Study Guide

West Side Story Summary

West Side Story Summary

It's summer in the city.

After owning their miserable little neighborhood for years, the Jets, the finger-snapping street gang led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), find themselves in a turf war with the upstart Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris). Riff plans to challenge the Sharks to a rumble at a neighborhood dance and asks his old buddy Tony (Richard Beymer) to come along.

Tony's out of the game—he got a job—even though he founded the Jets with Riff, but he agrees to come along to help his friend out. Tony's been feeling lately like something great is gonna happen to him.

He's not sure what it is, but it's just around the corner.

When Tony arrives at the dance, he spots a girl who literally makes the rest of the world fall away and causes him to burst into song. Her name is Maria (Natalie Wood) and he croons it to us just in case we didn't get it the first time. Just one problem: she's Bernardo's sister, and he's very protective of her. He's even picked out her boyfriend: Chino, one of his Sharks.

Bernardo warns Maria to stay away from Tony. Meanwhile, Bernardo has a war council to set up the rumble. He and Riff agree to meet at Doc's drugstore, where Tony works, to hash out the rules. (Apparently, you need rules for a rumble, instead of just cutting to the chase and trying to kill the other guys any way you can.)

Afterwards, Bernardo and the Sharks retire to the rooftops, where his girl Anita (Rita Moreno) chides him for being too strict with Maria. The boys and the girls sing about the good bad things about life in America.


Tony meets Maria on the fire escape outside her building, and they confirm what we all suspected: they've got it for each other bad. They know they're on opposite sides of this fight, but they don't care.

Love will do that to you.

The Jets wait at Doc's for the war council, and mock the local symbol of authority Officer Krupke (William Brimley) when he shows up to hassle them. When the Sharks arrive, the rules for the rumble are hashed out with Tony's help. Bernardo and Riff's right-hand man Ice (Tucker Smith) will fight with their fists: winner take all.

Once the other gang members leave, Tony moons at Doc (Ned Glass) about how over the moon he is about Maria. Doc disapproves; he can see the trouble all this could cause

The next morning, Maria sings to her friends in the bridal shop where she works about how wonderful it is to be in love. Anita tells her about the rumble, and when Tony arrives to see Maria, she warns them both that Bernardo will have a furious fit if he catches them together. Tony promises to stop the rumble and make everything right. Afterwards, he and Maria enact a wedding among the mannequins in the bridal shop.

It's much less creepy and much more tear-jerking than it sounds. We swear.

The next evening, the rumble's on. It's only supposed to be Bernardo and Ice using their fists, but when Tony arrives to stop it, things escalate. Badly. Bernardo stabs Riff and kills him, then Tony, in a fit of rage, stabs and kills Bernardo. The cops arrive, everyone splits and yowza has this situation gotten out of hand in a great big hurry.

Bernardo's friend Chino (Jose DeVega) tells Maria what's happened and she's horrified. Because… yeah… your new boyfriend just stabbed your brother to death. Tony shows up and asks her to forgive him. He's ready to go to the cops and confess, but she convinces him not to.

Aaand they sing about the hopelessness of their love.

Give Shmoop a minute while we pull ourselves together…


Meanwhile, the Jets are ready for blood; Ice tells them to be cool. Chino gets his hands on a gun, and he's looking to settle the score with Tony.

Tony and Maria plan to run away, because seriously, getting shot is not part of the plan. But Anita, heartbroken by Bernardo's death, tells Maria that she needs to forget Tony. Maria insists that Tony isn't a hateful person and that Bernardo's death was an accident. Persuaded by Maria's profession of love for Tony, Anita agrees to sneak off and tell him that Maria will meet him at Doc's where they can escape the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this is a very bad idea. After almost getting raped by the Jets, a furious Anita instead tells Doc that Chino killed Maria in a fit of jealous rage.

When Tony hears that Maria's dead, he charges out into the night in despair, calling for Chino to kill him, too. Then he spots Maria, not dead after all. As he rushes to her, Chino shoots him.

The Jets and the Sharks arrive as Tony dies, cradled in Maria's arms with the two quietly singing to each other about the "Somewhere" they hoped to find. Maria picks up Chino's gun and blames both sides for the hate and violence that seems to have wiped out a significant chunk of the cast. A group of Jets and Sharks pick Tony up together and carry him away as the police take Chino into custody.

And just like that, the Montagues and Capulets—sorry, we mean the Sharks and the Jets—end their feud and solve the problem of gangs and gun violence in New York City forever.

