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.