived with Tony's family for four and a half years That suggests that Riff doesn't have any home life of his own to speak of, which makes Tony his brother in every way that counts.

    RIFF: Oh, well now you're talkin'. Oh man, without a gang, you're an orphan. With a gang, you walk in twos, threes, fours. And when your crew is the best, when you're a Jet, you're out in the sun, buddy boy. You're home free home.

    TONY: Riff, I've had it.

    RIFF: Tony, Tony, look at me, will ya? Come on, look at me...Now, I never asked the time of day from a clock, did I? I never asked nothin' from nobody. But I'm askin' you: come to the dance tonight.

    More trouble in paradise here, as Tony isn't quite willing to stand by his loyalties as a Jet. Riff has to appeal to their shared history in order to get him to come around, suggesting that Tony might not, in fact, be there for the Jets the way Riff promised.

    TONY: I ain't playing anymore, can't any of you get that?

    Tony's being pulled apart, and just like his friends don't understand why he won't help them, he can't understand why they don't want him to just be happy with his girl.

    ANITA: A boy like that, --
    Who'd kill your brother,
    Forget that boy and find another!

    This is perhaps the biggest test of Maria's love for Tony. Not only did he kill her brother (accidentally, yes, but still), but Anita's pretty much saying "dump him or we're through." Maria's losing the loyalty of everyone around her, and yet she still stands by her man.

    ANITA: One of your own kind, stick to your own kind!

    Anita has good reason to blame Maria for loving Tony—he just killed Bernardo. But she pulls out another reason: loyalty to their own culture. Nothing but trouble when you fraternize with the enemy.

    A-RAB: Lay off of him.

    ACTION: Mind your own business.

    A-RAB: Don't start up on me, or I'll punch in your stupid...

    ACTION: You'll do what? Huh?

    With Riff dead, the Jets' former loyalty to each other starts to fall apart. That means they'll be easy pickings not only for the Sharks, but for the cops as well. It's up to Ice to pull his crew together.

    ICE: Now you all better dig this and dig it good. No matter who or what is eatin' you, man, you show it and you are dead. You are cuttin' a hole in yourselves for them to stick in a red hot umbrella and open it. Wide. Man, you wanna get past the cops when they start askin' you about tonight? You wanna live in this lousy world? You play it cool.

    Ice takes control of the gang here, asking for loyalty in the name of survival. They all want to get even for the death of Riff, but if they don't put the Jets first, it's only going to get them arrested.

    TONY: I… I didn't believe hard enough.

    MARIA: Loving is enough.

    TONY: Not here. They won't let us be.

    MARIA: Then we'll run away.

    TONY: Yeah, we can.

    Once Tony falls for Maria, his commitment till his last dying day (literally) is to her and whatever life they think they can make together.

  • Revenge

    BERNARDO: More gracious living. Every one of you hates every one of us, and we hate you right back.

    Bernardo has his faults, but a lack of self-awareness isn't one of them. He sees that the Jets and the Sharks hate each other. He just doesn't think that dynamic can change, and frankly, he wouldn't much want to change even if he could.

    JETS: The Jets are in gear,
    Our cylinders are clickin'!
    The Sharks'll steer clear
    'Cause every Puerto Rican's
    A lousy chicken!

    From the very beginning, revenge for slights both real and imagined is in the air. The Jets are going to stick it to the Sharks because they feel the Sharks have been sticking it to them. Nothing else matters in their minds.

    JETS: We're gonna rock it tonight,
    We're gonna jazz it up and have us
    A ball.

    SHARKS: They're gonna get it tonight;
    The more they turn it on, the
    Harder they'll fall!

    JETS: Well, they began it—

    SHARKS: Well, they began it—

    BOTH GANGS: And we're the ones to stop 'em
    Once and for all.
    Tonight!

    This "stop 'em once and for all" thing is what keeps tripping the gangs up. It never ends. It just creates this cycle of revenge that leaves people on both sides dead and anger levels higher than ever. It even consumes Tony, who was smart enough to opt out of it a long time ago.

    ANITA: A boy like that wants one thing only,
    And when he's done he'll leave you lonely.
    He'll murder your love; he murdered mine.
    Just wait and see,
    Just wait, Maria,
    Just wait and see!

