Henrik Ibsen portrays a microcosm of nineteenth century Norwegian society in hisplay Hedda Gabler. Hedda, the protagonist, exhibits a mixture of masculine andfeminine traits due to her unique upbringing under General Gabler and the socialmores imposed upon her. However, although this society venerates General Gablerbecause of his military status, his daughter Hedda is not tolerated due to hernon-conformity to the accepted gender stereotypes. Hedda’s gender-invertedmarriage to Jorgan Tesman, her desire for power and her use of General Gabler’spistols are unacceptable in her society and motif of “One doesn’t do such athing!” that is alluded to during the play and expounded upon Hedda’s deaththat shows that Hedda’s uncertain stance between masculine and feminine genderroles and their associated traits is not tolerated by her society.
Ibsen employsa reversal of traditional gender roles within Hedda and Jorgen Tesman’s marriageto emphasises Hedda’s masculine traits. Hedda displays no emotion or affectiontowards her husband Jorgen. This appearance of indifference is a trait that isusually common to men: Tesman – “My old morning shoes. My slipperslook!. .
. I missed them dreadfully. Now you should see them, Hedda. ” Hedda -“No thanks, it really doesn’t interest me’. In another gender rolereversal, Hedda displays a financial awareness, which her husband, Jorgen doesnot posses. Although Brack corresponds with Tesman about his honeymoon travels,he corresponds with Hedda concerning the financial matters.
This is a role thatis usually reserved for men. Hedda does not only display traits, which aredefinitively masculine, or feminine, she also objects to and often defies theconventions established for her gender by society. She rejects references to herpregnancy as a reminder of her gender: Tesman – “Have you noticed how plump(Hedda’s) grown, and how well she is? How much she’s filled out on ourtravels?” Hedda – “Oh be quiet!” Hedda is reminded not only ofher feminine role of mother and nurturer here, but also as wife and”appendage” to Tesman: “And to think is was you who carried offHedda Gabler! The lovely Hedda Gabler!. .
. now that you have got the wife yourheart was set on. ” As a woman of the haute bourgeoisie, Hedda is”sought after” and “always had so many admirers” and hasbeen “acquired” by Tesman as hide wife. Hedda resents the genderconventions that dictate that she now “belongs” to the Tesman family -a situation that would not occur were she a man: Tesman – “Only it seems tome now that you belong to the family.
. . ” Hedda- ” Well, I really don’tknow. .
. ” Although these traits displayed by Hedda are masculine, they arenot those, which her society cannot tolerate. To entertain herself in her”boring” marriage she plays with her father’s, General Gabler’s,pistols: Hedda – “Sometimes I think I only have a talent for onething. . . boring myself to death!” “I still have one thing to kill timewith.
My pistols, Jorgen. General Gabler’s pistols” Jorgen – “Forgoodness’ sake! Hedda darling! Don’t touch those dangerous things! For my sake,Hedda!”. These pistols are a symbol of masculinity and are associated withwar, a pastime which women are excluded from other than in the nurturing role ofnurses and are thus not tolerated by society. Tesman implores Hedda to ceaseplaying with them, but even his “superior” position as her husbanddoes not dissuade Hedda, who is found to be playing with them by Brack at thebeginning of act two. Brack also reminds Hedda of the inappropriate nature ofher “entertainment” and physically takes the pistols away from Hedda. Hedda – “I’m going to shoot you sir!” Brack – “No, no, no!.
. . Nowstop this nonsense!” . If youdon’t mind, my dear lady.
. . . Because we’re not going to play that game any moretoday. ” As a parallel to Hedda’s masculine game of playing with GeneralGabler’s pistols, Hedda plays the traditionally female role of a”minx” with Brack.
Hedda – “Doesn’t it feel like a whole eternitysince we last talked to each other?” Brack – “Not like this, betweenourselves? Alone together, you mean?” Hedda – “Yes, more or lessthat” Brack – “Here was I, every blessed day, wishing to goodness youwere home again” Hedda – “And there was I, the whole time, wishingexactly the same” At the beginning of act two, Hedda encourages Brack’sflirtation with her by telling him the true nature of her marriage to Tesmanthat it is a marriage of convenience: Brack – “But, tell me. . . I don’t quitesee why, in that case. .
