Complex in nature, an individual's search for atonement is critical in the journey of self-exploration and understanding. Elia Kazan's classic "On the Waterfront" (1954), set in the late 1950's in America, follows the protagonist, Terry Malloy in the many changes he undergoes within the hostile environment, in order to seek redemption. Once a prize-fighter, he faces complications, leading him to become accepted by the longshoremen, however, as well as with the "union." Struggling to decide whether to be loyal to Johnny Friendly and his thugs or listen to his conscience and become a martyr for the longshoremen, he faces a moral dilemma. To a certain extent, Edie seems to be the encouragement that pushes Terry to behave morally. Moreover, it can be argued that the violent death of Charley forces Terry to change. Essentially, Terry is ultimately responsible for his own heroic transformation with the help of Father Barry's teachings. Therefore, although Edie does act as the incitation, Terry himself holds the responsibility of his change.
Terry Malloy, understands how to survive in the waterfront world, his philosophy being "about sticking with the right group of people just to get a bit of extra change in your pocket" and to "do it to him before he does it to you". However, at the start he is depicted as aimless and lacking confidence. Kazan illustrates these ideas by the way Terry mumbles, slouches and avoids eye contact with others, clearly indicating that he is brooding and inarticulate. However, he is shown to have a soft side in him, despite his aggressive attitude and Terry finds this through Edie. Edie epitomises individual conscience, which Kazan attributes to how she is an outsider as she becomes more involved with actions of disruption and protest against the corrupt union on the waterfront. It is Edie's sense of justice that pushes Terry to change and listen to his own conscience, as he cannot express his good but she can.