    We do wait and see, and while Maria's tempted to commit revenge the same way that Anita is, she just doesn't make that leap. This scene's important because it states very clearly that revenge is still a choice, not something that's forced on you.

    ACTION: We've gotta show them who's on top!

    JOYBOY: The Jets!

    ACTION: Let's do it now!

    You can go through all the justifications for revenge: the elaborate reasons, the feeling that the world will end if you don't settle the other guys' hash. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to petty power dynamics: you need to show everyone who's boss. We're supposed to leave that logic on the 3rd grade playground. Unfortunately, we don't.

    MARIA: If Chino hurts him, if he touches him, I swear to you I'll...

    ANITA: You'll do what Tony did to Bernardo?

    MARIA: I love Tony.

    ANITA: I know. I loved Bernardo.

    Anita's warning is more than just selfish. She's saying that this business is getting bloody and that loving Tony may be a luxury Maria can't afford. I mean, what if some crazy fool blows Tony's head off?

    ICE: Boy, boy, crazy boy
    Get cool, boy!
    Got a rocket, in your pocket
    Keep coolly cool, boy!
    Don't get hot,
    'Cause man, you got
    Some high times ahead.
    Take it slow and, Daddy-o,
    You can live it up and die in bed!

    Ice must have heard that popular phrase, "revenge is a dish best served cold." Ice fully intends to get even with the Sharks. He just needs to do it without the cops getting involved. And that means all of the Jets have to play it cool. They'll have time for payback once everyone calms down.

    ANITA: Bernardo was right. If one of you was lying in the street bleeding, I'd walk by and spit on you.

    Anita didn't start out this vindictive. She got pushed into it from all the hate from the Jets. Yes, she makes a choice, but that choice would be a whole lot easier if the Jets weren't trying to assault her.

    ANITA: Don't you touch me! I got a message for your American buddy. You tell that murderer that Maria's never going to meet him. You tell him that Chino found out about them and shot her. She's dead.

    Taking revenge can be a lot easier that shooting someone dead. It can be just planting the seeds of a bad idea, spreading false information… and then waiting for the hate that's already in the air to do the job for you.

    MARIA: All of you! You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets, or guns, with hate. Well now I can kill, too, because now I have hate!

    Yeah, Maria's angry. But unlike the Jets and the Sharks, she doesn't take revenge, Not on Chino and not on anyone else. She simply tells them all what they have done, and completely shreds the "getting even" excuse that most of them have been using to excuse their behavior.

  • Society and Class

    RIFF: Tony, this is important.

    TONY: Everything's important, Riff. You, me, the sweet guy I work for.
    […]
    I promised Doc I'd clean up the store tonight.

    When Riff tries to convince Tony to come to the dance to confront the Sharks, he resists. We see him cheerfully hauling around cases of soda at Doc's store and generally being a good guy. He's done with the Jets; other things are more important to him now. He's become a hardworking guy; it's a hopeful picture. Does the movie's ending prove there's really no escape from your social circumstances no matter how hard you try?

    MARIA: If Bernardo knew.

    TONY: We'll let him know. I'm not one of 'em, Maria.

    MARIA: But you are not one of us. And I am not one of you

    Racial conflict divides people into "us" and "them," and this never ends well. Tony's the romantic who thinks that their love will transcend that. Maria's more practical, probably because as an immigrant, she's been on the receiving end of racist attitudes.

    RIFF: Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
    Ya gotta understand--
    It's just our bringin' upke
    That gets us outta hand.
    Our mothers all are junkies,
    Our fathers all are drunks.
    Golly Moses, naturally we're punks!

    Although this is a comic piece, it shows us that Riff knows a lot about the causes of juvenile delinquency—or at least what the generally accepted theories are. Naturally, the Jets are singing it to each other because the people in a position to do something about it (like Sgt. Krupke himself) really just don't care.

    A-RAB: Officer Krupke, you've done it again.
    This boy don't need a job,
    He needs a year in the pen!
    It ain't just a question of misunderstood;
    Deep down inside him, he's no good!

    RIFF: I'm no good!

    JETS: We're no good, we're no good,
    We're no earthly good,
    Like the best of us is no damn good!

