On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront Summary and Analysis of Part 2: Edie and Terry


At the church, the priest looks at his watch, waiting for other people to arrive, and Edie looks anxiously at the door. The group is small, and the priest expected more, but evidently many were too intimidated by the possible repercussions to attend. The priest begins by evaluating the problems at the docks: “the working conditions are bad,” “they’re bad because the mob does the hiring,” and “the only way we can break the mob is to stop letting them get away with murder.” Terry enters from the back of the church and slowly takes his seat. When the priest asks the men who killed Joey Doyle, no one speaks up, and the room is silent. He then asks, “How can we call ourselves Christians and protect these murders with our silence?” Still, no one says anything. Edie looks back at Jimmy Collins and asks him why he won’t say anything, since he was Joey’s best friend.

Suddenly Dugan notices that Terry is sitting in the back and becomes irritated that “the brother of Charley the Gent” would come to their meeting. The men grow suspicious of Terry as Dugan suggests that his brother Charley likely knows more about who killed Joey. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Terry says, smirking. The priest grows more passionate, imploring the men to speak up, but when he questions Dugan directly, Dugan insists that on the docks they have always been “D & D,” which stands for “deaf and dumb.” In other words, they never speak up, and pretend not to know anything. The priest assures him that in “this country” they have “ways of fighting back…getting the facts to the public, testifying for what you know is right, against what you know is wrong.” As the camera moves around the room, we see the men smirking to themselves. No one speaks, and the priest realizes he cannot convince them to stand up for themselves.

Another priest dismisses the meeting, and as he begins to read some closing words from the Bible, a baseball comes flying through a nearby window, breaking the glass. We then hear the sounds of bats rattling outside as the men stand in alarm. We see a number of mobsters drumming baseball bats outside the window, and the men leap from their seats. The other priest scolds the priest who called the meeting (whose name we will learn is Barry) for getting involved in what is actually “police business.” The men huddle near the wall, and we see a number of fistfights taking place in the alley outside the church. Father Barry urges them to leave in pairs, and Edie becomes upset when she realizes she has lost her father. Terry grabs her and urges her not to go outside. They run down the aisle of the chapel and Terry leads her upstairs. While Terry and Edie manage to escape safely from the higher level, the men below are beaten violently by the thugs waiting outside for them. Father Barry chases the men out of the church, and finds Dugan, bloodied and beaten, sitting on the ground. He confronts Dugan, asking him if he still wants to stay “deaf and dumb.” Dugan agrees to testify against the mobsters and Father Barry assures him, “You stand up and I’ll stand up with you,” even after Dugan warns him that they won’t spare him just because he’s a priest.

Terry and Edie end up in a park, and she tells him she can get home safely on her own. When Edie asks him whose side he’s on, he assures her that he’s on his own side, as a beggar approaches them asking for a dime. When the beggar looks at Edie, he recognizes her as Joey’s sister. “Your brother was a saint, he was the only one who ever tried to get me compensation!” the beggar exclaims, moving towards Edie. Terry pushes him away, but the beggar looks at him with angry disappointment. When Terry throws him some change, he doesn’t accept it and says, “You’re still a bum,” before walking away. Edie tells Terry that everybody loved Joey, and asks him if he knew her brother very well, and asks why the beggar was so disdainful towards him. When Terry dismisses the beggar as a washed up drunk, Edie begins to walk away, back towards her school.

