Question: ‘It is Terry’s anger that leads him to testify against Johnny Friendly, not his newly awakened conscience.’ Discuss Essay

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‘It is Terry’s anger that leads him to testify against Johnny Friendly, not his newly awakened conscience.’ Discuss


While Terry’s conscience has indeed been ‘awakened’ by the deaths of Joey Doyle and Kayo Dugan, and the influence of key figures such as Edie, Father Barry, Charley & the Golden Warriors, it is not the only factor that convinces him to testify against Johnny Friendly. Similarly, it is not merely the death of his brother Charley that angers him and compels him to testify either; it is a combination of factors that ultimately holds sway. There is no doubt that Terry is angered by Charley’s death and seeks ‘revenge’ on Friendly, but he is also angered by his perception of himself as a ‘bum’. Furthermore, Edie & Father Barry are influential in Terry’s moral education, alerting him to a sense of collective conscience (the Roman-Catholic ‘love for one’s fellow man’ as well as the brotherhood of longshoremen) as opposed to his individual desire to ‘be somebody’. When Friendly accuses Terry of the worst sin, ‘rattin’ on us’, Terry is finally able to articulate that he had been guilty of ‘rattin’ on himself all these years’, indicating that he now wants to be truthful with and to himself. Thus, Terry’s decision to testify against Friendly begins with his moral indecision regarding the death of his collective brothers and their treatment by Friendly’s gang, is fuelled by his newly-awakened conscience and his brother’s murder, and only made possible when Terry has finally resolved the moral dilemmas that plague his conscience.

Right from the opening scenes of the film, Terry is portrayed as someone who is not only different (his attire separates him from Friendly and his gang) but someone whose conscience is troubled. Terry’s pained expressions, his constant visits to the rooftop (for clarity), his checkered jacked (representing a checkered past as well as the grey area that resides amongst black and white moral matters) and the scar above his eye (symbolizing emotional scarring) reflect his incomprehension as to why Joey Doyle was indeed killed and not just ‘leant on’. In fact, Joey’s death marks the beginning of Terry’s plagued conscience. Terry is not only upset that Joey has been killed rather than roughed up, he is also concerned about the role he unwittingly played in Joey’s death. Crucially, it is Joey’s sister, Edie, who ‘leans on’ Terry and reminds him to do what is right according to his conscience. Kazan depicts Edie as a conservative dresser; her naivety, her blonde hair (which appears white on the monochrome screen) and the teacher training she has undertaken in a nunnery all serve to reinforce Edie’s role in Terry’s life as an angelic force concerned with his moral education. This message is further reinforced by Father Barry, who, although initially reluctant to hear Terry’s confession, encourages him to ‘tell it to her straight – no curves.’

Father Barry alerts Terry to a sense of brotherhood undermined by Friendly and his gang and articulates for the inarticulate Terry the ‘crucifixion’ others such as Kayo Dugan have undergone for him, thus clarifying and resolving his moral dilemma. At this point, Terry’s affiliation with Father Barry and the other ‘canaries’ is clearly evident as he punches Truck, whose disparaging remarks and threatening behaviour now earmark him as the enemy, and Edie looks longingly at him while stroking her brother’s jacket – the same jacket seemingly imbued with the power to convince those who wear it to speak out. Indeed, Father Barry’s sermon delivered in the ‘hole’ of the ship (as opposed to the cushy work undertaken in the ‘loft’) is a turning point in Terry’s life. Religious imagery abounds in this scene, not only in Father Barry’s language, but in the way he is ‘stoned’ with various items (reminiscent of Christ on the cross, further echoing his message about being crucified) and in the way he is ‘raised up’ on the ship’s pellet hoist, both literally and figuratively in Terry’s eyes as someone who has done the right thing by their conscience and stuck by the promise he made with Kayo to go “all the way, side by side”. In this sense, Father Barry acts as a role model for Terry, as well as a guiding figure.

Terry feels that his life has been devoid of such a guiding figure and holds his brother Charley responsible for the fact that he never got a chance to fight “in the garden, all [he] got was a one-way ticket to Palookaville”. Being a former boxer, the language of the ring motivates Terry and is employed by Father Barry and even the ‘flatfoot’ on occasion to stir Terry to action. In this sense, Terry is somewhat manipulated by these key figures to act, but it is also his latent desire to ‘be somebody’ that leads him to testify against Friendly. In the cab ride Charley and Terry share, Terry reveals three crucial things: how the predicament he finds himself in is partially attributable to Charley’s inattentive care (‘you shoulda looked after me’); his desire to ‘be somebody…a contender…someone with class’; and his (as yet undefinable and inarticulate) concern that there’s ‘more to this’. Terry is not led to testify against Friendly for selfish-ulterior motives - quite the opposite: he comes to the realisation that he can finally ‘be somebody’ by helping his fellow man, whilst also being able to ‘stop rattin on’ himself by staying true to his conscience.

