Played by Marlon Brando, Terry Malloy is the protagonist of On the Waterfront. Malloy is a disgruntled dockworker and former champion boxer, who also helps take care of domestic pigeons. His brother, Charley, is a member of Johnny Friendly's mob. Terry is a kindhearted and well-liked man in his community, often teased for his lack of intellect, but he has a gentle soul and a strong sense of what is right. His character is defined by his conflicting desires to do what is right and to remain loyal to his brother and Johnny Friendly, even though they have never truly looked out for his best interest. He is a tough guy and a moral leader, who eventually decides to stand up for his fellow dockworkers and testify against the dishonorable Johnny. Terry is also a charming romantic, as exhibited in his courtship of the pure-hearted Edie.
Terry Malloy utters one of the most famous movie quotes of all time, when he confronts to his brother about his crushed dreams as a boxer, saying, "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it." Terry goes on a journey from bum to hero over the course of the movie.
Played by Eva Marie Saint, Edie Doyle is a good girl who is going to school to become a teacher and have a chance at a better life than that of her parents when her world is rocked by the unjust murder of her brother, Joey. She is an idealistic, moral, and innocent character, an unusual match for the rough-around-the-edges Terry Malloy. However innocent and pure she may be, however, she is also more than willing to get her hands dirty and fight for what is right. Throughout, she accompanies Father Barry to the waterfront and into various dangerous situations, and she throws herself wholeheartedly into the quest to expose her brother's killers.
Father Barry is the strong-willed priest at the local church. Father Barry has little understanding of what happens every day on the docks, but once he begins to see the corrupt underworld that controls the waterfront workers, his convictions compel him to take action. Barry is not the typical priest, in that he has a taste for beer and cigarettes, can speak forcefully, and can even throw a punch (as when he punches Terry to try and set him back on course). Father Barry's desire to do the right thing and help the common man leads him out of the confines of the church and into the lives of working people, where he feels he can do the most good.
Michael J. Skelly aka "Johnny Friendly"
Johnny Friendly is the corrupt leader of the dockworker's union. A hardened criminal, Johnny Friendly is smooth-talking and friendly, but underneath that veneer has a violent and dangerous edge. He is “friendly” to the dockworkers so long as they're aligned with him. If they’re not on his side, they’re in big trouble. Johnny is comparatively fair with Terry Malloy because he is the younger brother of his right hand, Charley, but he never really works in Terry's interest. While he offers Terry the better jobs along the dock and plies him with bribe money and favors, Johnny is also the one who ruined Terry's boxing career by betting against him for money.
Charley "the Gent" Malloy
Charley Malloy is Johnny Friendly’s college-educated right-hand man and Terry’s older brother. Although he's a cold and calculating criminal, he still maintains a loyalty and love for his brother. When Terry confronts Charley in the taxi cab about the fact that he is the one that held Terry back from making something of himself and becoming a professional boxer, Charley listens and agrees to take the fall for him. Charley is smart and strategic, a slippery criminal, but he also wants to look out for his younger brother in the final moment of truth. It costs him his life.
Timothy J. "Kayo" Dugan
Timothy J. Dugan is a strong, wise-cracking Irish dockworker who does not hold back his criticism of Johnny Friendly and Friendly's corrupt operation. He agrees to cooperate with Father Barry, but it costs him his life, as he is murdered while on the job. Dugan is depicted as sarcastic but kind and moral. His greatest desire is to pilfer a bottle of fine Irish whiskey from one of the ships that he helps to unload as a dockworker.
A thuggish mobster who works for Johnny Friendly. He carries out Johnny's bidding at the docks and is responsible for Dugan's death.
Doyle is Joey and Edie's father, who has worked for many years on the waterfront and is hardened by the corruption there. While he wants desperately to discover who is responsible for killing his son, he also wants to keep his head down and not take any unnecessary risks. In the last scene of the film, he is able to enact revenge on Johnny Friendly when he pushes him into the water.
On the Waterfront Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for On the Waterfront is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.