English & EAL

On the Waterfront: Terry’s Confession (Part 4)

Lisa Tran

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Outside the church the next day, Terry approaches Father Barry, revealing that he was the one who ‘set Joey Doyle up for the knock off’. Terry then shares his side of the story, concluding that ‘Edie is the first nice thing that’s ever happened to me’. Although he wishes to reveal the truth, Terry is ambivalent as he knows that ‘ratting out’ the mob will also mean that he will be implicating Charley in the process. Seeing that Terry has reached a crossroad, Father Barry responds by encouraging Terry to begin clearing his conscience by approaching Edie about truth.

Terry agrees, and soon meets up with Edie. He finally unveils the truth that he has been desperately hiding from her since Joey’s death. Shocked and terrified at Terry’s involvement in her brother’s murder, Edie hastily runs away from Terry.

Later that day, Terry is back at Joey’s Coop. The Crime Commissioner officer arrives on the rooftop to once again investigate Terry and his link to the mob. This time however, instead of approaching him as an authority, he pretends to be merely taking a rest after visiting several other buildings. The officer strikes up an informal chat, stating that he remembers Terry being beaten up a few years ago in a boxing fight. Terry insists that he actually ‘held that bum up for half a round’ prompting the officer to ask why he then lost the game. Terry responds by uttering that he was just doing ‘some people a favour’, meaning Friendly and his brother.

At the Longshoremen Local 374 shed, Friendly and his men have noticed Terry’s frequent encounters with the Priest and Edie, and debate on whether or not he will betray them by testifying in court. Charley argues for Terry, saying that ‘he’s a good kid’, but Friendly states that he just wants to know if Terry is ‘D and D or a canary’. Consequently, he sends Charley to investigate where his brother lie.

At Friendly’s bidding, Charley organises to pick up Terry on their way to ‘The Garden’, where Terry used to have his boxing competitions. When Terry enters the taxi, Charley informs the driver to firstly make a quick stop at River St. Charley offers his younger brother a lucrative job at a new pier. However, Terry is unsure, since he does not want to continue working for Friendly. Charley demands him to take the job before they reach 437 River St, presumably the location where Terry will be killed for betraying the mob. Desperate, Charley holds a gun against Terry, threatening him to take the job. Stunned at Charley’s actions, Terry calmly says ‘no’ to his brother and slowly pushes the gun away. Charley is overcome with despair. It is revealed why Terry lost the important boxing match that ended his career many years ago. Charley had ordered Terry to purposely lose to Wilson, his opponent, in a strategic move by Friendly to bet against Terry and ultimately reap the earnings. Terry confronts his brother, stating that he could have easily beaten Wilson, ‘I could had class, I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum’. Knowing that he is the reason why Terry is now suffering under the hands of Friendly, Charley gives his brother the gun and allows him to escape, knowing full well that when he returns to Friendly, he will be facing his death for double-crossing his boss.

That same night, Terry arrives at Edie’s home yet she refuses to let him in. Angry that he has failed to share the truth with the authorities, she implores him to listen to his conscience. However, Terry is able to break in. The two reunite by sharing a kiss after he states that ‘I want you to stay with me’. They hear shouting from Friendly’s men on the ground, who yell that Charley is outside waiting for Terry. Afraid that his brother is in danger, Terry hurriedly leaves with Edie running soon after him. Once on the ground, Edie passes her neighbour who whispers, ‘that’s the same way they called Andy, the night I lost him’ suggesting that Terry is walking into a trap.

The two run along a back alley towards the area where the voices were originally heard from. A car suddenly appears, speeding straight towards them. The two narrowly escape the car however, Terry notices Charley who has been shot dead and hung up onto a wall with a hook. Knowing that the murder was the work of Friendly and his men, Terry furiously declares revenge asserting that ‘he will take it out of their skulls’.


Friendly has not only manipulated the stevedores into doing his bidding, but also warped their way of thinking. Terry believes that disclosing information to the authorities is ‘stooling…when you rat on your friend.’ However, Father Barry later clarifies that ‘what’s ratting for them is telling the truth for you, can’t you see that?’ As shown through Terry’s hesitation, Friendly has seemingly brainwashed the longshoremen by replacing what is supposed to be ‘speaking the truth’ or ‘standing up for oneself’ with the words, ‘ratting’ and ‘stooling’. This effectively demonstrates Friendly’s immense power over the men and the lengths he will go to in order to maintain the control.

Terry’s revelation signifies a turning point in the film. As the background music reaches its crescendo, this reflects on the gradual accumulation of Terry’s courage prior to this point, and at the music’s peak, Terry is finally able to cast away his fears and share the complete truth with Edie. In contrast, the beating music also emphasises the shocking truth that is pounding straight towards Edie. The sound is also overbearing, muting Terry’s voice as he reveals the crucial words that will change Edie’s perspective forever. In conjunction with the close-up shot of Edie shaking her head, this reflects her desire to ‘block out’ the painful words as she is struggling with the truth. The back and forth close-up shots of both characters are used to highlight the raw emotion of inner anguish between the two.

