Study Guide

His Girl Friday Themes

  • Ambition

    Are women supposed to be ambitious? His Girl Friday isn't exactly sure. The film admires Hildy's talent and drive… it's fun to watch her chase down and tackle that Warden.

    But the film, and Hildy herself, also worry that there's something not quite decent, or not quite right, about a woman wanting to succeed and have her name on a street sign. Ultimately, Hildy gets to have her ambition and her career—but only if she's working for, and married to, Walter. Maybe it's okay for a woman to be ambitious, the film decides, as long as she's working for her husband.

    Questions About Ambition

    1. How are Walter and Bruce's ambitions for Hildy different? How are they the same?
    2. Are Walter's ambitions shown as bad or dangerous? Are the mayor's? Explain.
    3. Is Hildy's desire to be a wife and live a normal life an ambition? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In His Girl Friday, Hildy abandons love for ambition.

    In His Girl Friday, Hildy abandons ambition for love.

  • Language and Communication

    Everyone talks and talks and talks in His Girl Friday… but they're not necessarily talking to communicate. Often they're talking not to communicate; Walter (and to some extent Hildy too) use words to bamboozle, to overwhelm, and to obfuscate.

    They also use them to flirt—it's not what you say, but how dashingly you say it. Whether in person, by phone, or through skywriting, language in His Girl Friday keeps you off-balance and staggering—out of one guy's arms and into another's.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Walter's a newspaperman and Bruce is an insurance agent. How is their use of language linked to their jobs?
    2. Do Hildy and Bruce communicate well during the film? Explain your answer.
    3. Does Walter ever directly say he loves Hildy? Does he ever tell her at all? If so, how?

    Chew on This

    Walter and Hildy never communicate, because Walter always lies.

    Hildy and Walter communicate well, because Hildy knows he always lies.

  • Gender

    His Girl Friday is fascinated with the question of whether or not Hildy is a woman. At various points, she asserts that she is a woman, not a news machine; a woman, not an errand boy; a woman, not a water buffalo.

    But all that protesting makes you wonder—why do you need to hear so often, that yes, she really is a woman? The reason, of course, is that, at the time, woman were not, in theory, supposed to work. Can Hildy have a career and still be a woman? The film isn't sure—which is why you get all that talk about water buffalos.

    The film also spends some time trying to figure out what it means to be a man. Bruce is one model; nice, devoted, gallant, bland. Walter's another—masterful, sneaky, and a crook. Which is more manly, the chump or the crook?

    Questions About Gender

    1. Can you tell from the film that Hildy was a man in the original screenplay? Explain your answer.
    2. Who is presented as manlier, Walter or Bruce? Explain your answer.
    3. Given changing ideas about gender, could His Girl Friday be remade today? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    His Girl Friday suggests that Hildy is Walter's best reporter because she's a woman.

    His Girl Friday suggests that Walter has to be Hildy's boss because she's a woman.

  • Justice and Judgment

    His Girl Friday seems concerned with justice at first; a big part of the plot is trying to keep Earl Williams from being executed. But why does Walter want to keep Williams from being executed? Is it because Williams is innocent (he isn't)? Or is it because Walter wants to embarrass some politicians and thinks the stay of execution will be good for the circulation of the paper?

    Justice seems secondary, in the end, to rooting for Walter and Hildy, the glamorous and entertaining stars. Stars are good guys, so there's a plot that makes Walter and Hildy good guys… but the actual morality of their actions isn't considered too much.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. Is the film concerned with justice for Earl Williams?
    2. Should Walter end up in prison at the end of the film? Why or why not?
    3. Does the film believe that ends justify means? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Walter isn't any more interested in justice than the Sheriff.

    Earl Williams kills a black policeman; the film doesn't seem to believe that that black man's life matters.

  • Love

    Love is patient. Love is kind. Supposedly.

    But in His Girl Friday, love is more like heads knocked together, shins kicked, and trains blown up. Hildy and Walter treat love as arm-wrestling, or word whacking, blasting each other with barrages of babble, while Bruce stands off to the side and makes "aw gosh" noises.

    The romance in His Girl Friday (and in screwball comedies in general) is a fight; you go to the altar less out of transcendent happiness than out of exhausted resignation.

    Questions About Love

    1. Does Bruce love Hildy? Explain your answer.
    2. Does Hildy love Walter? Explain your answer.
    3. Does Walter love Hildy? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Hildy loves Walter from the beginning of the film.

    Hildy never loves Walter; what she loves is the newspaper business.