On the Waterfront

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 5

Terry:   “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been someone, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it . . . It was you, Charlie.”

Terry says this to Charlie at the end of the profoundly intimate taxicab conversation where the two tense brothers are alone for the first time in the film. Charlie, who cares deeply for his brother but hasn’t looked out for him properly, allows himself to deny the reason for Terry’s failed boxing career. He condemns mistakenly the rotten trainer who supposedly mismanaged Terry’s skills. But in truth, Charlie’s association with Johnny Friendly meant that the union had a boxer it could control. Through Charlie, Johnny Friendly ordered Terry to tank a big fight, guaranteeing himself a huge payoff by betting on the opponent. Even though Charlie made sure Terry got a bit of cash, Terry complains here that Charlie killed what was really at stake—his soul, his pride, and his self-esteem. This well-known quote reveals the complexity of the brothers’ relationship and expresses Terry’s deep inner pain that the relationship probably cannot be salvaged. The brothers love each other—but Terry now acknowledges his brother’s partial responsibility for his current bind, and he finally realizes that he can escape the label of “bum” only through his own actions.