Study Guide

West Side Story Revenge

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The Sharks started it. No, the Jets started it. But Bernardo killed Riff. Right, but then Tony killed Bernardo and Chino killed Tony. Lieutenant Schrank would like to see the whole lot of 'em locked up.

Everybody wants a piece of somebody in West Side Story.

Revenge is what drives the violence in the film. The audience arrives in the middle of an ongoing turf war that leads to one reprisal after another and keeps the cycle of violence alive and well. It's impossible to know where it really began, and it probably doesn't matter. Young men still die in the streets by the thousands because of this kind of senseless payback cycle—you can read about in the newspapers (or newsfeeds or whatever) every single day.

Shmoop would like to find out whose fault all this is, because if we ever get our hands on them, we'd…well, never mind.

Questions About Revenge

  1. Does anyone in the film actually benefit from taking revenge? What does it usually lead to?
  2. What kinds of incidents provoke the characters into wanting revenge? Are there any common features in those incidents?
  3. Which characters choose not to take revenge and why?
  4. Is revenge a means of expressing power in this film? Why or why not?

Chew on This

The need for revenge empowers the characters to act in the face of a threat.

Revenge is seen as self-defeating: causing problems rather than solving them.

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