There are very distinct opposites presented in this musical, between which there is clearly an atmosphere of competition. Of course, the main dichotomy of the film is the American Jets versus the Puerto Rican Sharks. However, there is also an us versus them mentality as concerns the Jets' and the whole of society. Not only are the Jets put upon by the opposing gang, but also by the local law enforcement. Their air of superiority (no doubt fueled by low self-esteem and poor home lives) is evident throughout a lot of the movie, and is directed not only toward the Puerto Ricans. We see the dismissing way in which Riff and the gang treat non-Jets on the playground, the local police, and even Doc, the white American shop owner. Clearly, the gang is angry at the world, and they seek to blame the state of their miserable lives on the newly encumbering influx of the Puerto Rican immigrants to the island.
It is interesting to examine how gender is performed throughout this movie, on both sides of the Jets/Sharks dichotomy. I am particularly interested in the different ways in which women are both treated and involved by both sides.
Among the Sharks, the women are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. We witness this when Chino refuses to enter the dress shop because, as he says, it is a shop for ladies. I can hardly imagine Riff (or any of the Jets, for that matter) being so respectful as to keep his distance where his presence may not be entirely appropriate. Bernardo makes it a point to introduce his sister to all the new faces at the dance, knowing it would be unchivalrous to do so.
[...] I am curious as to why the two gangs act so differently toward their women. I imagine it is a combination of factors: upbringing, religious values, and the fact that the Puerto Ricans are essentially “strangers in a strange land”. (This last factor may contribute to the males' protectiveness over the females, something that may have not been exercised to such an extent back home.) I cannot help thinking, however, that the Jets only treat their women so indifferently because the women have demanded such treatment. [...]
[...] It is interesting in two ways. Firstly, neither Riff nor Ice make any attempt to defend their girlfriends. Secondly, Graziella defends her intelligence with a markedly dumb reply (using incorrect grammar, which was no doubt intended by the writers). Riff and Ice, supposedly the toughest of the gang, do not blink an eyelid after their are blatantly insulted. It seems that such macho men would have beat Action to a pulp, just for the sake of demonstrating their manliness, even if they had agreed completely that the girls are no more than “dumb broads”. [...]
[...] Gender in the Musical “West Side Story” There are very distinct opposites presented in this musical, between which there is clearly an atmosphere of competition. Of course, the main dichotomy of the film is the American Jets versus the Puerto Rican Sharks. However, there is also an versus them” mentality as concerns the Jets' and the whole of society. Not only are the Jets put upon by the opposing gang, but also by the local law enforcement. Their air of superiority (no doubt fueled by low self-esteem and poor home lives) is evident throughout a lot of the movie, and is directed not only toward the Puerto Ricans. [...]
[...] How would Graziella have reacted if Riff had decided to stand up for her? Just as the Jets viewed themselves as not needing the presence of the it seems as though Velma and Graziella also could have just as easily done without their male counterparts. This is America after all, and although the typical role for women in the late fifties/early sixties was still that of the contented housewife, younger generations of women were beginning to value independence and individuality. BIBLIOGRAPHY West Side Story. 1961. [...]
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