In William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” there is only one party in the entire play that sees everything for what it really is. The character of the Friar understands that the pointless and unfounded feud means nothing to the two young lovers and he understands that their desires are good. However, he is still cautious and very aware of the situations of the families from which these two young people originate. In the modern version of “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story,” the drugstore owner Doc is the equivalent of the Friar and is the voice of reason and neutrality.
The character of Tony works for Doc at the drugstore where both gangs wish to stake a claim of territory (Laurents). Because he is so close to Tony and because the two gangs are constantly fighting on the streets, Doc sees almost everything that goes on. Doc sees that these gang members are young. They are children. The boys in the gangs see themselves as extremely grown up and law enforcement sees them as wastes of time. Doc sees them as they really are. Because Doc is not biased like the other parties, he does not understand what is so important about the streets they are fighting for. He asks them “You couldn’t play basketball?” (32). It is safe to say that Doc sees the overwhelming racism around him, but he does not understand it.
All of these boys have stereotypical and racist ideas about the boys in the other gang (Laurents). They were raised to think this way, and have never really given much thought to why they think the way they do. They do not stop to think about whether or not the ideas are correct until Tony’s death. Doc however knows long before Tony’s death how bad things could get. Doc says “I’ll dig you an early grave” and he knows that it is a real possibility (32). These boys do not fully understand the full consequences of their actions and their plans. Near the end of the musical, Doc finally becomes so frustrated with the death and violence that he snaps. He screams “Wake up! Is this the only way to get through to you? Do just what you all do, bust like a hot water pipe?” (74). Doc is the voice of everything that is wrong with these groups of people. For most of the musical, Doc voices his opinions in a constant way – he keeps saying the same things again and again hoping that one day someone will listen. Doc does not have it in his power to bring the real change that he wants to. He could report everyone to the police or shut them out of his drugstore, but that would not truly fix anything. The best thing he can do is advise Tony and Maria, just like the Friar did for Romeo and Juliet.
Doc is not like anyone else in the musical. He is the most neutral character, because he wants everyone to get along and he does not want anyone on any side to get hurt. He is the conscience of the play, the steady voice. When the Jets express that fighting for the street is important to them, Doc points out “To hoodlums, it is [that important]” (34). He is hoping to point out them that they are acting like the type of people that they hate being referred to as. He does so patiently. That is why it is so surprising when Doc snaps at the end of the musical. He was always so patient, so for him to lose control shows the depth of the situation. In the end of the final scene, “The adults … are left bowed, alone, useless” (77). There can be little doubt that Doc felt like everything he ever said to the boys was in vain. He is concerned for the boys and how they will recover from losing so many friends.
Doc represents reason in the musical. He represents almost an omniscient third party, someone who is above it all. He was, as F. Scott Fitzgerald phrased, “within and without.” He voices what the audience feels, because none of them understand why there is violence, racism, death, and loss of innocence. He tries to help the most noble cause there is – love. He hopes that the lovers can escape to a place without racism and hatred. He tried to help guide in his own way, and he will continue to try to help where he can. He is the closest character to a parental figure, and like a father Friar, he hate to see children hurting themselves and others.