When Hildy interviews Earl Williams about his shooting a cop, she tries to get some background on the weeks leading up to his crime. Earl tells her that after he lost his job, he began spending more and more time at the park, where he remembers listening to a soapbox preacher talk about "production for use." This principle suggests that everything ought to be made useful, that utility and use are the most important virtues of any person or object. Trying to prove that Earl is insane, Hildy asks him if this tenet/philosophy might have had anything to do with his shooting the police officer. Lighting up, Earl agrees with her, telling her that he wanted to make use of the gun he was holding, and that he had felt emboldened by the soapbox park orators urging to focus on "production for use." Earl's conviction that he only used the gun because he wanted to make use of it proves that he is innocent of the crime because he was clearly acting in an insane way. While a sane person would be able to clearly see the consequences of using a gun against a policeman, Earl is unable to distinguish that this is an unethical act. It is his belief in the idea of "production for use" that proves to Hildy that he is innocent.
Marriage and Family
When the film starts, Walter and Hildy, former coworkers, are recently divorced. A main reason that Hildy left Walter was because he was a neglectful husband, more committed to his job and their working relationship than to their marriage. At one point, Hildy recalls their forgotten honeymoon, saying, "All I know is that instead of two weeks in Atlantic City with my bridegroom, I spent two weeks in a coal mine with John Krupsky. You don't deny that, do you Walter?" Feeling neglected by Walter, Hildy turns to the more reliable (if boring) choice of Bruce Baldwin, a man who wants to give her all the domestic and marital privileges that Walter could not. In the first scene, Hildy tells Walter that she plans to marry Bruce, move to Albany, play house, and have some kids. Walter's mission, from that point forward, is to prove to Hildy that that is not actually the path she wants, and convince her to return to him and keep working for the paper. As a working woman, Hildy must choose between a life as a wife and a life as an ambitious "newspaperman." She eventually decides to return to the paper and a life with Walter, eschewing the life of a housewife.
The Journalist's =Life
Journalism is a prominent theme in the film. Walter is the persuasive and successful editor of The Morning Post, and Hildy is his best journalist. Set in contrast to the conventional world of marriage and family, journalism is fast-paced, unstable, covert, and exciting. Journalists in the pressroom gamble, smoke, and wait for the latest scintillating headline. Their lives are only as stable as their next story, and their priorities change as quickly as the headlines. News is ongoing, ever-evolving, current, and relevant, and the journalists in the film forfeit typical pleasures like vacations, honeymoons, families, and savings in favor of it. For Walter, "the paper" represents a highbrow ideal, and serves as a symbol for noble work and contribution to society. While he is undoubtedly motivated by profit and the desire to run a successful business, he is also motivated by telling the truth and disseminating that truth to the people. While he and Hildy might have less-than-proper ways of extracting the stories they need, it is always with the aim of fighting corruption and getting the most accurate story. Several times Walter invokes the importance of "the paper," as when he tells Hildy, "This will bring us back together again. Just the way we used to be. This is bigger than anything that ever happened to us. Don't do it for me, do it for the paper." Journalism is Hildy and Walter's shared passion, and while it is what initially drove Hildy away, it also lures her back to him by the end of the film.
In order to get Hildy to work for the paper again, Walter convinces her that one of their main writers is away for a week and he needs someone to cover the conviction and imminent execution of Earl Williams. The current mayor is running for reelection and is using Earl Williams' case to garner more votes. Earl Williams recently shot and killed a black police officer, and the mayor knows that if he has Williams executed then he is sure to pull in more black votes. However, Earl Williams is criminally insane, and thus cannot be held accountable for his act. The mayor willfully ignores this fact in order to see that Williams is found guilty and executed nonetheless, so that he is ensured to win the election. Thus, Hildy's job is to expose this corruption and see that the life of the innocent Earl Williams is saved. At the end, when it seems as though the mayor will be able to get away with executing Earl, Pettibone arrives with the reprieve, saving Hildy and Walter from arrest, saving Earl Williams' life, and giving The Morning Paper their latest breaking news story. Pettibone is impervious to the mayor's corrupt bribery, not on any moral ground, but because he suspects that his beloved wife would not approve of him taking the high-level government job that the mayor is offering him.
Getting the Story
The film is about journalism and the power of journalism in a general sense, but more specifically it is about the competition that journalists feel with one another to break the best possible story as quickly as possible. The hustle of the job is part of why Hildy likes it so much, and it doesn't take long for her to become embroiled in the mad dash of the newspaperman lifestyle. As soon as she gets to the pressroom and matters begin to get more and more complicated, Hildy gets more and more motivated to be the one to break the Earl Williams story. Not only that, but she is exceptionally good at researching and acquiring the story; she has an understanding with the warden, she knows how to talk sensitively and inquisitively to Earl for the best interview, and she is inconspicuous and sly at every turn. Getting the story is of the utmost importance to her, and she is willing to go to great lengths to find it.
One of the defining characteristics of the "screwball comedy" genre in which His Girl Fridayfits is its lighthearted exploration of gender, heterosexual romance, and a "battle of the sexes." Walter is portrayed as a typical male businessman; he is suave, charming, somewhat mercenary, and hardly at all concerned with emotions. This is precisely the reason that Hildy wanted a divorce. She tells Walter that she wants to be an authentic woman, and pursued a marriage in which she is treated as such. Walter doesn't buy it for a second, even going so far as to refer to her as a "newspaperman." Continually, he elides her gender in order to convince her that she is meant to continue working for the paper. In Walter's eyes, the life of a journalist and a businessperson is inherently male, and even though Hildy is a woman, she is, first and foremost, a "newspaperman." Despite her beauty, sophistication, and feminine charms, Hildy is entrenched in the male-dominated field of journalism, and so must forfeit her desires for feminine niceties in order to keep up. What makes this more complex, however, is that Hildy never pretends to be a man in her work as a journalist. In this way, she redefines what it means to be a "newspaperman." She is perfectly comfortable chasing down a story: she does it better than any male journalist, but she does it in heels.
Buried underneath the brisk and unsentimental world of The Morning Post is a love story. While Walter is hardly the most demonstrative or emotional lover, he proves that he loves Hildy through his backhanded and elaborate deeds. Sure, he gets Bruce sent to jail three times, has his mother kidnapped, and manipulates without remorse, but it is all for the purpose of drawing Hildy back into his arms. At the end, after Bruce calls Hildy to tell her he's been put in jail again, she breaks down weeping. Walter is confused—he's never seen her weep before—and she tells him she is emotional because Bruce's call has confirmed that Walter really is in love with her. Rather comically, the fact that Walter went to all the trouble of framing her fiancé only makes Hildy more confident in his love for her. It's an unusual way to express affection, but it has the effect of moving Hildy to tears. The film presents love as a meeting of equals and a compatibility of interests. Hildy and Walter are meant to be together precisely because they both love the paper more than anything.
His Girl Friday Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for His Girl Friday is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.