Hi everyone! Here’s my analytical project for West Side Story .

Be a Girl! Beat It: Anybodys as an Omen of Death

West Side Story is a show with clearly drawn “male” and “female” universes. Female characters don’t directly involve themselves in the more violent side of the gang rivalry as the male characters do, save for one exception: Anybodys. First described as a “scrawny teen-age girl dressed in an outfit that is a pathetic attempt to imitate that of the Jets,” she’s a feisty tomboy who wants to prove her worth. Initially an easily dismissible nuisance to the Jets, she proves herself useful near the end of the show when she delivers important intel. “I heard Chino tellin’ the Sharks somethin’ about Tony and Bernardo’s sister,” she tells the Jets. “Then Chino said, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to get Tony.” However, aside from this literal warning of death that she delivers, Anybodys also acts as a symbolic omen of death throughout West Side Story.

Anybody’s wish is to be recognized as a Jet. At the beginning of the show, the Jets regard this dream as silly and unattainable. In fact, during her first appearance, she asks, “Riff, how about me getting’ in the gang now?” only to be met with jeers and taunts. The notion of her joining their ranks is downright laughable! This mirrors the gang’s sentiments towards violence and death as a possibility in their lifestyle. Whenever adult characters warn the teenagers about the dangers of their rivalry (for example, when Doc says, “I’ll dig you early graves, that’s what I’ll do,”) Jets and Sharks alike dismiss the prospect of dangerous consequences lightheartedly.

As the show progresses and Anybodys becomes more of an asset to the Jets, she begins to be seen as one of the group. Action even praises her with “You done good, buddy boy” after she supplies the Jets with intel about Chino wanting to “get Tony.” She responds with a lovestruck smile and “Thanks, Daddy-o.” While other characters suffer loss, abuse, and disillusionment at the end of the show, Anybodys is the only character to have her story completed on a positive note. This unfortunately mirrors the way death and violence is accepted as a grim reality at the end of West Side Story.

However, this grim reality isn’t obvious at first. Instead, it slowly sneaks into the universe of these characters, unnoticed until it’s too late. Likewise, Anybodys is associated with shadows and stealth. When she’s asked how she received her intel, she explains, “I’m very big with shadows, ya know. I can slip in and out of ’em like wind through a fence.” She is also often pictured slipping in and out of view, or as a disembodied voice calling to other characters before they notice her presence. Just like Anybodys, the prospect of death and violence slips into the lives of the characters like “wind through a fence.”

Throughout the show, Anybodys is also strongly linked to gun imagery. She often retorts to bullying from other Jets by miming “shooting” them with finger guns and saying “Pow pow!” The first instance of this is directed at A-rab, who responds by miming his death and saying “Cracko, jacko! Down goes a teen-age hoodlum.” Although this is a lighthearted moment, in the moment the characters all have the upcoming rumble on their minds. Consequently, Baby John kills the jovial mood by asking “Could a zip gun make you do like that?”, causing everyone to fall silent. In this moment, Anybodys foreshadows the later deaths and how quickly the relatively harmless daily antics of the gangs can tumble over the edge into serious violence.

Later, Anybodys mimes shooting two Jets girls, Graziella and Velma. However, instead of playing along like A-rab, Graziella mocks Anybodys’s “Pow” with a “Poo”, after which the two girls giggle and dismiss the moment. These two responses to Anybodys’s “shooting” are drastically different and gendered. The responses align with the gendered dynamics within the gangs — all the women in the gangs except for Anybodys are unconcerned with the dangerous antics of their male counterparts. The responses also align with the deaths — all the casualties in West Side Story are male and the female characters all emerge alive.

Another moment where Anybodys clearly parallels the prospect of death and violence right before the war council scene. Throughout the following scene, the two gangs play a game of chicken around bringing weapons to the rumble until Tony dismisses this prospect of violence by proposing a safe solution. However, right before this, Anybodys is likewise dismissed from the pharmacy. Previously “huddled by the jukebox,” she is ushered out of Doc’s drugstore with the other Jet girls. “Unlike the other girls, as she exits, Anybodys shoves the Sharks like a big tough man.” Anybodys not only leaves in a more physically aggressive fashion than the characters before her, but she also leaves right before the prospect of violence leaves.

In contrast, Anybodys is always present right around a moment of death. After the rumble and the first deaths in the show, Anybodys emerges “from the shadows” to urge Tony to flee before the cops catch him. In a wordless exchange, she “scurries to Tony and tugs at his arm.”

Later, Anybodys is also the penultimate person to talk to Tony before his death (Maria being the last.) Anybodys appears while Tony is yelling loudly for Chino as “a whisper from the dark” calling “Tony…” She emerges from the gloom after Tony responds by swinging around and asking “Who’s that?” However, after she tries to coax Tony to stop causing his ruckus, Tony responds, “You’re a girl: be a girl! Beat it.” Interestingly, Maria appears after this, although this is not a space for “girls” as established by Tony and the rest of the show. Certain spaces and activities in the movie are almost segregated by gender — Maria’s work, for example, or war councils and rumbles. In fact, one of the only scenes not divided by gender is the dance. Maria’s intrusion into this previously “male”-dominated space signals a change in the tides and the end of the show.

With these gendered spaces and the dynamics between the gangs and their girls, West Side Story links violence directly to masculinity in West Side Story and peace directly to femininity. However, Anybodys is the character who puts the most obvious effort into performative stereotypical masculinity. This is clearly for the purpose of being accepted by the Jets, but also has the effect of further linking her to the theme of violence and death. However, unlike in most other medias, violence and masculinity are not depicted as stronger than the stereotypically “weak” or “passive” peace and femininity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. For example, Maria is a tragic champion of peace and unity at the end of the show. Although the male characters wield physical power, Maria’s heartbroken breakdown becomes the only message to go through to both gangs. While she picks up a gun briefly, she does not inflict violence. Instead “she breaks into tears, hurls the gun away and sinks to the ground.” After grieving, she is the last character to leave the scene other than the adults; “despite the tears on her face, [she] lifts her head proudly, and triumphantly turns to follow the others.” She leaves in a posture of power and triumph. West Side Story subverts what we traditionally perceive as power —“strength” in the context of masculinity and violence is proven to bring death and defeat, while communication, peacemaking, and romance are symbols of victory and supremacy.

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