Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: A Comparison in Themes

The common themes between the two renowned stories.

West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents is actually a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The West Side Story is set in Upper West Side Manhattan. It is about rivalry between two teenage gangs of different backgrounds. Anton, a member of the white gang, fell in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the rival Puerto Rican gang.

Romeo and Juliet is undoubtedly the most popular romantic love story to ever hit the literary world. It talks about intense passion between the star-crossed lover Romeo and Juliet. Their love was doomed from the start because of their feuding families- the Montague represented by Romeo and Capulet, by Juliet.

The overriding theme, of course, between the two stories – Romeo and Juliet and The West Side Story is love – deep, intense and passionate love. The kind that defies everything even families and loyalties.

The love Tony felt for Maria and Romeo for Juliet made them defy their families, their friends and their social world. Their love is strong and forceful, so much so that it made them revolt against the very world they revolved in and, sometimes, even against themselves.

Intensity of thoughts and feelings dominate both stories. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s character takes on intensity to another level. His capacity for deep passionate love is merely an extension of his capacity for intense feelings of all kinds. His intensity is evident when he sneaks into enemy’s territory to seek Juliet. Or, when he kills his wife’s cousin in a duel. And finally, when he committed suicide upon erroneously believing Juliet is dead.

The same way, Tony of the West Side Story is capable of extreme emotions. This is when he killed his lover’s brother Bernardo in a heated argument. He also challenged Chino to kill him when he thought Chino killed Maria which as we know led to his untimely demise towards the end of the story.

Both male characters seem defined by their extreme emotions and capacity for deep love. This deep intense emotion shared by both male protagonists is what propels both stories forward. Had these male characters, Romeo and Tony, did not have such intensity of feelings in the first place, the love they feel for their women – Juliet and Maria respectively, would not have existed.

The women, on the other hand, exhibit logic, objectivity and strength. Juliet, for instance, showed her determination when she first obeyed her parent’s request to try to love Paris, their favored suitor. The same way, Maria showed force of will over emotions

when she agreed to marry Chino.

Their objectivity comes across when Maria decided to flee the city with Tony to leave the chaos behind them. When Romeo killed Tybalt, Juliet did not follow Romeo right away. Instead she made a logical decision to allow her love for Romeo to guide her priorities. Both Juliet and Maria, in essence, decided to cut themselves loose from their social connections when they decided to follow their love. Juliet cut herself off from her Nurse, her parents and her social status when she followed Romeo. Maria cut loose from her family, her dead brother’s memory and her social circle when she decided to run away with Tony.

Juliet killed herself upon finding out that Romeo is dead not out of weakness but out of love. She stabs her heart with a dagger which showed a lot more courage than taking down pills. Maria, on the other hand, did not commit suicide upon seeing Tony killed by Chino. She used the tragedy to point out to the feuding groups Jets and Sharks how their hate led to Tony’s death. The two groups declared truce in the process.

There is no specific morale that one can gather from both stories on love and relationships. Both stories seek to portray the chaos and obstacles that surround passion and love.

Violence brought about by love is another theme that permeates in both stories. In both stories, love is linked to death. As in the case of Tony who died at the end of the story in West Side Story. The same goes to Romeo and Juliet, who met untimely death at the end of the story.

Violence is very pronounced in both stories as we are being made painfully aware from the very start that the two protagonists come from feuding clans such as in Romeo and Juliet or feuding culture such as in The West Side Story. We have this unshakeable feeling that trouble is brewing as soon as the story commences.

Another theme in the story is the conflict of individual self with society. What the protagonists in both stories Romeo and Juliet wanted were different from what the society expected from them. Romeo and Juliet fought for their private feelings to the end by committing the ultimate act of privacy- suicide. In the same vein, Maria and Tony fought for their private love but they did not really resort to extreme means. Tony’s death is not brought about by suicide although he challenged the villain Chino to come to kill him when he thought Maria was killed. Still, Tony’s death is not self-inflicted or voluntary as in the case of the lovers Romeo and Juliet.

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38 Comments
  1. purnomosidhi
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    I agree with the content of your article. West Side Story is modern version of Romeo and Juliet.

  2. Thankz
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 9:19 am

    uve made my life aot easier lol

  3. anafe sabas
    Posted November 16, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    West side story – unfortunately i am not familiar with the storyline, but surely i am curious to know now!

  4. Kate
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you so much! You made my life so much easier :)

  5. steven
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    thanks. you made my life so much easier

  6. dick
    Posted February 22, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    thank you very much for this it helps a lot

  7. luke
    Posted March 1, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    thanks alot your article was helpful

  8. bia
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    THANK YOU SO SO MUCH!!!!!!U HAVE HELPED MY LIFE IN AN EXTREAM WAY!!!!!

  9. Bob
    Posted March 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    You have no idea, how much, you have just helped my life.

  10. Billybob
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    This is an awsome website..I really helped me further my learning in both of the stories. It also helped me to compare and contrast the stories. I had more details that had helped me!!

  11. becca
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    these two stories are both wonderful tales of love and hate teh classic ying and yang but it makes one think does this true love exsist only in stories or can loveing someone so much defy not just family and friends but one’s self

  12. mia
    Posted May 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Thank You! This really helped. There were some great thoughts in here!

  13. mz.ashley
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 10:37 am

    thankz
    for helping wit this storys

  14. Tarzo
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

    @ becca, it’s yin and yang. You said ying. It is a common misconception that the Taoist symbol is a ying-yang which is not true (it is yin-yang). Although I believe that you were trying to use it to talk about the polars that they represent, such as male and female, you made an extremely common mistake in the process. Don’t get angry with me, I am just trying to clear up some of the mistakes and misconceptions around Taoism.

    The article was quite helpful, thank you.

  15. carl
    Posted March 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    this sucked

  16. Marco
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

    You know what Carl, you suck =P. Anyway, I really liked this article and its thoughts and insight have helped me compare the two more accurately and educatively. Thank you for your input here =).

  17. D
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    The main theme of R&J love? Hardly. It seems like it’s a deconstruction more than anything else. This casts doubt over the rest of the article, especially considering its amateur writing and lack of a proper conclusion. If I were an English teacher I’d give this a C.

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  20. Tanner
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    hi joe

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  28. Martharmalew
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  29. Tanner
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  30. Tanner
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  31. Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    school sux so much

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    Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Hey everyone

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  37. Aaron Yates
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 10:35 pm

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  38. bob
    Posted August 21, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Thanx

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