West Side Story Vs. Ragtime Essay

985 words - 4 pages

Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story and Stephen Sondheim's Ragtime have similar and relating themes intertwined throughout each of their storylines. Each play portrays different ethnic groups that have immigrated into America and how these ethnic groups are treated and accepted by the dominate race, the Whites. Both Ragtime and West Side Story depict the initial idealistic view that the immigrants have of America. It is not until the immigrants in each play are actually experiencing their lives in America that they realize it is not solely a land of endless opportunities of freedom and success. Both the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story and the Blacks and Jews in Ragtime must face many hardships, injustices, and violence before all the races come to a realization that the way they are treating one another is not acceptable. By the end of the plays it becomes a common understanding that steps need to be taken in beginning to create a community with equal opportunities for all races.America, the land of "endless opportunity," seems a lot better when looking at it in a general sense from the outside than when a minority is actually experiencing it for the first time. This idea is depicted in both plays especially through the songs "America" (West Side Story) and "Success" (Ragtime). "America" illustrates examples of appealing aspects of America from Puerto Ricans with an optimistic point of view and is then followed with contradicting pessimistic views by other Puerto Ricans. "Life is alright in America, If you're white in America," the lyrics of the song explain that there is in fact opportunity for success in America, but only if you are a White American. Even though the minority immigrants are free once they come to America, they are not treated equally by the Whites as they thought they would be. "Free to be anything you choose, Free to wipe tables and shine shoes," the lyrics imply that the immigrants are never able to prove that they can thrive in America. Puerto Ricans can only get jobs that aren't thought of as respectable professions not because they are not qualified, but because they are not given the chance. Similarly to "America", "Success," which is performed largely by Tateh and the immigrants in Ragtime, depicts the initial optimistic views about America as well. When all immigrants reach America "hope is in the air," and they believe that "Anyone at all can succeed." The spirits of these hopeful lyrics sung by Tateh to his little girl are quickly diminished when he can not even feed or clothe his daughter. Tateh realizes that the America they "were supposed to get" is no where to be found. Tateh understands that he is going to have to work twice as hard and rely on luck more than skill to make it in this new world.The Whites do not make it any easier for the immigrants to feel...

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