Terry continues to walk with her and asks her if she’s training to be a nun. Edie informs him that it’s just a regular college in Tarrytown that is run by nuns. Terry tells her, “I don’t like the country, the crickets make me nervous.” He sits on a swing and asks her what she does at college, and Edie tells him she is training to become a teacher. When Terry tells her that he admires her “brains” and compares her to his brother Charley, who had a few years of college, she retorts that “it isn’t just brains, it’s how you use them.” They continue to walk, and Terry tells her that he remembers her from parochial school, that she had braids and braces. “You was really a mess,” he says. Growing more and more uncomfortable, Edie tells him she can walk home alone. Terry tells her that she grew up “very nice,” a compliment she reluctantly accepts before walking away. Before she goes, Terry asks Edie if she remembers him from school, and she tells him that she remembered him from the moment she saw him. “By the nose, huh,” he asks, alluding to his memorable nose, which makes her laugh. He walks towards her again as she tells him that she remembers that he was in trouble all the time. Terry remembers that the nuns weren’t very nice to him, and Edie tells him that she would have handled him with “a little more patience and kindness.” She adds, “That’s what makes people mean and difficult: people don’t care enough about them.” When Edie smiles at him, Terry insists on walking her home and asks if he’ll see her again. She says she doesn’t know, and they walk to her house together.

Back at her house, Mr. Doyle gives her a bus ticket to go back to school, but Edie tells him that she isn’t ready yet. Mr. Doyle insists that she go back, as he has saved money for her to go to college for the explicit purpose of allowing her to avoid getting involved with people like Terry Malloy. As he packs her bag, he tells Edie that Terry is the brother of Charley the Gent, “Johnny Friendly’s right hand and a butcher in a camel-hair coat.” Edie holds a cat and tells her father that even though Terry acts tough, “there’s a look in his eye.” Unconvinced, Mr. Doyle compares Terry to the pathetic kitten that Edie brought in to take care of. When Edie tells her father that Terry wants to see her again, he becomes suddenly concerned, telling her that he has worked hard all his life as a dockworker so that Edie could make something of herself and become “something decent” like a teacher. Edie tells him that she has to stay, that she’s seen too much to go back to school and focus on things “that are just in books, that aren’t people living,” because she needs to discover who is responsible for Joey’s death.

The scene shifts and we see Edie walking on the rooftop near the pigeon coop. The pigeon coop is labeled “Joey’s Coop,” and she crouches down beside it to look at the pigeons. Nearby, a boy alerts Terry to Edie’s arrival on the rooftop. She greets him and when he asks her what she’s doing there, she tells him she’s “just looking.” He introduces her to the boys, who are called the “Golden Warriors.” When she tells Terry that Joey used to raise pigeons, he says that he’s been taking care of them after Joey’s death. “You know this city is full of hawks?” he tells her, explaining that the hawks prey on the pigeons. He then invites her to come over to the pigeon coop and examine a pigeon, a male named “Swifty.” Terry tells her that Swifty is his lead bird, and that he protects the other pigeons from invaders. When Edie laments that “even pigeons aren’t peaceful,” Terry comforts her by telling her that they are at least faithful, and that they stay with their mates until death. He gives Edie a pigeon egg, then asks her if she wants to get a beer. She accepts.

At a nearby bar, blues music plays and Terry orders them each a beer. The bartender tells him about a boxing match, and reminisces about Terry’s days as a boxer. “Are you really a prizefighter?” Edie asks him, and he tells her that he and his brother were put in a children’s home as kids after their father died, and that he ran away and started fighting, which is how he met Johnny Friendly. “Johnny Friendly bought a piece of me,” he tells her. Terry becomes bored with his own story, but Edie insists that she wants to hear, insisting, “Shouldn’t everybody care about everybody else?” Terry laughs at her, calling her a “fruitcake,” but she insists that “everybody [is] a part of everybody else.” They toast and drink their beer, and Terry tells Edie his life philosophy, which is “do it to him before he does it to you.” Edie confronts Terry about his lack of sentiment, romance, and “human kindness,” but he assures her that those qualities only get people in trouble, and that it wasn’t his idea to get rid of Joey. Terry rails against Edie’s sentiment and speaks cynically about Father Barry, while she questions him about his apparently indifferent perspective. “Down here it’s every man for himself,” he says. When Edie dismisses his philosophy as “living like an animal,” he retorts, “I’d rather live like an animal than end up like…” before faltering. Edie, finishes his sentence: “Like Joey.”