. er. . . ” Hedda – “Why Jorgen and I ever made amatch of it, you mean? Hedda – “I had simply danced myself out, my dearsir.
My time was up. ” Brack is emboldened by Hedda’s seeming availabilityand pursues the notion of a “triangular relationship” with Hedda. Notonly does Hedda’s “coquettish” behaviour towards Brack exhibits thefeminine side of her nature, it also demonstrates that in some instances sheconforms to society’s expectations of females. Hedda’s reference to “(her)time (being) up” shows the socially accepted view that women must marry,because they are not venerated as spinsters. By conforming to this aspect of hersociety’s mores and marrying before she becomes a socially unacceptablespinster, Hedda demonstrates that she is undeniably female and accepts this.
Hedda’s constantly seeks power over those people she comes in contact with. As awoman, she has no control over society at large, and thus seeks to influence thecharacters she comes into contact with in an emulation of her father’s sociallyvenerated role as a general. Hedda pretends to have been friends with Thea inorder to solicit her confidence: Thea – “But that’s the last thing in theworld I wanted to talk about!” Hedda – “Not to me, dear? After all, wewere at school together. ” Thea – “Yes, but you were a class above me. How dreadfully frightened of you I was in those days!” Once Hedda learns ofThea’s misgivings about Lovborg’s newfound resolve, she uses it to destroy their”comradeship” .
Hedda – “Now you see for yourself! There’s notthe slightest need for you to go about in this deadly anxiety. . . ” Lovborg -“So it was deadly anxiety . . .
on my behalf. ” Thea – Oh, Hedda! How could you!” Lovborg – “So this was my comrade’sabsolute faith in me. ” Hedda then manipulates Lovborg, by challenging hismasculinity, into going to Brack’s bachelor party and resuming his drunken waysof old. Hedda’s “reward” for this is to find that Lovborg’smanuscript, his and Thea’s “child” falls into her hands, where sheburns it, thus destroying the child and alto the relationship, both of whichHedda was jealous of. Similarly, Hedda seeks to push her husband, Jorgan, intopolitics: “(I was wondering) whether I could get my husband to go intopolitics.
. . ” This would raise Hedda’s social standing and allow her toattain and maintain power. Hedda’s manipulation of people in order to attainpower is a trait that is stereotypically predominant in men. The society ofnineteenth century Norway venerates the image of submissive, static passive andpure women. Roles of power are normally allocated to men in such a society.
Thesociety in Hedda Gabler demonstrates its intolerance of Hedda’s masculinebehaviour by contributing to her death. Hedda is found to be playing with herpistols in act two by Brack. After disgracing himself and returning to his”immoral” ways at Hedda’s behest, Lovborg is manipulated by Hedda into”taking his life beautifully” and she gives him one of GeneralGabler’s pistols. However Lovborg dies from an accidental wound to the stomachrather than a patrician death from a bullet to the head and Brack, utilising hisposition of power within the judicial system, sees the pistol that heaccidentally killed himself with. Recognising it as being General Gabler’spistol, he returns to Hedda to stake his claim.
Hedda refuses to be in the powerof Brack, she had been “heartily thankful that (he had) no power over(her)” however, her fear is realised as Brack attempts to force his wayinto a “triangular relationship” with Hedda (and Tesman) in return fornot exposing the scandal that she had provided Lovborg with the instrument ofhis death. Hedda is “as fearful of scandal as all that” and takes herlife, ironically avoiding the scandal surrounding Lovborg’s death and yetcausing a scandal concerning her own. Hedda’s masculine preference for thepistols to any feminine task of housekeeping and her fear of scandal due to notconforming with society’s accepted gender roles leads her to kill herself, thusdemonstrating that things which “one doesn’t do” are not tolerated byher society of nineteenth century Norway.