Or something.

  • Prologue


    • A whistle pierces through the monotonous buzz of a working class neighborhood in New York City.
    • The aerial view wanders through the buildings until we close in on the Jets, a bunch of white gangbangers with names like Ice, A-rab, Baby John, and Action. They're running the basketball yard snapping their fingers. (There's a lot of finger-snapping in this flick. Lots of Daddy-o, too. It's the '50s.)
    • The Jets survey their territory where local kids try to enjoy their summer day in the sun.
    • When they bump into the members of another gang, the Puerto Rican Sharks, a game of one-upsmanship quickly ensues.
    • The tension escalates until the action comes to a head and the cops show up to break up the fun.
  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    Hassled by the Man

    • Officer Krupke and Lieutenant Schrank appear and proceed to taunt the kids with a clear intent to run those Puerto Rican scum out of town.
    • The Jets are not without honor, and refuse to become rats: they won't work with the cops even to defeat their enemies. You gotta have principles.
    • A few friendly threats from the cops and the boys simply snark until they depart.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    A Jet All the Way

    • After Krupke leaves, Riff leads the pack of Jets in a round of planning about how to be prepared for the upcoming confrontation with the Sharks.
    • They discuss weapons and locations (at the dance at the gym), which leads to our first number extolling the joys of being a Jet, managing to rhyme "Puerto Rican" with "chicken."
    • Everyone in the gang has your back at all times, like making sure you're home when your grandma visits.
    • They're going to beat every last gang on the street. So look out.
    • Riff meets Tony behind Doc's store where Tony's working as a stock boy; he's left gang life behind.
    • Riff leaves after Tony reluctantly agrees to make an appearance at the dance. He's just doing it for Riff because they're pals: Womb to tomb, birth to earth.
    • But he won't fight.
    • Tony has a feeling that something special is waiting for him just "out of reach, down the block, on a beach," so he decides to sing about it.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    Maria and… Chino?

    • Cut to the dress shop where Maria and Anita are discussing love and hemlines. She is so not going to let Maria wear that plunging neckline.
    • Maria knows that her brother Bernardo wants her to be with Chino, but she's just not that into him.
    • Maybe something special's waiting for her, too. Could be. Who knows?
    • Bernardo and Chino arrive to take them to the dance.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    Shall We Dance?

    • The dance is in full swing until Maria arrives.
    • The Jets and Sharks separate until the social worker (who bears a suspicious resemblance to Gomez Addams) breaks the tension with some announcements.
    • The attempt to bring peace on earth through dance slowly dissolves into a mambo battle where each group displays their moves.
    • Who knew? Apparently white guys can really dance. Of course, they had help from Jerome Robbins.
    • In the chaos, Tony and Maria see each other from across the room and lock eyes.
    • The music slows and the rest of the scene fades away like they're the only two people in the room.
    • Bernardo bursts in to separate them.
    • Maria's dragged off and Tony's left still in a daze.
    • Riff and Bernardo agree to a war council.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    In the Mood for Love

    • Tony's lost in the haze of love at first sight when he performs the song "Maria."
    • Back at home, Anita puts Maria to bed, and goes up to the roof with Bernardo.
    • Their friends are all there and they playfully discuss the trials of being an American immigrant from Puerto Rico.
    • The gentle teasing eventually becomes the lively song, "America."
    • The party breaks up so the boys can go to their war council.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    Balcony 2.0

    • Maria, ready for bed, suddenly hears her name being called from the street.
    • Love-struck puppy Tony is there in the alleyway waking everyone up.
    • Tony and Maria talk about the risks of their romance, but they don't care.
    • They sing the love duet "Tonight" with eyes wide open.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    Again with the Hassling

    • The Jets sit outside Doc's store, waiting for their war council to begin.
    • Officer Krupke shows up to deliver some petty authority.
    • After his departure, the Jets let off a bit of steam with the "Officer Krupke" number and a beautiful display of anti-establishment thinking, a dead-on parody of typical social-work thinking about juvenile delinquency.
    • Doc's store opens, and the Jets and the Sharks gather to discuss their war.
    • Doc tries feebly to dissuade the boys.
    • The discussion continues until an exasperated Tony arrives and admonishes everybody about not using weapons.
    • Tony gets them to agree to a fair fight: one fighter on either side, fists only.
    • Lt. Schrank appears and tells the Puerto Ricans to scram.
    • He then tries to get the Jets to spill the details about their plans, but the Jets, they do not snitch.
    • The Jets leave and Tony tells Doc about Maria.
    • Doc's frightened for him, but he can't discourage Tony.
    • Tony heads home.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    Back at the Dress Sho

