Hedda Gabler By Ibsen Essay

Henrik Ibsen portrays a microcosm of nineteenth century Norwegian society in his
play Hedda Gabler. Hedda, the protagonist, exhibits a mixture of masculine and
feminine traits due to her unique upbringing under General Gabler and the social
mores imposed upon her. However, although this society venerates General Gabler
because of his military status, his daughter Hedda is not tolerated due to her
non-conformity to the accepted gender stereotypes. Hedda’s gender-inverted
marriage to Jorgan Tesman, her desire for power and her use of General Gabler’s
pistols are unacceptable in her society and motif of “One doesn’t do such a
thing!” that is alluded to during the play and expounded upon Hedda’s death
that shows that Hedda’s uncertain stance between masculine and feminine gender
roles and their associated traits is not tolerated by her society. Ibsen employs
a reversal of traditional gender roles within Hedda and Jorgen Tesman’s marriage
to emphasises Hedda’s masculine traits. Hedda displays no emotion or affection
towards her husband Jorgen. This appearance of indifference is a trait that is
usually common to men: Tesman – “My old morning shoes. My slippers
look!…I missed them dreadfully. Now you should see them, Hedda.” Hedda –
“No thanks, it really doesn’t interest me’. In another gender role
reversal, Hedda displays a financial awareness, which her husband, Jorgen does
not posses. Although Brack corresponds with Tesman about his honeymoon travels,
he corresponds with Hedda concerning the financial matters. This is a role that
is usually reserved for men. Hedda does not only display traits, which are
definitively masculine, or feminine, she also objects to and often defies the
conventions established for her gender by society. She rejects references to her
pregnancy 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 our
travels?” Hedda – “Oh be quiet!” Hedda is reminded not only of
her feminine role of mother and nurturer here, but also as wife and
“appendage” to Tesman: “And to think is was you who carried off
Hedda Gabler! The lovely Hedda Gabler!…now that you have got the wife your
heart was set on.” As a woman of the haute bourgeoisie, Hedda is
“sought after” and “always had so many admirers” and has
been “acquired” by Tesman as hide wife. Hedda resents the gender
conventions that dictate that she now “belongs” to the Tesman family –
a situation that would not occur were she a man: Tesman – “Only it seems to
me now that you belong to the family…” Hedda- ” Well, I really don’t
know…” Although these traits displayed by Hedda are masculine, they are
not 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 one
thing…boring myself to death!” “I still have one thing to kill time
with. My pistols, Jorgen. General Gabler’s pistols” Jorgen – “For
goodness’ sake! Hedda darling! Don’t touch those dangerous things! For my sake,
Hedda!”. These pistols are a symbol of masculinity and are associated with
war, a pastime which women are excluded from other than in the nurturing role of
nurses and are thus not tolerated by society. Tesman implores Hedda to cease
playing with them, but even his “superior” position as her husband
does not dissuade Hedda, who is found to be playing with them by Brack at the
beginning of act two. Brack also reminds Hedda of the inappropriate nature of
her “entertainment” and physically takes the pistols away from Hedda.

Hedda – “I’m going to shoot you sir!” Brack – “No, no, no!…Now
stop this nonsense!” [taking the pistol gently out of her hand]. If you
don’t mind, my dear lady….Because we’re not going to play that game any more
today.” As a parallel to Hedda’s masculine game of playing with General
Gabler’s pistols, Hedda plays the traditionally female role of a
“minx” with Brack. Hedda – “Doesn’t it feel like a whole eternity
since we last talked to each other?” Brack – “Not like this, between
ourselves? Alone together, you mean?” Hedda – “Yes, more or less
that” Brack – “Here was I, every blessed day, wishing to goodness you
were home again” Hedda – “And there was I, the whole time, wishing
exactly the same” At the beginning of act two, Hedda encourages Brack’s
flirtation with her by telling him the true nature of her marriage to Tesman
that it is a marriage of convenience: Brack – “But, tell me…I don’t quite
see why, in that case…er…” Hedda – “Why Jorgen and I ever made a
match of it, you mean? Hedda – “I had simply danced myself out, my dear
sir. My time was up.” Brack is emboldened by Hedda’s seeming availability
and pursues the notion of a “triangular relationship” with Hedda. Not
only does Hedda’s “coquettish” behaviour towards Brack exhibits the
feminine side of her nature, it also demonstrates that in some instances she
conforms 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 her
society’s mores and marrying before she becomes a socially unacceptable
spinster, Hedda demonstrates that she is undeniably female and accepts this.

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Hedda’s constantly seeks power over those people she comes in contact with. As a
woman, she has no control over society at large, and thus seeks to influence the
characters she comes into contact with in an emulation of her father’s socially
venerated role as a general. Hedda pretends to have been friends with Thea in
order to solicit her confidence: Thea – “But that’s the last thing in the
world I wanted to talk about!” Hedda – “Not to me, dear? After all, we
were 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 of
Thea’s misgivings about Lovborg’s newfound resolve, she uses it to destroy their
“comradeship” . Hedda – “Now you see for yourself! There’s not
the slightest need for you to go about in this deadly anxiety…” Lovborg –
“So it was deadly anxiety …on my behalf.” Thea – [softly and in
misery] Oh, Hedda! How could you!” Lovborg – “So this was my comrade’s
absolute faith in me.” Hedda then manipulates Lovborg, by challenging his
masculinity, into going to Brack’s bachelor party and resuming his drunken ways
of old. Hedda’s “reward” for this is to find that Lovborg’s
manuscript, his and Thea’s “child” falls into her hands, where she
burns it, thus destroying the child and alto the relationship, both of which
Hedda was jealous of. Similarly, Hedda seeks to push her husband, Jorgan, into
politics: “(I was wondering) whether I could get my husband to go into
politics…” This would raise Hedda’s social standing and allow her to
attain and maintain power. Hedda’s manipulation of people in order to attain
power is a trait that is stereotypically predominant in men. The society of
nineteenth century Norway venerates the image of submissive, static passive and
pure women. Roles of power are normally allocated to men in such a society. The
society in Hedda Gabler demonstrates its intolerance of Hedda’s masculine
behaviour by contributing to her death. Hedda is found to be playing with her
pistols 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 General
Gabler’s pistols. However Lovborg dies from an accidental wound to the stomach
rather than a patrician death from a bullet to the head and Brack, utilising his
position of power within the judicial system, sees the pistol that he
accidentally killed himself with. Recognising it as being General Gabler’s
pistol, he returns to Hedda to stake his claim. Hedda refuses to be in the power
of Brack, she had been “heartily thankful that (he had) no power over
(her)” however, her fear is realised as Brack attempts to force his way
into a “triangular relationship” with Hedda (and Tesman) in return for
not exposing the scandal that she had provided Lovborg with the instrument of
his death. Hedda is “as fearful of scandal as all that” and takes her
life, ironically avoiding the scandal surrounding Lovborg’s death and yet
causing a scandal concerning her own. Hedda’s masculine preference for the
pistols to any feminine task of housekeeping and her fear of scandal due to not
conforming with society’s accepted gender roles leads her to kill herself, thus
demonstrating that things which “one doesn’t do” are not tolerated by
her society of nineteenth century Norway.


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