What Is 'West Side Story' About? Exploring the Iconic Film's Themes and Storyline

What Is ‘West Side Story’ About? Exploring the Iconic Film’s Themes and Storyline

The Story of ‘West Side Story’

‘West Side Story’ is a musical film released in 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. It is a modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, set in the upper west side of New York City in the 1950s.

The film tells the story of two rival gangs, the Jets, a group of white American boys, and the Sharks, a group of Puerto Rican immigrants. The Jets are led by Riff, while the Sharks are led by Bernardo. The tension between the two gangs escalates when Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, Bernardo’s sister.

Exploring the Themes

1. Prejudice and Racism

‘West Side Story’ explores the theme of prejudice and racism through the portrayal of the Jets’ resentment towards the Sharks and their biased attitudes towards the Puerto Rican immigrants. The film highlights the consequences of such discrimination, emphasizing the need for unity and understanding.

2. Forbidden Love

The theme of forbidden love is central to the film’s storyline. The relationship between Tony and Maria is met with opposition from both sides of the rivalry, leading to tragic consequences. This theme explores the power of love and the obstacles that can arise when societal boundaries are challenged.

3. Youth and Rebellion

‘West Side Story’ also delves into the theme of youth and rebellion. The film depicts the struggles faced by young individuals growing up in a tough neighborhood, as they navigate their way through conflicting loyalties and personal aspirations. This theme resonates with audiences of all ages, as it reflects the universal experience of finding one’s place in the world.

The Impact of ‘West Side Story’

‘West Side Story’ has had a significant impact on both film and theater. It revolutionized the genre of musicals by incorporating realistic themes and complex characters. The film’s use of dance and music to convey emotions and advance the plot set a new standard for storytelling in musical films.

The film also highlighted social issues such as racism and discrimination, sparking important conversations in the 1960s. Its powerful message of love and acceptance continues to resonate with audiences to this day.


‘West Side Story’ is an iconic film that explores themes of prejudice, forbidden love, and youth rebellion. Its timeless message and powerful storytelling have made it a classic in both film and theater. By addressing important social issues and portraying complex characters, the film has had a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. ‘West Side Story’ continues to captivate audiences with its unforgettable music, dance, and themes that resonate across generations.


1. What is the story of ‘West Side Story’?

The story of ‘West Side Story’ centers around two rival teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City. It is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

2. What are the major themes explored in ‘West Side Story’?

Some major themes explored in ‘West Side Story’ include love, prejudice, gang violence, racial tension, and the power of music to bridge cultural divides.

3. Who are the main characters in ‘West Side Story’?

The main characters in ‘West Side Story’ include Tony, the former Jet member who falls in love with Maria from the Sharks, Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo, Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend, and Riff, the leader of the Jets.

4. How does ‘West Side Story’ tackle the theme of love?

‘West Side Story’ portrays love as both beautiful and tragic. Tony and Maria’s love defies the hatred between their rival gangs, highlighting the power of love to transcend societal divisions. However, the story also explores the consequences of forbidden love and the tragic ending Romeo and Juliet-inspired.

5. What role does racial tension play in ‘West Side Story’?

Racial tension is a significant theme in ‘West Side Story’. The conflict between the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks illustrates the prejudice and discrimination faced by immigrants and people of color in mid-20th century America.

6. How does music contribute to the storyline of ‘West Side Story’?

Music plays a crucial role in ‘West Side Story’. The characters communicate their emotions and struggles through song and dance, highlighting the power of music to express complex feelings and bridge cultural gaps.

7. What are some of the iconic songs from ‘West Side Story’?

Some iconic songs from ‘West Side Story’ include “Somewhere,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” and “I Feel Pretty.” These songs have become classics and are often performed in musical theatre and popular culture.

8. What impact did ‘West Side Story’ have on the musical genre and film industry?

‘West Side Story’ revolutionized the musical genre by tackling darker and more mature themes compared to traditional musicals of the time. It paved the way for more socially relevant and emotionally complex musicals. The film adaptation, directed by Robert Wise, was critically acclaimed and won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

9. What is the message conveyed through the tragic ending of ‘West Side Story’?

The tragic ending of ‘West Side Story’ serves as a cautionary tale about the destructive nature of prejudice, hatred, and violence. It highlights the need for compassion, understanding, and breaking the cycle of violence to prevent further tragedy.

10. Why has ‘West Side Story’ remained an enduring cultural phenomenon?

‘West Side Story’ has remained an enduring cultural phenomenon due to its timeless themes, powerful storytelling, and memorable music. Its exploration of love, prejudice, and the human condition continues to resonate with audiences of all generations.