    The song ends with the Jets confirming all of the class prejudices levels against them. Kind of a bummer for such a funny and upbeat song, but it shows that Riff knows the score.

    SCHRANK: Now look, fellas. Let's be reasonable. If I don't get a little law and order around here, I get busted down to a traffic corner. And your friend don't like traffic corners. So that means you're gonna start making nice with the PRs from now on. I said nice, get it? Because if you don't, and I catch any of you doing any more brawlin' in my territory, I'm gonna personally beat the living crud out of each and every one of you and see that you go to the can and rot there.

    Schrank is the film's representative of the class in power. We're guessing he himself isn't much higher in the social pecking order than the Jets and the Sharks and he knows it could get worse. That gives him the motivation to keep them in line, or throw them in jail or even shoot them if the circumstances are right.

    SCHRANK: All right, wise guys. Now you listen to me. All of ya! You hoodlums don't own these streets. And I've had all the roughhouse I'm gonna put up with around here! You wanna kill each other, kill each other! But you ain't gonna do it on my beat. Are there any questions?

    BERNARDO: Yes, sir. Would you mind translating that into Spanish?

    Again, the Jets and the Sharks can't do much about Schrank, and the higher classes he represents. The best they can manage is giving him a hard time. It's not much, as acts of defiance goes, but it's really all they've got.

    SCHRANK: Oh, I know. It's a free country and I ain't got the right. But I got a badge. What have you got?

    At the end of the day, Schrank just dispenses with the pretense and gives them the truth: he has the power to do what he wants to them and he can exercise it just because. This is an admission that brute force is all he needs, not any kind of justifiable reason.

    ICE: You wanna live in this lousy world? You play it cool

    Hard to argue with his logic. Things are tough all over, and raging about it is only going to turn around and bite you. The only way the Jets can avoid being pounded by their social "betters" is to stay calm, keep it together and take revenge when the cops aren't looking.

    MARIA: Stay with me. Don't leave me...hold me...tighter.

    TONY: It'll be all right, I know it. We're really together now.

    MARIA: But it's not us. It's everything around us.

    TONY: Then I'll take you away where nothing can get to us, not anyone or anything.

    People in the underclass, or who are struggling financially often express the need to leave wherever they're at: to move out of their neighborhood or otherwise escape. It's hard to do it you don't have any opportunities, which may be why these two are ultimately doomed.

    SCHRANK: Why don't you get smart, you stupid hooligans? I oughta take you down to the station and throw you in the can right now. You and the tin-horn immigrant scum you come from.

    Again, stay classy, lieutenant. But he has a way of cutting through the phoniness and the bull and reminding the gang members of exactly how much power they don't have.

  • Youth

    TONY: End yer sufferin', little man. Why don't you just pack up yer gear an' move out?

    RIFF: 'Cause yer ma's hot fer me... It's 'cause I hate livin' with my buggin' uncle.

    TONY: Come on! Uncle! Uncle!

    MARIA: My brother is a silly watchdog.

    BERNARDO: Ah, my sister is a precious jewel.

    Brother and sister teasing each other, and thinking that nothing in their world is going to change. It breaks the heart knowing how wrong it's all going to go.

    RIFF: Dear kindly Sgt. Krupke
    Ya gotta understand
    It's just our bringin' upke
    That gets out of hand!

    Riff gives the age-old lament of the young: adults don't get them, and they usually end up doing more harm than good.

    ACTION: Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease.

    RIFF: Hey! I got a social disease!

    Of all the characters in the film, Riff is the one who really feels the most youthful: the guy for whom the world is his oyster, and there's no problem so big it can't be laughed away.

    DOC: When do you kids stop? You make this world lousy!

    ACTION: We didn't make it, Doc.

    This is a surprisingly astute observation from a no-good street punk, and if you've ever been young, you know exactly how it feels. Grown-ups wrecked the world, and then pass it on to their kids with the assumption that those problems are all the kids' fault.

    ACTION: When you was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age... You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you'll dig us!

    DOC: I'll dig you an early grave, that's what I'll dig.

    These kids only see Doc's age; they can't imagine that he might once have been feeling what they're feeling. Action doesn't believe in "older but wiser."

