‘A critical reading and contextualisation of West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephan Sondheim and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.’ West Side Story is a 1961 film set in the mid-1950s in the upper west side of New York. West Side Story is based and inspired by Williams Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story. In West Side Story the protagonist is the former leader of the Jets, Tony, who falls in love with Maria, who is one of the Puerto Ricans; their love is forbidden, just like in Romeo and Juliet. In this essay post-colonial theory, structuralism, semiotics and feminism will be discussed.
As the film is set in the mid-1950s this means that this was post the Second World War, marking the beginning of a new era. The Civil Rights Movement took place within this decade of the 1950s. The civil rights are the rights of citizens to receive equal treatment and be protected from discrimination and unfair treatment. There was a massive movement in America at this point, the African-Americans were in the spotlight for racial inequality and discrimination. In the upper west side of New York city it was classed as the ethnic blue-collar neighbourhood. Stephan Sondheim, the lyricist, was brought up in the upper west side of Manhattan amongst the blue collar society and gang warfare which is where the inspiration of its synopsis and setting has come from. In ethnic neighbourhoods there was a lot of people that were in the working class that conducted manual labour jobs, which involved jobs like warehouse work, maintenance, sanitation, mining etc. The choreographer, Jerome Robbins, was born in the lower east side of Manhattan which is where a lot of immigrants settled and joined the American society, for example the Puerto Ricans. This could have been his influence in choreography, keeping two separate ethnic groups separate encouraging them to not socialise with one another and opening the audiences eyes to the reality of gang violence within society. Gangs mainly fought over territory of land, in West Side Story the gangs were split into the Puerto Ricans (Sharks) and the Americans (Jets). They would have ‘rumbles’, which is when gang members from each gang would arrange a particular place to fight, for example, a park, school playground, a courtyard etc. Rumbles could result in broken bones and in some cases death.
Post-colonial theory is evident in the synopsis of West Side Story as there is rivalry and conflict between the two gangs. Post-colonial theory is about how the implications before and after colonialism which could result with liberation and oppression that could be ongoing. Edward Said is an American theorist, he discusses how the areas that migrants are forced to move in to, are made to make the migrants feel inferior to the native Americans who feel superior than them. “Most professional humanists are unable to make the connection between the prolonged and the sordid cruelty of practices such as slavery, colonialism and racial oppression, and imperial subjection on the one hand, and the poetry, fiction, philosophy of the society that engages in these practices on the other” (Said 1993)
This is evident in West Side Story where the Puerto Ricans enter the Americans turf and the Jets send the Sharks back to their own turf.
The idea of otherness is evident in West Side Story where the sharks are Puerto Rican by culture but their nationality is American because they moved to America, however, they are willing to different and distinct from the Americans, allowing them have their own unique identity and keep their historic roots. This also suggests that both the sharks and jets are also totalised as they are culturally generalised, which suggests because they are distinct and different from one another they are inspired by the colonisers rather than the colonised. However, there is conflict due to
References: Crowsky, Noam. (1994) Culture & Imperialism
New York ,Vintage
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1990) The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies,
New York, Routledge
Childs, Peter (2013) Introduction To Post-Colonial Theory
Fanon, Frantz (2001) The Wretched Earth
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