“Hedda Gabler is deeply preoccupied with the nature of power.” To what extent is this statement reflective of Ibsen’s play? In Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, the nature of power is seen in the inter-relationship of the characters, led by Hedda Gabler the main protagonist. It is a complex study of Human Beings and their place in the power sphere within Hedda Gabler; their power over others, how they relate to power and how the nature of power can be destructive or put to higher purposes, depending on how it is used.
The nature of power comes in several forms, in various degrees. They are the power one has over others, the power to control, to influence, power over situations, power in using other powers to satisfy one’s end. Ibsen also explores the power struggles between characters, the power of good and evil, the power of Alcohol; the power society has over its inhabitants and the power of the Law. For one to understand this nature of power that Ibsen writes about, one must be aware, among other things that ‘Power is knowledge and Knowledge is power’. In the play, the power to manipulate or control lies mainly in the hands of those who have additional knowledge and intelligence which gives them dominance over situations and the other characters. For Brack and Hedda, this is especially true.
Brack is a judge and therefore would be privy to a lot of information and he uses this to get what he wants. In Act 1, Brack informs Tesman of Loveborg’s arrival and its potential of ruining Tesman’s career prospects. He uses it as a diversion, so that Tesman will be too preoccupied with this to notice Brack’s scheme to get Hedda. Brack also uses this power to threaten Hedda, further on in the play when she refuses to have an affair with him.
Throughout the play, one witnesses Hedda as a manipulative, hurtful and dominating women, able to coax her husband into fulfilling her every whim and to persuade her surrounding characters to act against their will. Hedda employs this power of knowledge to manipulate Lovborg into drinking. She uses what she knows of the relationship of trust between Lovborg and Thea and destroys this trust, which causes Lovborg to break down and succumb to the drink again. In several instances, she uses prior knowledge to distract or get rid of Tesman. For instance when Brack tells Lovborg that “ came up through the garden” which would prompt Tesman to ask why, Hedda changes the directions of his thought by asking “what are those books you’ve got there?”
Later when she wants to grab hold of the manuscript Tesman found, she quickly distracts him yet again with Miss Tesman’s urgent letter. Hedda has a way of manipulating everyone around her and in this way Tesman, Thea, Brack and Lovborg all seem to be tiny threads wrapped around her fingers and she intends to tie and untie these threads as she wishes without regard to them at all.
Suicide exists as the final option for Hedda to exhibit control and dominance over herself and the characters in the play. Lovborg’s death, which grants Brack with the ability to blackmail Hedda and allows Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted to begin a seemingly close and long relationship, deems Hedda useless within her social group. Added to this is that despite the fact that she is married to Tesman, she is still the same person she was before. She will never belong to anybody and she isn’t anybody’s anything, which is why she kills herself. She doesn’t want her fate controlled by a child, because the child will seal the union between her and Tesman permanently. Hedda then transfers her now futile behaviour to her environment, inwards, towards herself, making her last act of control her own life.
Power exerted over others and the power to influence may not always produce harmful results. Although Mrs. Elvsted gives the impression of being submissive, cowardly, powerless and ignorant, she has the special ability as a muse for Lovborg and later, Tesman, “…and then came that beautiful, happy time, when I shared his work. Was allowed to help him! …When he wrote anything, we always had to do it together.” which Hedda will never have. Her power over Lovborg differs from Hedda’s manipulative style of directing. The prodigal, Lovborg was reclaimed, “he left off his old ways. Not because asked him to …but he knew all right that didn’t like that sort of thing. And then he gave it up (drinking)”. Here, Elvsted’s brand of power stems from a good source and Lovborg reforms by the goodness of her heart.
When Hedda tries to do likewise, by making Lovborg “master of himself…Flushed and confident… with vine leaves in his hair” she fails and his submission to wine results in his death (evil) because her motives are not pure, she wants Lovborg to succeed because she wants to live out her desires through him. Hedda uses her power over Lovborg and Tesman and lives out her life through Lovborg and Tesman because she has no power to escape from the confinement of society and its expectations on her, the general’s daughter.
The despairing thing about Lovborg is that he wants to control the world, but cannot control himself. His new book (the manuscript) deals with the future, the future course of civilization, yet while he is planning the future of the world, he destroys his own personal salvation by loosing control and succumbing to the power of alcohol.
The irony is that Hedda may seem like the most dominant and powerful character in the play, but for all her intelligence, dominating will and knowledge, she is unable to go against society and its norms. Hedda, the manipulator of human beings, is trapped within a box, an inanimate metaphoric object and its confinement succeeds because of her fear of scandal and her self-imposed fidelity to Tesman.
One sees Hedda taking her live in the end because she has to live under the power of Brack when she has always had the power over others; she cannot take someone else having power over her. In reality, Hedda has no courage. Society has no power over Mrs. Elvsted because she possesses the courage Hedda lacks, which is to defy society and leaves her husband for love. It is ironic that the element that gives Hedda her power – her place and being brought up as the General’s daughter in society, is also the very thing that robs her of her power and her inability to act against her world.
In the play, Ibsen allows the representative of the law to be taken by a villain and it’s significance lies in the fact that Brack as the judge, symbolizes the emblem of power. As a judge, he alone decides on the verdict, the fate of the person. In this case, he is in control of Hedda’s fate/life. As a judge, Brack also takes the stand as a bystander, the person who sees what is going on, thus he is the only character who is not under any power. Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is the product of a mind deeply preoccupied with the nature of power. Hedda Gabler is a series of personal campaigns for control and domination: over oneself, over others and over one’s world.