The Role of Mentors in ‘My Brother Jack’ and ‘On the Waterfront’

Mentors play an important role in shaping the values and morals of the individuals they guide; however, the impact of their contribution ultimately depends on their understanding of the individual’s inherent characteristics. Both Elia Kazan’s film ‘On the Waterfront’ and George Johnston’s ‘My Brother Jack’ delve into the influence of mentors in varying circumstances. While Kazan’s film considers the lack of personal development and internal conflict that occurs when an individual’s morality does not align with that of their mentor, Johnston’s novel utilises the first person perspective to explore the effect of mentors who create an oppressive environment. Both texts, however, highlight an effective mentor respects and understand the individuality of those they influence. Furthermore, both texts present clear warnings about the danger of mentors who have complete domination over those they are guiding, suppressing personal development. Additionally, ‘On the Waterfront’ and ‘My Brother Jack’ showcase the crucial role adaptable mentors have in shaping an individual’s character development.

In both ‘On the Waterfront’ and ‘My Brother Jack’, effective mentors are able to appreciate the individuality of those they guide, while those who misunderstand their subjects have little influence. Kazan utilises the relationship between Charlie and Terry to demonstrate the repercussions of misinterpretation. During the taxi scene, Charlie offers Terry a privileged job on the condition that he doesn’t “do anything [or] .. say anything”. Charlie interprets Terry’s disillusion with the union as due to lack of pay and position, and attempts to help him by encouraging the acceptance of a cushy job. Kazan emphasises this misunderstanding through a close up shot of Terry as he shakes his head, further accentuated when he says “there’s more to this then I thought”. Charlie saw Terry’s gradual separation from the union as an act of defiance due to lack of importance, but in fact it was due to disgust at the corruption of the union; subsequently, Charlie’s mentorship is rejected. While ‘On the Waterfront’ comments on the lack of influence a mentor who misinterprets their subject can have on personal development, ‘My Brother Jack’ signposts the profound impact an effective mentor can have. Upon being kicked out by his parents, Davey goes to Sam Burlington’s house in search of guidance. Davey opens up while Sam “listened intently .. never questioned or interrupted .. his eyes never left [Davey’s] face”. Johnston uses the first person perspective to give the audience an insight into the attributes of an effective mentor. Sam’s attentiveness and respect for Davey’s character is the first time his individuality has been acknowledged and understood. The typewriter is symbolic of Davey’s rebellion from his parent’s wishes to pursue his own dreams, and is left at Sam’s house. Johnston utilises the setting of Sam’s house to emphasise his influence as a mentor; by understanding and listening to Davey he has provided him with the platform to chase his passion, symbolised by the typewriter. Sam’s influence is further accentuated when Davey relinquishes his anonymity, casting aside his alias “Stunsail” and claiming ownership of the work. This new-found confidence was only able to be achieved when his individuality was respected. Thus, both texts signpost that effective mentors appreciate the individuality of those they guide.

Furthermore, both ‘On the Waterfront’ and ‘My Brother Jack’ caution the audience about the dangers of mentors who exert their dominance on those they mentor, and the artificial character development that may occur as a result of this power imbalance. Kazan demonstrates this through the complete control Johnny Friendly has over Terry at the beginning of the film. The opening scene signposts this through lighting, as the ship looms over Terry’s figure and casts an immense shadow over the docks; symbolic of the dominance of Friendly in the relationship. This is further emphasised during the luring out of Joey, in which Kazan adopts a high angle shot with Terry looking up at the Friendly gang thugs. Through this camera angle, Kazan positions the audience to view Terry as vulnerable and inferior, while Friendly as powerful with complete domination over Terry. This mentorship is shown to create artificial character development as Terry is forced to perform actions that conflict with his morality. Kazan displays this misalignment through Terry’s slouched body position following the death of Joey, further complemented by his saddened tone as he miserable mutters “he wasn’t a bad kid that Joey”. Friendly’s dominance in the mentor relationship over Terry leads him to commit actions that go against his moral compass, causing him to develop into a character contrary to that which he truly represents. While Kazan demonstrates the effect of complete domination on an individual’s personal development, ‘My Brother Jack’ highlights psychological impact that may occur in the face of abusive mentors. Johnston utilises the relationship between David and his father to convey this idea, particularly evident during the savage beatings. These sudden outburst of violence climax when David is beaten “so savagely that [he] fell unconscious into the bath tub”. Johnston’s vivid imagery from the first person perspective accentuate the brutality of the relationship, in spite of his father’s role as a mentor. This relationship leaves Davey mentally scared, evident when his parents force him into a career in lithography; he “accepted, passively” even though he “had almost no interest in art”. Johnston utilises Davey’s submission to his parent’s interest to demonstrate the repercussions of a violent mentorship, insofar that Davey has surrendered his personal development and adopted a character that will please his parents.