    MARIA: Make it not true, please make it not true!

    Remember when we asked when each character lost their youth? This is Maria's moment: a horrible, inescapable fact that she can't wish away and that she just has to deal with. Her beloved killed her brother.

    TONY: Doc, I'm in love!

    DOC: And you're not frightened?

    TONY: Should I be?

    DOC: No. I'm frightened enough for the both of us.

    Being old means knowing just how many ways the world can destroy you. Tony hasn't figured it out yet. Sadly, the learning curve's a trifle steep.

    DOC: Why do you kids live like there's a war on?

    It's a good question and it doesn't have an answer. Just more dead kids and shattered innocence that Doc couldn't prevent.

    TONY: Do you know what we're going to do in the country, Maria and me? We're gonna have lots of kids. And we're gonna name 'em all after ya.

    DOC: Wake up! There is no Maria, Tony.

    Tony is maybe the only character in the film who holds onto some remainder of his innocence until the end. He still hangs onto the hope that they can get away and live together, right up until the moment he dies.

  • Race

    ANITA: Back home little boys don't have war councils.

    BERNARDO: Ah, but they do here. You want me to be an American, don't you?

    There's a lot of tension among the Sharks about their identity. Are they Puerto Ricans or Americans? Historically, Puerto Ricans were considered American citizens starting in 1917, but immigrants like Bernardo weren't treated that way. They felt like second-class citizens.

    ANITA: Skyscrapers bloom in America

    ROSALIA: Cadillacs zoom in America

    CHORUS GIRL: Industry boom in America

    BOYS: Twelve in a room in America!

    Yes, there are great things in America, but as members of a minority, the Sharks don't see any of it. They're definitely not in on the American Dream.

    JETS: The Jets are in gear,
    Our cylinders are clickin'!
    The Sharks'll steer clear
    'Cause every Puerto Rican's
    A lousy chicken!

    That's one of the milder racial insults in the film. The epithets fly: Spic, Mick, Wop, Polack—you name it.

    MARIA: Now you know.

    ANITA: And you still don't know. He is one of them.

    MARIA: No, Anita.

    ANITA: Yes.

    Important tip about prejudice. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter the color of the skin or the culture or the dress or the gender or the sexual orientation. What matters is the very simple concept: us vs. them.

    ANITA: [to Maria] One of your own kind,
    Stick to your own kind!

    Anita fears that no good can come from Maria's romance with Tony. There's safety with sticking to your own group. Anita eventually accepts the relationship, but her fears are borne out.

    MARIA: If Bernardo knew.

    TONY: We'll let him know. I'm not one of 'em, Maria.

    MARIA: But you are not one of us. And I am not one of you.

    Love conquers all, it seems. Tony doesn't care about Maria's race. It's part of what makes him the hero. Maria's a little more realistic, though.

    JETS: Yeah, but these PRs are different. They multiply. They keep comin'. Like cockroaches. Close the windows. Shut the doors. They're eatin' our food. They're breathin' all the air. The end to free enterprise...

    Isn't this a familiar argument? We hear it all the time, every time someone's struggling and tries to blame it on immigrants or on a different race. They'll overrun us. They'll take all our stuff. It doesn't work that way, but it's an easy way to get people riled up.

    BERNARDO: Who jumped me the first day I moved here?

    ACTION: Who asked you to move here?

    If you listen to the nightly news, you'll hear this kind of talk a lot. Maybe this is why West Side Story gets produced year after year after year.

    BERNARDO: Come on, you yellow-bellied Polack.

    The word "Polack" is a slur against people of Polish descent. We're pretty sure Bernardo didn't start the slurring, but he knows it will get a rise out of Tony. That may be the most awful weapon these characters use against each other. Like all types of racism, Bernardo learns it from others (the Jets) who hate as well.

    MARIA: How many bullets are left, Chino? Enough for you, and you? All of you. You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets and guns: with hate. Well, I can kill too because now I have hate! How many can I kill, Chino? How many and still have one bullet left for me?

    Maria's words ring true. She's that filled with hate. Yet even then, she doesn't take revenge the way the other characters to. She rises above racism and sets the gun down. She's the one to finally breaks the cycle. But it just costs her everything to do it.