Henrik Ibsens Hedda Gabler is not truly indicative of his vast body of work:the protagonist is female and the play is a character study. Oddly enough,though, Hedda does not evolve or progress throughout the entirety of the work. Rather, she remains a cold and manipulative woman.
When this fact is realized,the only task is discovering why Hedda continues as a flat character who isrestrained from gaining the status of a hero. Truthfully, there are manyvariables that shape Heddas life. Nonetheless, two factors in particularstand outher father, General Gabler, and the repressive, masculine society ofthe era. Although Ibsen does not directly address these issues, he succeeds inconveying their critical significance.
A common underlying theme in Ibsenswork is the linking of death and music. And, as one might have deduced, thispremise is employed in Hedda Gabler. Moreover, the ever-present piano, belongingto the late General Gabler, symbolizes Heddas past freedom, prior to marryingGeorge Tesman, as the “Generals daughter. ” A more obvious example ofGeneral Gablers influence over Hedda is the large portrait of him thatdominates the “inner” room. In fact, as Ibsen initially describes the singleset, he momentarily focuses on the presence of the portrait of the “handsome,elderly man in a Generals uniform” (Ibsen Act 1). With this description,the reader is made aware of the Rhoades 2 Generals presence, even after hisdeath.
Arguably, the most significant influence the General has over Hedda isthe fact that Hedda is unable to rid herself of her “Hedda Gabler” identity. It is extremely odd to be known by a name that is, in effect, a product of thepast, as Hedda has recently become “Hedda Tesman. ” Throughout the play,Hedda is referred to as “Hedda Gabler,” or , more simply, “GeneralGablers daughter. ” This fact is also indicative of the kind of”facelessness” that women of the era were often subject to. Yet anotheraspect of the Generals rearing of Hedda is her unusual fascination with hispistols.
This fascination is one of the first given clues that Hedda was raisedas a boy would have been. The mere possibility of Hedda being raised as a maleis sufficient evidence to explain her underlying disdain at being awomanunable to express herself as a man would. Instead, Hedda simply”contents herself with negative behavior instead of constructive action” (Linnea91). Since she cannot express herself outright, she amuses herself bymanipulating others. The most compelling episode of Heddas perfected brand ofmanipulation is the role she plays in the death of Eilert Lovborg, a formerlove.
Despite the fact that Eilert is the only person who can evoke true passionin her, Hedda feels the need to destroy him, purely for the purpose of”having the power to mould a human destiny” (Ibsen 2). Since she is unableto directly control anyone or anything, Hedda chooses to rebel against thesociety that shapes her and obliterate one of its future leaders. Needless tosay, the Victorian era of literature and society did not offer a profusion ofopportunities for young women. This fact is made abundantly clear in HeddaGabler. Despite the fact that society stifles Hedda, it is not the only factorRhoades 3 that restrains her from gaining independence, as well as expressingherself. In reality, Heddas own cowardice generously contributes to herinescapable end.
But, of course, the root of her cowardice is her former lifeinvolving her father, General Gabler. Even though Hedda takes pleasure increating scandal, however, she is deathly frightened of being associated withit. One such incidence involves Thea Elvsted, Heddas long- forgottenschoolmate, explaining to Hedda her current, scandalous situation concerningEilert Lovborg, who is Theas stepchildrens tutor. Specifically, Thea isrebelling against the conventions of society and pursuing Lovborg. Hedda,constantly aware of scandal, responds in a predictable manner: “But what doyou think people will say of you, Thea?” (1).
This scene is the first of manythat reveals Heddas inability to disregard society and scandal and live thelife she has never dared to live. Indeed, the sole reason that Hedda marriesGeorge Tesman is due to the fact that he is the only one of her suitors thatexpresses an interest in marriage. Once again, Heddas fear of societysideals for women forces her to compromise her thoughts and desires, therebycausing her to feel jealous and trapped. “It Heddas mind has merely goneround and round the cage she has built for herself, looking for a way toescape” (Ellis-Fermor 43).
In other words, Hedda has come to the realizationthat there is no way out of her “place” in society, as well as life. Shewill never be any mans equal or a “real” person. Also, much like the restof society, Tesman views Hedda as an object, a collectible. Finally, due to thecircumstances imposed upon her by Norwegian society, Hedda responds with the oneact of courage she has managed to muster in her short, meaningless lifeshekills herself with her fathers pistol. Rhoades 4 While Hedda is considerablyresponsible for her cowardice and her failure to sufficiently express herself,the way in which she was raised, as well as the society in which she lives, bothplay major roles in the shaping of her character. If it were not for herextenuating circumstances, as well as her solitary act of courage, one can onlyspeculate what she might have come to represent in contemporary feministliterature.
However, literature is not founded on speculation and guess work, itis based on visible feelings, emotions, and actions. With this in mind, one isforced to recognize what Hedda truly represents: the cold, emotionless productof a disapproving and domineering society and father. BibliographyEllis-Fermor, Una. “Introduction to Hedda Gabler and Other Plays. ” ModernCritical Views: Henrik Ibsen. Ed.
Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House,1999. 41. Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler.
Ed. Stanley Applebaum. New York: Dover,1990. Linnea, Sharon.
Barrons Book Notes: Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House& Hedda Gabler. New York: Barrons Educational Series, 1985.