On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront Quotes and Analysis

"You don't understand. 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. It was you, Charley."

Terry Malloy

Terry says this to his brother in the back seat of a cab. Charley has been tasked by Johnny Friendly with convincing Terry not to speak to the police. If Terry does not comply, Charley will have to send his own brother to be killed. After Charley offers Terry a higher position in Johnny Friendly's ranks, Terry refuses, explaining to Charley that he gave up his chance at his dreams as a boxer—and by extension, a more meaningful life—in order to do what Charlie asked him to do for Johnny in a match that was rigged for betting years earlier. This is perhaps the most famous line in the film, and an incredibly famous line in cinema history. In it, Terry expresses that he feels cheated of the ambitious and successful life he might have had had Charley allowed him to win the match all those years ago. Terry explicitly blames his plight on the corruption of his own brother, expressing his regret at not having been able to become the successful man he wanted to be. Instead of having class, ascending the social ladder as a professional boxer, he is nothing more than a lowlife bum, and he blames this on his brother and on Johnny Friendly.

"Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that's a crucifixion. And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead."

Father Barry

This is one of several of Father Barry's impassioned speeches, in which he speaks directly to the corruption taking place on the docks and seeks to motivate the dockworkers to stand up for their rights. Here Father Barry stands on the ship where Kayo Dugan was killed and yells this to the men. It is a warning to everyone that Dugan's blood is on their hands and that they must start taking responsibility for the corruption of the waterfront. Only once they can all agree to act in their own interest rather than in the interest of Johnny Friendly can they defeat the corruption taking place and have a positive impact. Here he invokes spiritual doctrine in order to show the men that they have a moral obligation to do the right thing. In comparing the murders of Joey Doyle and Dugan to the crucifixion of Jesus, he turns the dockworkers into martyrs for their cause, and the rest of the dockworkers into the violent Roman soldiers who watched as the son of God was killed. In speaking so passionately, Barry lets the men know that it is time for them to stand up and speak out, to take their lives and community back.

"I've never met anyone like you. There's not a spark of sentiment or romance or human kindness in your whole body."

Edie

Edie says this to Terry when they go to get a beer together at the dive bar. After Terry tells her his life philosophy, "do it to him before he does it to you," she says this, calling him out on his ruthless philosophy and his conviction that every man is out for himself. Edie speaks truth to power, challenging Terry in a way that other people in his life do not. Terry is such a tough guy, rarely showing people his vulnerability, but with this line, Edie is able to see right through his facade and determine that he is denying his own essential human qualities, like kindness and sentiment. While she is not exactly correct—Terry is indeed a sentimental and kind person after all—she is able to disarm Terry in such a way that intrigues him. In this quotation, Edie points out that Terry isn't being very gentle with her, that he is not exhibiting any tenderness.

Charley Malloy: You're getting on. You're pushing 30. You know, it's time to think about getting some ambition. Terry Malloy: I always figured I'd live a bit longer without it.

Charley & Terry

This exchange takes place in the cab ride in which Charley is trying to convince Terry to take a job with Johnny Friendly and not testify in front of the Waterfront Crime Commission. Charley urges Terry to take a job and try to ascend the ranks of Johnny Friendly's racket, a move that he defines as being "ambitious." However, Terry points out that being "ambitious," when it comes to working for Johnny Friendly, never seems to end well, and quips that he thinks he will live longer if he doesn't get too "ambitious." Seeing the corruption of Johnny Friendly for what it is—dangerous and unfair—Terry is not persuaded by Charley's encouragement for him to simply take the bribe and start looking out for himself. He knows that working for Johnny Friendly doesn't ensure anything; it just makes one's life all the more dangerous.

"You think you're God Almighty, but you know what you are? You're a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin' mug! And I'm glad what I done to you, ya hear that? I'm glad what I done!"

Terry

Terry yells this at Johnny Friendly to show Johnny that he has no regrets about testifying against him in front of the Waterfront Crime Commission. Emboldened by his having done the right thing, and angry about the fact that even though he behaved ethically he is being ostracized by his community, Terry digs into Johnny and rebukes him for his criminal selfishness. Terry has called Johnny out of his boathouse office in order to confront him about his mistreatment following the trial, and he expresses no regret for his actions. Rather than pander to Johnny or try and get back into his good graces, he speaks honestly and passionately, reducing Johnny Friendly from a god-like tyrant to nothing more than a common criminal. This line shows the transformation Terry has gone through and reveals his bravery and toughness in the face of adversity.

"But Pop, I've seen things that I know are so wrong. Now how can I go back to school and keep my mind on... on things that are just in books, that—that—that aren't people living?"