    • Maria and her friends are working in the dress shop. She's in a great mood today.
    • Her friends tease Maria as she dances around and sings "I Feel Pretty."
    • The store starts to close up for the night and Maria tries to hurry Anita out the door before Tony arrives.
    • But he shows up before Anita leaves, and while she's not thrilled about it, Anita reluctantly agrees to keep their secret.
    • Tony and Maria fantasize about their future together.
    • They imagine their marriage and share one last duet before the chaos: reenacting a wedding scene in the empty store.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    Get Ready to Rumble

    • The characters march towards the rumble: The Jets and the Sharks sing about kicking the other gang's butt, Tony and Maria sing about how great it is to be in love, and Anita sings about how great it will be to get it on with Bernardo when the fight's over.
    • Nothing can possibly go wrong.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    The Actual Rumble

    • The Jets and the Sharks meet up, ready for a fist fight: Bernardo vs. Ice.
    • Tony arrives and tries to stop the whole thing. Why can't we all just get along?
    • The Puerto Ricans taunt Tony mercilessly, especially Bernardo, who really wanted to fight Tony instead of Ice.
    • It gets worse— much worse— until Riff jumps in to Tony's defense.
    • Riff and Bernardo fight, with Tony yelling at them to stop.
    • They don't stop; Riff gets stabbed.
    • In a fit of rage, Tony stabs Bernardo.
    • Sirens sounds and everyone scatters, leaving the bodies of the two dead gang leaders behind.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    "He did what?!"

    • Maria waits for Tony on the roof, but it's not Tony who scrambles up the catwalk to find Maria dancing in the moonlight.
    • Chino appears shaken and sweaty, his face bruised.
    • Chino tells Maria that Tony has killed Bernardo.
    • Maria flees, devastated, to her bedroom.
    • Tony sneaks in through the window.
    • He explains his side of the story as Maria pounds on his chest in a hopeless rage.
    • Maria understands what happened the moment he describes Riff's death at Bernardo's hands.
    • Tony and Maria sing "Somewhere," still hopeful that they can find a way out of their damaged world.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    Keep Calm and Regroup

    • Jets run crazily through the streets.
    • They slowly begin to regroup.
    • Ice gathers the boys and manages to help them work off their rage through some rhythmic finger snapping and dance.
    • He asks them to play it "Cool."
    • Jet-wannabe Anybodys arrives with news that Chino is hunting for Tony with a gun.
    • The Jets decide to find Tony first so they can keep him safe.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    A Boy Like That

    • Tony and Maria wake up together after spending the night as Anita comes to see Maria.
    • They agree to meet at the bus station and escape.
    • Tony hurries away, and Anita sees him fleeing down the alley.
    • She notices the state of the bedroom, and looks on in horror.
    • She and Maria sing "A Boy Like That," and Anita begins to understand that Tony and Maria truly love each other.
    • Lt. Schrank arrives and interrogates Maria about her brother's death.
    • Maria asks Anita to go to Doc's for her. She doesn't want Tony to worry about her being late because of the police questioning her.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    The Set-Up

    • Back at Doc's, the Jets stand guard and try to play it cool.
    • Anita arrives to talk to Doc, as instructed by Maria.
    • Sadly, the Jets insult Anita and push her around.
    • "Push her around" comes dangerously close to rape before Doc arrives just in time to stop the insanity
    • Anita is enraged and lies to them, saying that Chino has killed Maria after finding out about her and Tony.
    • Doc goes to the basement to break the bad news to Tony.
    • Tony collapses under the tragic news and goes out into the night to find Chino, to have Chino kill him too. He just can't see living without Maria.
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    One Dead, One Wounded

    • Wild with grief, Tony runs into the streets, calling for Chino to kill him.
    • Maria arrives, showing Tony that she's not dead. He runs to her, just in time for Chino to gun him down.
    • Tony falls before they can reach each other.
    • They sing a refrain of "Somewhere" softly together one last time
    • Tony dies in Maria's arms as stunned Sharks and Jets look on.
    • Maria, enraged and filled with grief, grabs Chino's gun and proceeds to expound upon the dripping hate in the world. She threatens to kill herself.
    • The police arrive.
    • A mixed group of Jet and Sharks lifts Tony up and gently carry his body as Chino is taken away by the police.
    • Maria exits the scene alone.