After Terry divulges the truth, a transformation within Edie occurs. Kazan begins to portray her as a young woman, rather than the innocent St Anne’s student as shown in earlier scenes. In the scene where the two passionately kiss for the first time, the angelic representation of Edie is once again observed as she is positioned above Terry on top of the rooftop, with the spotlight focused on her hair. Their passionate kiss is as though Terry is accepting and ‘embracing’ the truth. This has been the image created of Edie during the first portion of the film, where her purity and goodness is instilled into others. After the revelation of Terry’s involvement in her brother’s death however, Edie is forced to step out of her naïve phase in order to cope with the truth. The maturation is depicted through her parallel emerging sexuality. In the scene where Terry breaks into her home, she wears only a thin white slip, demonstrating that she has moved into a more sophisticated frame of mind, which allows her to confront and handle the evil forces around her.

Meanwhile, Terry’s confidence and perseverance continues to grow. He confesses that ‘I could’ve had class. I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum which is what I am.’ The fact that he is facing the truth demonstrates that he is finally ready to turn things around. He repeatedly uses the pronoun, ‘I’, which illustrates that he has developed self-preservation, as he will no long remain submissive to Friendly. Only when Terry makes the decision to challenge Friendly is he, for the first time, shot against an open sky. It is as though he has become another one of ‘God’s messenger’s sent from heaven, since he joins Kazan’s earlier compositions of Father Barry and Edie shot against the sky. When Terry runs outside after hearing Charley’s name from down below Edie’s apartment, the lighting in the back alley expresses the good versus evil polarity or in other words, Terry versus Friendly. At the end of the scene, Terry walks from the darkness into the light, depicting that he is finally escaping Friendly’s world and embracing his new role as the ‘canary’ of the waterfront.

Like many of the other characters in On the Waterfront, Charley is ridden with a guilty conscience, however in his case, it originates from Terry’s old boxing days. The venetian blind covering the window at the back of the taxi shuts out the outside world, indicating that the two brothers can reveal their true feelings to each other in private. After placing the gun against his brother, Charley realises that his loyalty belongs to his brother, not Friendly. For several years, he has put Friendly above his brother’s needs and as a result, Terry had to sacrifice his boxing career. His new sense of regret is shown through his fiddling of his black gloves. In contrast with Edie’s white gloves which represent goodness and purity, the black gloves symbolise Friendly’s world, a place filled with darkness and evil. It demonstrates that Charley has been ‘stuck inside’ Friendly’s world, yet when he feels responsible for the damage he has inflicted on Terry, he pulls one glove off, demonstrating that he is taking a step away from Friendly. Charley aims to redeem himself by poignantly sacrificing his own life to save Terry from the clutches of Friendly once again. The image of Charley’s death mirrors the image of Jesus on the cross. Hooked up against the wall, Charley is portrayed as a martyr who sacrificed his life for others. The stevedores often use the metallic hooks at work, and throughout the film many characters including Terry and Dugan are shown with the hooks hanging onto their shoulders, highlighting Friendly’s firm grip on these men.

Important Quotes

‘Favour, who am I kidding? It’s “do it or else.”’

‘It’s like carrying a monkey on my back’

‘Question of “who rides who.”’

‘If I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel.’

‘And how much is your soul worth if you don’t?’

‘Conscience – that stuff can drive you nuts.’

‘That joker from the crime commissioner’s office.’

‘You mean call a cop? Are you kidding?’

‘You was a Golden Warrior once.’

‘It was all over, except for the lousy bet!’

‘When those guys want to win a bet, there’s nothing they won’t stop at.’

‘He’s a bum.’

‘This girl and the father, they got their hooks in the kid so deep he doesn’t even know which end is up any more.’

‘All I want to know is: is he D and D or is he a canary?’

‘Maybe the boy is out of line, but he’s just a confused kid!’

‘First he crosses me in public and gets away with it, then the next joker, pretty soon I’m just another fellow around here!’

‘…It’s time to think about getting some ambition.’

‘There’s more to this than I thought, Charley. I’m telling you there’s a lot more.’

‘I could’ve been a lot better, Charley.’

‘Take the job Terry. No questions, take it.’

‘You could have been another Billy Conn.’

‘That skunk we got you for a manager he brought you along too fast.’

‘It wasn’t him Charley. It was you.’

‘You should’ve taken care of me a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take dives for short-end money.’

‘I could’ve had class. I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum which is what I am. Let’s face it.’

‘That’s the same way they called Andy, the night I lost him.’

‘I’m going to take it out of their skulls.’

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