His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

"The Paper" (Symbol)

His Girl Friday is about the thrill and fulfillment of working for a newspaper. Hildy thinks that she wants to leave the unpredictable life of a journalist behind in favor of something a little more reliable, but it is not long before she is pulled back into the excitement of her former job, chasing a story, and getting the latest scoop. Walter talks about "the paper" in the abstract, and in his efforts to get Hildy to come back to him, he invokes her obligation to the news itself. In his office, Walter tells Hildy, "Don't do it for me, do it for the paper." If Hildy will not take him back, Walter imagines she will be more likely to return to the paper because of what it represents. Thus, the news and the paper become a symbol for both Hildy's duties as a writer, and her vitality as a person. The life of a journalist is a difficult one, but Walter knows that in due time, Hildy will be unable to resist the journalistic call of duty and will want to jump back into its up-tempo pace once again. She may say that she wants to settle down and raise a few kids with Bruce, but her heart belongs at the paper, where the news is always current and there is always a story to chase. In this way the news symbolizes action and vitality.

Insurance (Symbol)

If the news represents life itself, in all its manic currency, then insurance can be seen as representing reliability, Hildy's retirement from the workforce, and death. Indeed, Bruce literally sells life insurance, insurance that only benefits a person after they die. He tells Walter, "I figure I'm in one business that really helps people. Of course, we don't help you much while you're alive, but afterward—that's what counts!" Insurance also symbolizes Hildy's choice to get away from her vocation as a writer, make some babies, and relax in the suburbs. By choosing to marry an insurance salesman, Hildy is also choosing to put some insurance on her life, which has hitherto been completely unpredictable and unsure. Bruce is himself a kind of insurance; he will remain devoted and loyal, till death do they part.

Writing (Motif)

Hildy is ready to give up the life of a reporter forever when the film starts, but as she gets more embroiled in the Earl Williams story, her old love of writing comes back to her, and she can no longer resist doing what she most loves to do. When she resists Walter's request to write the story, he insists that she is the perfect person for the job, saying, "You know I can't write that kind of thing. It takes a woman's touch. It needs that heart, that..." Hildy's virtues as a writer are also her virtues as a woman, according to Walter, and he knows that she's the best writer he has. Reluctantly, Hildy takes his challenge, getting more and more invested, until finally, she is maniacally pounding away at a typewriter, puffing on a cigarette, barely aware of her fiancé when he comes to the pressroom to collect her. Writing is Hildy's passion, and when she sits down to do it, she achieves an almost trance-like state, feverishly getting down every idea as quickly as possible. Bruce begs her to come, but in between typing sentences she declares, "If you want me, Bruce, you've gotta take me as I am instead of trying to change me into something else. I'm no suburban bridge player. I'm a newspaperman. Darn it."

Hildy Carrying Her Own Bag Out of the Pressroom (Allegory)

At the end, Hildy and Walter are reunited and decide to get remarried. The viewer can see that Hildy is magnetically drawn to journalism (and Walter) and they are markedly compatible mates. Hildy is overjoyed that Walter has agreed to a 2 week honeymoon, and he makes a call to Duffy to let him know. When Duffy tells him there is a strike in Albany, however, Walter changes his mind and—with Hildy's permission—they decide not to go on a honeymoon, but chase after the next big news story. This moment is comic because it shows that nothing has really changed, that the news will always be more important than the couple's marriage. All the more comic is the fact that as they rush out of the pressroom to go cover the strike, Walter goes ahead without offering to help Hildy carry her bag. Hildy must carry her own bag out of the pressroom, which works as an allegory for the fact that while Walter may love her, he cannot offer her the chivalrous devotion that Bruce could. While it is not as perceptible to a modern viewer, the audience at the time would have noticed Walter's lack of male manners more readily. Hildy carrying her own bag out of the room represents her having to take care of herself, and shows that being seen as an equal in Walter's eyes also means that she is not afforded the same niceties of a typical wife.

Bruce in Jail (Motif)

A running gag in the film is the fact that Walter sets up a number of traps to ensure that Bruce ends up in jail. Before she has even begun work on the story, Hildy is suspicious that Walter will try and pull one over on her new fiancé, and urges Bruce to take some precautions. However, Walter is especially cunning, and manages to dupe Bruce three times nevertheless. It becomes a kind of motif that every time the plot begins to speed up, Hildy receives a call from Bruce and learns that he is newly in jail for some crime that Walter arranged. By the end, Hildy sees that Walter's habit of landing Bruce in jail is also his twisted way of telling her he loves her and that he wants her back. Walter can't just tell Hildy how he feels; he has to put her new lover in jail to communicate his devotion.