Good Girl Gone…Good
Edie is a good girl. She loves her mother, loves horses and her boyfriend too.
Okay, those are lyrics to the song "Free Falling" by Tom Petty. But they're also true (except change horses to pigeons).
Edie does love her mother—who's dead—and her dad, who tries to protect her, despite the fact that she's more determined to solve her brother's murder than he is. She also loves that same brother, Joey, who's been killed by Johnny Friendly's gang, and she loves Terry, her new boyfriend—who actually played a role in Joey's death.
So, yeah: Edie's got a full plate.
But she handles it like a champ, because Edie's the moral center of the whole movie. Terry needs to find his conscience, but Edie never lost hers. She's motivated to seek out justice and truth, but also to show love to everyone. But she's no goody-two-shoes. She's strong and courageous, even putting her own life at risk.
After Joey's murdered, Edie is outraged. (As you would be.) When Father Barry tells her that he'll be in the church if she needs him, she tells him:
EDIE: What kind of saint hides in a church?
This gets Father Barry's own conscience churning, and he becomes the movie's other moral center, organizing the dockworkers and prodding Terry into testifying against Johnny. But if Edie hadn't chastised him, would he have decided to become this active? Maybe not.
We also see Edie fight to make sure her father gets a permission slip to work on the dock—so she's tenacious, fighting for her own family's rights and survival. After she meets Terry (who gave her the permission slip out of guilt), she senses that he's a good person underneath it all, and tries to work on him to get him to turn against Johnny Friendly. They have this exchange:
EDIE: Shouldn't everybody care about everybody else?
TERRY: Boy, what a fruitcake you are!
EDIE: I mean, isn't everybody a part of everybody else?
We are All like Legos: Connected
We know; we know. That sounds a bit like a Hallmark card. But Edie means it…and she means it during a period of extreme stress and grief. She feels like everyone is interconnected, which means that, like Martin Luther King Jr. said, "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere." She needs to care for people—but, in order to do that, she needs to be feisty, make noise, and fight for them.
When Edie's father warns her against hanging out with Terry, Edie shows that she's got a knack for seeing what's under the surface. She tells him:
EDIE: He tries to act tough, but there's a look in his eye.
Bam. Nailed it, Edie.
Also, when her father tells her to go back to school, Edie passionately explains that she can't:
EDIE: But Pop, I've seen things that I know are so wrong. Now how can I go back to school and keep my mind on... on things that are just in books, that aren't people living?
Edie has to be doing something in the world. Her conscience keeps propelling her in the thick of things. She simply can't stand back; she can't avoid doing the moral thing. While it's a struggle for Terry to be moral, Edie is drawn towards the moral truth like a magnet.
Even with Terry himself, she can't let his guilt get in the way of her real love for him. When he reveals the role he inadvertently played in Joey's death, she gets upset and runs away.
EDIE: I want you to stay away from me.
TERRY: Edie, you love me... I want you to say it to me.
EDIE: I didn't say I didn't love you. I said, "Stay away from me."
But she ultimately relents and admits her love for him. She can't help following her heart, whether that means finding Joey's killer or falling in love with Terry.
They get back together, and Edie helps support Terry when his brother is murdered and when he has to testify. So, even though Terry delivers the deathblow to Johnny's gang, Edie deserves an equal share of the credit—if not more. She's the one who spurs everyone into action. Without her, Terry would probably be chilling in a dockside bar and Father Barry would be placidly hearing the confessions of mobsters.