Edie is clearly upset, but Terry urges her to enjoy herself and stop dwelling on the death of her brother. Trying to coax her into having some fun, he stands to turn on some music, but feels too much remorse and asks her what’s wrong. “Help me if you can, for God’s sake,” she says. While Terry wants to help her, he simply cannot. When he encourages her to have more beer, she gets up to leave, but he speaks tenderly to her and asks her if she’s upset with him. Edie tells him that she knows he would help her if he could, caressing his face, then standing and leaving the bar.


In this section of the film, things start to unravel for both the dockworkers and their corrupt leaders. Father Barry is a fundamentally good man, determined to do what’s right and help the dockworkers find justice. The only problem is that none of the men are willing to break their unspoken pact to stay “deaf and dumb,” because the consequences are either a beating or death. Their circumstances have pushed them into positions exceeding simple questions of right or wrong. While Father Barry has the privilege of thinking about the issue on moral terms, he is protected by his station in the priesthood. Indeed, even he is putting his life at risk by helping the men.

Throughout the film, the hardened and cynical dockworkers are shown in states of muteness, prevented as they are from speaking out against Johnny Friendly. When Barry asks for someone to speak out, the room is silent, and the camera pans to their faces. They exchange knowing and cynical looks—clearly they have something to say—but they remain completely silent. Even Joey’s best friend will not speak out. The conditions created by Johnny Friendly and the mob are such that the workers are only connected by their silence, which barely connects them at all. On the waterfront, it is always every man for himself.

Stuck in between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to just get by without spurring too much trouble is Terry. Terry is undoubtedly conflicted. He has been contracted by Johnny to attend the church meeting and spy on who goes, but Johnny has done so because he questions Terry’s own loyalty. Johnny’s way of preventing Terry from becoming too critical of his operation is by offering him special jobs and obligations. Corruption justifies itself by the power that it gives to people who are willing to keep their mouths shut. Terry is someone who benefits from being in Johnny’s inner circle, but his remorse at Joey’s death and his interest in Edie pulls him away from Johnny and in the direction of Father Barry.

Father Barry and the religious faith that he represents are an important tool in the fight against corruption. While the dockworkers must submit to tough working conditions and are hardened by the corrupt forces at work on the waterfront, Father Barry promises a kind of redemption from their cynicism, and a redress from the horrible injustices taking place. Religion is a way out of difficult circumstances, as represented by Father Barry’s belief in the possibility of change. Edie too represents religion in some ways. While her college is just a normal college, people refer to it as “the Sisters,” and the authority figures at her school are nuns. As we learn in this section, college is Edie’s way out of a dead-end life, a deliverance from the corruption taking place in Hoboken. Edie and Father Barry are presented as parallel figures, one seeking to transcend the grittiness of life through religion and the other through education. Churches and schools are presented as redeeming institutions, places that spare people from the coarseness of life. Of course, churches and schools also have their limits. In order to make change, Father Barry and Edie must descend into the unethical depths of Johnny Friendly's racket in order to learn the truth and serve justice. As Edie says when her father wants to send her back to school, she feels the need to be where change is really happening, to see things “that aren’t in books, that are people living.” Both Father Barry and Edie have the qualities and intellectual resources that can deliver the men from their sorry position, but in order to do so, they must also rough it to some extent, and enter the harsher world of the dockworkers.

Pigeons become an even more explicit symbol in this section of the film. When Edie visits Terry on the rooftop, he shows her some of the pigeons and tells her about the pigeons’ conflicts with the more aggressive hawks that have been showing up in the neighborhood. The parallel is quite clear: the pigeons symbolize the good honest dock workers, while the hawks represent the corrupt forces of Johnny Friendly. Terry even identifies with one of the birds, a pigeon called “Swift,” who protects the others from harm. Edie and Terry’s conversation about pigeons is coded; it is their opportunity to discuss the ethical stakes of the conflict in their own lives, but allegorized through a discussion of the animal kingdom.