West Side Story (1961 film)

West Side Story (1961 film) Literary Elements


Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

Leading Actors/Actresses

Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn






Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music, and Best Sound

Date of Release

October 18, 1961


Robert Wise

Setting and Context

Set on the West Side of New York City in 1957, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Square

Narrator and Point of View

No narrator or particular point of view

Tone and Mood

Dramatic, Moving, Epic, Tense, Joyful, Romantic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Tony and Maria are the protagonists, Lieutenant Schrank and the tense atmosphere of the neighborhood are the antagonistic forces

Major Conflict

Two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, are fighting for control over their neighborhood. The gangs are divided by race— whites versus Puerto Ricans. In the midst of this conflict, Tony, a former member of the Jets, and Maria, the younger sister of the leader of the Sharks, fall in love.


There climax occurs when Chino shoots Tony.


The song "Something's Coming" functions as a perfect example of foreshadowing within the film. In this song, Tony expresses that he has been feeling as though something important is coming right around the corner, ending the song by pondering "maybe tonight." That night at the dance Tony meets Maria, which sparks the major love story and conflict of the movie.


Both gangs frequently use understated terms when talking about violence.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

The opening scene of West Side Story uses an innovative sweeping aerial shot of New York City that progressively zooms in and moves toward the neighborhood and park where we first meet the Jets.


The musical is an interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Jets and the Sharks act as the feuding Montagues and Capulets. There are also allusions to Catholic saints.


The major paradox at play in West Side Story is that only through hate, death, and violence are the gangs able to find peace and reconciliation. The final scene shows the two gangs finally able to come together after Chino shoots Tony in the playground.


Many of the songs in West Side Story use parallelism to highlight contrast. "America" is a fantastic example of the use of this literary tool:

Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America
Life is all right in America
If you're a white in America