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The Tragical Love in West Side Story 

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From my perspective, the greatest challenge for creation of drama and film is a lack of new stories to tell, because the content of stories has not evolved with the development of society. To solve this problem, two effective methods have been developed. The first one is to tell the old stories in an innovative way of expression. The second one is to introduce different historical backgrounds to provide different era meanings for the same story. It can be said that West Side Story has successfully combined these two methods to present a distinguishing story to audiences.

This musical is adapted from Shakespeare’s classical play Romeo and Juliet. The setting of the story switches from the 16th century Britain to the 1960s Upper West Side of New York City. The two feudal families Capulet and Montague becomes two irreconcilable groups of young hooligans consisting of Puerto Rican immigrants and local whites respectively. The male and female protagonists change from Romeo and Juliet of two rival families to Tony and Maria of two youth gangs. The same touching love encounters tremendous resistance under different historical backgrounds. Similar to their processor, Tony and Maria’s love is fragile in face of the brutal reality and will be inevitably overwhelmed. However, the same tragic ending does not affect the fact that love can never be truly defeated. ‘Neither story uses the marriage trope according to the way we have defined it here, for the love that binds the two lovers is not truly grounded in the differences that matter in the world around them but is presented rather as a pure force independent of that world and the opposing factions within it.’ [1] The lovers may be separated by external physical forces, but their love will never fade away. Instead, true love achieves a great victory eventually in audiences’ heart although the ending of both stories is in the form of tragedy.

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As we know, the United States is a country of immigrants. On one hand, it is an advantage for this nation to absorb talents from all over the world. On the other hand, complex immigration issue has been one of the most serious social problems in American society. The conflict and integration between native culture and immigrant culture run through the history of the United States. Nowadays, nationwide attitude towards immigrants becomes more open, and immigrants and their descendants are able to enter the core of American society. But in the 1950s, American society was at the peak of immigration problems, and the term ‘immigrant’ was still a strongly derogatory term. This is exactly the time period when West Side Story takes place. In the musical, Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, and his girlfriend Anita present realistically the inner conflicts as immigrants. On one hand, they are proud of being an American and hopeful of integrating into American society and realizing their own American Dream. On the other hand, they maintain vigilant and even resistive attitudes towards American culture. Perhaps this contradiction is one of the main reasons why immigration problem is so complicated and hard to solve.

Overall, West Side Story is essentially a tragedy. The lovers’ tragic fate has long been doomed since they are involved in the dilemma between brotherhood and love. But the performance form of musical has made this love story less heartbroken. Especially, the first half of the musical contains certain comedy elements of singing and dancing. This kind of emotional expression and transformation not only reduces the heavy feeling of the theme, but also visualizes the emotional tensions among characters.


  • [1] Kantor, Hammmerstein. WSS-National Identity.


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