As a contemporary musical, West Side Story differs from Romeo and Juliet in form and detail, but stays true to the tragedy of innocent love caught in a complex social web that predestines its demise. In West Side Story, love at first sight between Tony and Maria set off a tragic chain of events which bring the story to its heartbreaking conclusion. Maria is Puerto Rican, Tony, Polish-American; they are young, innocent, rebellious-indifferent to the societal boundaries which they are trespassing. Like Romeo and Juliet, love is all that matters to.
Inevitably, social reality intrudes upon the inter-racial lovers’ idealized world. Instead of the warring Montagues and Capulets, West Side Story revolves around two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. At this point in time, the impoverished white immigrant culture, which Tony represents, is being hreatened by the influx of new immigrant populations, especially the Puerto Ricans, who are beginning new lives in America. The young street gangs that arise from these ghettos demonstrate their frustrations and tensions through turf wars and street fights. Tony is a member of the Jets, the American gang. Maria’s brother, Bernardo, and her Puerto Rican suitor, Chino, are members of the Sharks.
Gangs are one of the results of poverty, discrimination and urban deterioration. Some experts believe that young people, undereducated and without access to good jobs, become frustrated with their lives and join gangs as an alternative to boredom, hopelessness and devastating poverty. Studies have attempted to determine why gangs plague some communities but there has been no definitive answer. As a result, people working to solve gang problems have great difficulty. They find the situation overwhelming, and the violence continues.
The reason for some of this vilolence has to deal with the differences in culture between the two gangs and there ethinicity. As we have learned in socilogy culture is the basically a bluepriont of for living in a particular society. The society that the gangs are living in is a rough city like environment that has poverty, no strong family ties and other sociological problems tht will cause the cultures to be different. The immigrants that are moving in priamarily Puerto Ricans are finding it hard to live with the Americans and dealiing with there unfiarness and having to live by the American norms. For the members of both groups are suffering from culture shock. This takes place when people hav ea hard time adjusting to a new culture that is different from their own. For the Americans and Puerto Ricans, they are not used to each other and they are unwanting in the beginning stages to try and understand the differences. So both are fighting each other to keep there culture alive. I think that is what all the fighting is for.
Language is also involved with these gangs. The Americans are at a disadvatage because they have never had to learn a language besides there own. The Puerto Ricans have had to learn two languages because they left their home for whtat they thought was a new and better life. The language barrier causes problems in itself.
With one one group being American and another being Puerto Rican both ethnicities that carry with them very different cultural traits. These beliefs, values, and ways of doing things are brought to the table and the or culture doesn’t recognize these traits so they automatically find problems with the other group. Culture is the ultiamte reason these groups are fighting and is the reason why these groups as well as any other ethnic groups will never fully get along. For some reason people feel the need to separate themselves by there culture and this is why discrimination has always been a big deal.
The word discrimination can always be a associated with racism. This is something that also takes place between the Polish-Americans and the Puerto Ricans. A large source of the racism that was present in the West Side Story society stems from one’s pride in his own race. People will always have pride in their ethnic background because they are taught to tresure this at an early age. This process is referred to as socialization. This is when as a young peson you are taught intellectual, phyisical, and social skills. The gangs were not taught the correct social skills to deal with other cultures because when they were young they lived in a sheltered environment with there own kind. This is also a time where persons start to learn and gain there own personalities. Each gang membe,r whether in the Jets or the Sharks, has there own perosnlity, but they share some of the same qualities with the other memebrs in their gang. The funny thing is they also have something in common with the opposing gang, but they are not taking the itme to figure out because on the surface all they see are the differences in culture and the societies they grew up in. There is so much emphasis on a persons heritage and the importance of it that one might learn to think tht their ethnic background is superior and so the level of pride increases. Pride in one’s race may eventually lead to covert racism thought.
Another difference that the gangs love to point out about their enemies is the status or social identity that they have. Each gang has a social deinfed positon or each gang has its own individual interests and thoughts. Or these reasons the gangs are at war and one day will have find a common bond like Maria and Tony did in themselves.
As in Romeo and Juilet the male lover died at the end of the movie. Tony was shot because of his love affair with a women outside of his race. This is something that happens all the time and it is still viewed by many as being wrong. This basis of these feelings come from prejudice. The negative energy that one shares against another can cause the conflicts anf the deifferences between them to be more of a problem than they really are. There wasn’t a real problem with Tony and Maria beig in love. The Jets and the Sharks and there families had nothing to do with there love. The two lovers didn’t ask them to like each other, but they only wanted to be together.
One thing I noticed about the gang members was that they were very young teenagers. They ddin’t seem mature enough to create there own thoughts about the other culture. Discrimination and the thoughts of hatred towards another culture must come from somewhere. The topic of social action comes in to play and this says that people do things conciously because of other people. There was part in the play after the killings that one of the Jet members was crying because he didn’t want to fight. He didn’t seem like he had any real hatred for the Shark members. One could say that he toook part in being a gang member because of peer pressure or he wanted to be part of somethig that his buddies were. Since the gangs were mnore than one person carrying out actions they were having social interactions against other ethnicties and this started the fighting.
West Side Story is a prime example of social mobility. With the Sharks moving into another social arena and having to now live under different and non understandable conditions this could easily and did cause conflict. The one ting that the city didn’t offer was an open society. The immiagrants couldn’t find an equal oppurtunity to live with their new neighbors. The city only offered status inconsistency and this caused the seperation between the immiagrants and the natives.
When the Jets walked the streets befire the sharks they had ownership and power. This power started to become unclear and this made them mad. The fight might have started over the difference in culture, but it left that subject and started on a power war. Both gangs wanted to feel like they were on top and to be on top and have your culture respected they felt the need to have the power and prestige.
At the end when Tony was killed Maria said a wise thing. “You all killed him and Bernardo and Riff. You all killed them with hate.” This is what the story was all about. The hate that was shared by both gangs had for the other wasn’t necessary but was there. The hatred must first exit the the gangs minds before the discrimination and fighting stops. They must not stick to there own kind as Bernardo said but join together and notice the similarities. This will eleviate some of the hatred and work towards looking at each other as equals.