How women are portrayed in romantic comedies Pillow Talk (1959) and When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


This study examines how women are portrayed in Pillow Talk and When Harry Met Sally, two iconic romantic comedies from different time periods, 1959 and 1989, respectively. The analysis relies primarily on three film scholars, Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Mark Rubinfeld, and Hilary Radner. With the sex comedy Pillow Talk and the neo-traditional comedy When Harry Met Sally highlighting different time periods, and reflecting a society's desires, anxieties, and assumptions, these different romantic comedy subgenres deliver male and female gazes, which lead us on a historical journey. The romantic story is comically entertaining, while supporting traditional gender roles, family values, and a patriarchal ideology. Through an examination of the narrative elements, an overriding theme emerges in both time periods; females are seeking fulfillment through marriage. Contributing factors in both plots are race, social class, work, friendship, male/female communication, intimacy, and sexual mores. This work creates a paradigm for analyzing other romantic comedies and genres of film in order to understand what they say about social values.