Edie

After walking home from the church with Terry, Edie's father tells her she should go back to school to continue studying to be a teacher, so that she can have better opportunities than her parents did. Having witnessed the corrupt workings of the waterfront that have resulted in her brother being murdered by the mob, Edie is unmotivated to return to school and pursue her more abstract studies and interests. Rather than focus on just the material in books, Edie wants to be where real issues are affecting real people, and try to make the world a better place. She tells her father that she couldn't possibly return to school and stay focused on her studies when she knows all of the exciting and horrible things happening in her own neighborhood. This quotation shows Edie's devotion and determination to learn the truth, even if it leads her away from safety and into more perilous circumstances.

"You want to know what's wrong with our waterfront? It's the love of a lousy buck. It's making the love of the lousy buck—the cushy job—more important than the love of man! It's forgettin' that every fellow down here is your brother in Christ! But remember, Christ is always with you—Christ is in the shape up. He's in the hatch. He's in the union hall. He's kneeling right here beside Dugan. And He's saying with all of you, if you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me! And what they did to Joey, and what they did to Dugan, they're doing to you. And you. You. ALL OF YOU. And only you, only you with God's help, have the power to knock 'em out for good."

Father Barry

This is another part of Father Barry's speech to the dockworkers after Dugan's death. In spite of the rampant corruption—which is so bad that a man can be killed even for almost informing the police—Barry urges the men to remember that there is a higher power that presides over their actions. Even though they feel controlled by Johnny Friendly and his power structures, Jesus Christ and God are higher powers that are with them at all times. The "lousy buck," the greed that has led to the corruption of the union, has led the mobsters astray from the light of Christianity and a spiritual practice. Father Barry wants to remind the men that they are connected to one another not only by their occupation and their situations but by the fact that they are all human beings under God's power. In trying to appeal to their higher spiritual sensibilities, Father Barry hopes that he can encourage them to work for good and work together rather than bend to the corrupt and evil will of the mobsters. Perhaps if they can remember that they are not alone, and that they have a spiritual alliance with God, they will be able to muster the strength to resist.

"You'd better get rid of that gun, unless you haven't got the guts. And if you don't, you'd better hang on to it!"

Father Barry

After Johnny Friendly kills Terry's brother Charley, Terry takes a pistol to Johnny's bar and holds the patrons hostage. Father Barry finds him there and tries to talk some sense into them, urging him that if he resorts to more violence he will only put his life in more danger. Instead of wielding a gun and threatening Johnny, Father Barry tells him, he ought to wield a stronger weapon, the weapon of the law, and appear in court the following day to testify. Having acted as Terry's spiritual advisor throughout the film, discouraging him from being too rash and persuading him to think about his higher duties rather than his baser impulses, Barry now tells him that the braver action would be to eschew weapons in favor of the truth. To Father Barry's mind, carrying a gun is not a brave approach. Rather, Terry ought to find bravery inside himself and do what he knows is right.

Edie Doyle: Shouldn't everybody care about everybody else?

Terry Malloy: Boy, what a fruitcake you are!

Edie Doyle: I mean, isn't everybody a part of everybody else?

Terry Malloy: And you really believe that drool?

Terry & Edie

This exchange highlights the primary differences between Terry and Edie in the middle of the film, when the couple go on a date to the bar. Edie is invested in the good of all men and wants to look out for her neighbors, as she believes that every person is connected to every other person. Terry belittles this kind of thinking as silly and even crazy, because he believes that the only person anyone can trust is him/herself. Edie has a more holistic philosophy, one which suggests that everyone is responsible for everyone else. She even goes so far as to give it a spiritual description—"isn't everybody a part of everybody else"—suggesting that individual interest is inextricable from the interests of the community. In this way, she is also serving as a kind of spiritual advisor to the cynical and individualistic Terry Malloy, by suggesting to him that he has a moral duty to his community and his colleagues. In this moment, Terry is unconvinced, and the exchange is playful banter, but Edie is already sowing the seeds of ethics and responsibility in Terry's conscience.

Edie Doyle: I want you to stay away from me.

Terry Malloy: Edie, you love me... I want you to say it to me.

Edie Doyle: I didn't say I didn't love you. I said, "Stay away from me."

Terry & Edie

After Edie discovers that Terry was complicit in the murder of her brother, she becomes, understandbly, very upset. After leaving the cab he took with his brother Charley, Terry goes to the Doyle apartment to try to make amends, but Edie will not speak to him, becoming furious with him, yelling, and sobbing about his part in her brother's death. In this quotation, Edie admits that Terry's revelation has not actually changed her love for him, and that while she doesn't want to see him, she is still in love with him. This quotation demonstrates the extremely complex emotions that Edie feels in relation to Terry and his participation in Johnny Friendly's racket. She is at once deeply in love with him and yet also incredibly upset with him because he did something that led to the death of her beloved brother.