While these events no doubt weigh heavily on Terry’s mind and his subsequent actions indicate that he will indeed undertake some act of defiance against Friendly, Charley’s murder appears to be the single event that compels him to finally testify. At this point, Terry is consumed by his desire for revenge and is angered to the point of action. Indeed, Kazan’s depiction of a bleeding Terry, gun in hand, blinded by rage in the ensuing scenes is reminiscent of the lone figures of the Western genre who single-handedly seek revenge. However, it is Father Barry who convinces Terry to look beyond the personal realm of revenge by murdering Friendly and appeals to his newly-awakened conscience about what is the right thing to do morally as well as his collective conscience – doing the right thing by his (longshoremen) brothers: ‘You wanna fix him for what he did to Charley and a dozen other men? Don’t fight him in the streets like a hoodlum; fight him in the courts with the truth, as you know the truth!’

Terry’s decision to finally ‘sing like a canary’ puts him at odds with the ingrained culture of ‘D & D’ represented by the Golden Warriors who idolise Terry and who subsequently, in an act of vengeance, kill his beloved pigeons. Kazan effectively highlights how Terry made the right choice by showing how the Golden Warrior’s actions, performed in anger, have an immediate but not a long term effect, while Terry’s morally correct actions serve to bring about an even greater good. Accordingly, Terry is not motivated to testify against Friendly by anger alone; his conscience, newly-awakened by Edie, Father Barry and finally realised by Terry himself, also leads to Terry’s final decision.

(1,175 words)

Planning Phase:

Question rephrased:

‘What leads Terry to testify against Johnny Friendly, is it his ‘newly awakened conscience’ or his anger?’

Note: I am presuming that ‘Terry’s anger’ alludes to his emotional state following his brother’s murder…(could it mean something else?) – anger at being a ‘nobody’ – a “bum”. His newly awakened conscience opens his mind to the injustices of the waterfront and this angers him.


Yes – It is ultimately the death of his brother Charley that stirs Terry into action.

No – Terry’s conscience has only been awakened (by Joey Doyle’s death, Edie, Father Barry) to the plight of his fellow man. (This seems less plausible to me because Terry is a weak person – revenge is a more compelling notion/reason for a former pro boxer)

The ‘yes, but’ approach: Terry’s conscience has been awakened by Joey’s death, Edie and Father Barry, but it is ultimately his brother’s murder that compels him to testify.


  • Terry is morally compromised; he is portrayed initially (and indeed for most of the film) as a troubled man, wrestling with his conscience.

  • His portrayal of a troubled man is aided by the actor’s facial expressions, his body language (slumping/arms folded), which suggests he has been wounded/pained and the director’s choice to (especially in the scene where he is first questioned by the detectives from the Crime Commission) rarely shoot Brando from a front on angle; choosing instead a profile shot for ambiguity. Furthermore, his attire separates him from the mob – he is a part of it, but separate. The scar on his eye – scarred…He loses count – troubled mind.

  • Doyle’s death – begins his trouble…His ‘conscience’ is troubled – we clearly see this.

  • Father Barry and Edie alert him to his conscience and indeed a collective conscience.

  • Kayo’s death and f. Barry’s speech about ‘crucifixion’ articulate how Terry feels about his moral dilemma.

  • “I’ve been rattin’ on myself all these years and I didn’t even know it.” Terry has broken the code of being honest with himself. Friendly’s collective ‘us’ vs. Terry’s individual ‘I’…

  • Anger equates to revenge which is personal in nature; significantly, it is F. Barry who encourages/convinces Terry to fight him “in the courts”; thus, it is Terry’s awakened conscience that convinces him to testify “You wanna fix him for what he did to Charley and a dozen other men? Don’t fight him in the streets like a hoodlum, fight him in the courts!” – encourages him not to be a bum about it…. ‘with the truth, as you know the truth’.

  • Appeals to his former profession – boxing – using appropriate language also compel him to stand up.

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