"West Side Story" presents a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the classic tale of two young lovers caught on the wrong sides of a dangerous feud. The story follows the rise and fall of a romance set against cultural tension and gang violence in 1950s New York.
The primary theme of "West Side Story" involves the ill-fated relationship between Tony and Maria. Tony belongs to the Jets, an American gang from Manhattan, and Maria belongs to a community of Puerto Rican immigrants represented by the Sharks gang. Tension between the communities threatens to destroy Tony and Maria's love. This plot includes themes of romantic love, hatred, violence, and racial and ethnic prejudice.
A secondary theme of "West Side Story" concerns the adversity endured by immigrants settling in America. The story graphically illustrates this struggle through violence between the street gangs. The struggle also surfaces in conversations between Maria and Tony and their respective communities. Moreover, the crime and poverty of inner-city life fuel racial and ethnic prejudice, ultimately leading to death and destruction.
"West Side Story" contains many other themes. These include the individual versus society, the violence of romantic love, and the inevitability of fate.