“That it is hard for Terry to tell the truth as he knows it. ” Terry Malloy’s predicament put him in a hugely challenging position, where he found it incredibly difficult to speak out about what he was involved in. The mob had total control over his life and for him, breaking free meant not only risking the most important aspects of his life, but also risking isolation and death. It is clear that, although in the end Terry did finally reveal the sinister secrets of life on the Waterfront, it is obvious that it took some large level of guts to do so.
Elia Kazan writes the part of Terry Malloy as one of courage and moral development under harsh circumstances in On the Waterfront. Terry had started a relatively healthy relationship with Edie Doyle early in the film. Her brother, Joey, had been recently murdered by Johnny Friendly’s crew of which Terry was involved with. Revealing his involvement with the mob risked his relationship with Edie, one of the very few meaningful things in his life.
Terry’s guilt in keeping this secret from Edie was killing him on the inside, however he was under the impression that if Edie were to find out, she would cease to be involved with him, or worse, hate him forever. Speaking out not only risked his social life, but also his physical wellbeing. As the mob had total control over what happened on the waterfront, Terry risked facing their retribution. Johnny Friendly did not think kindly of “rats” – those that did not follow the rules of “Deaf n Dumb”. This is evident in the death of Joey Doyle, whom was about to reveal the inner workings of the heavily corrupt waterfront government.
The fact that the mob had no problem with killing people who were threatening their control put Terry in a very scary position. Morally, he knew that telling the truth was the right thing to do, but facing the threat of death made the decision very difficult. Terry’s plan to speak up counted on the support of his fellow longshoremen. He needed them to stand up and follow him to kick out Johnny Friendly. There existed some doubt in Terry’s mind that the longshoremen WOULD follow him. They might be too scared of the repercussions if Terry failed to overthrow the boss.
Failing meant isolation from everybody, causing him to be unable to find a job and therefore unable to earn money to support his life. Ultimately, isolation would end in Terry becoming a homeless bum on the streets of the already poverty stricken New Jersey waterfront community. Speaking up against anyone was a mortal sin in the waterfront society. Terry was brought up in a society that followed the “Deaf n Dumb” approach to corruption. Initially, Terry found it hard to change the attitude that he was brought up with. I don't know nothin, I ain't seen nothin, I ain't sayin nothing”. With this attitude it is obvious why it was so hard for Terry to tell the truth to any law enforcement. The mob had ruled for so long that everybody was used to stepping back and letting them commit their crimes. Speaking against the mob carried so many potential repercussions along with it. Because of the social and physical endangerments not only to himself but to people he cared about, Terry found it difficult to tell not only Edie Doyle, but also the Crime Commission the truth about what happened to Joey Doyle.