Through these relationships, ‘On the Waterfront’ and ‘My Brother Jack’ explore the effect of dominant mentors on a character’s personal development. The guidance of adaptable mentors is proven to have the greatest impact on character development in both texts. In Kazan’s ‘On the Waterfront’, Father Barry’s ability to change his method of counselling Terry showcases flexible mentorship. At the beginning of the film Father Barry adopts a very dogmatic approach, adopting an authoritative stance, demanding people “stop letting them (the mob) get away with it”. Kazan contrasts this command with utter silence, a close up shot of Terry’s unchanged facial expression further emphasising the ineffectiveness of Father Barry’s approach. Father Barry recognises this and changes his method, evident by his response when Terry seeks him out; rather than demanding he do something, Father Barry exclaims “it’s your own conscience that has to do the asking”. Following this method of guidance, Terry seeks out Edie and reveals the truth about his involvement in Joey’s murder. This brave act contrasts with Terry’s initial dismissal of Father Barry earlier in the film, Kazan emphasising Terry’s transformation into a character who follows his moral compass, facilitated by Father Barry’s new approach to mentoring.

While ‘On The Waterfront’ utilises the evolution of Father Barry’s mentorship to demonstrate the significant impact on characters denying their conscience, ‘My Brother Jack’ showcases how this type of mentorship can also lead to the development of new characteristics. Johnston displays this through the change in Jack’s method of mentorship. At the beginning of the novel, Jack is disgusted by Davey’s persona, his views “totally opposed to his in every imaginable way”. Jack attempts to mentor him by exposing him to pornographic magazines and masculine activities such as boxing, pressuring him to mirror Jack’s opinions. This method of mentorship is seen as ineffective, Davey’s views unchanging with Jack “mystified” by his inability to influence Davey’s attitudes. Johnston demonstrates a clear shift in Jack’s mentorship when violent confrontations with their father begin to occur. While Jack stands up for himself, he leaves Davey to fight his own battles rather than attempting to force his masculinity on him. This leads to Davey developing self-confidence, evident later in the novel when David refuses to interview ship sinking victims, taking a moral stand for this first time. Despite the savage beatings Davey is forced to endure, Jack’s new method of mentorship encourages Davey to be independent and assertive; characteristics contrasting heavily with Davey’s initial “shy shame” and passiveness. Kazan’s film and Johnston’s novel, therefore, both showcase the ability of adaptive mentors to facilitate the development of characters in a profound and lasting way.

Where both Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” and Johnston’s “My Brother Jack” are concerned, mentors are seen to play crucial roles in the moral growth of characters. Kazan’s film explores mentor relationships of moral misalignment and the repercussions on character development, while Johnston’s novel utilises the first person perspective to delve into the effect of mentor’s who create a suppressive environment. Both texts demonstrate effective mentors respect the individuality of those they mentor, warn the audience about power imbalances in a mentor relationship and encourage adaptable guidance as the best way to achieve permanent and meaningful character development.