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Restraining Factors In Hedda Gabler Essay Research

Restraining Factors In Hedda Gabler Essay, Research Paper

Rhoades 1

Laura Rhoades


AP Literature/Composition

15 November 1999

Restraining Factors in Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen’s 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 is restrained from gaining the status

of a hero. Truthfully, there are many variables that shape Hedda’s life. Nonetheless,

two factors in particular stand out—her father, General Gabler, and the repressive,

masculine society of the era. Although Ibsen does not directly address these issues,

he succeeds in conveying their critical significance.

A common underlying theme in Ibsen’s work is the linking of death and

music. And, as one might have deduced, this premise is employed in Hedda Gabler.

Moreover, the ever-present piano, belonging to the late General Gabler, symbolizes

Hedda’s past freedom, prior to marrying George Tesman, as the “General’s daughter.”

A more obvious example of General Gabler’s influence over Hedda is the large portrait

of him that dominates the “inner” room. In fact, as Ibsen initially describes the single set,

he momentarily focuses on the presence of the portrait of the “handsome, elderly man in

a General’s uniform” (Ibsen Act 1). With this description, the reader is made aware of the

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General’s presence, even after his death. Arguably, the most significant influence the

General has over Hedda is the 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

the past, as Hedda has recently become “Hedda Tesman.” Throughout the play, Hedda is

referred to as “Hedda Gabler,” or , more simply, “General Gabler’s daughter.” This fact

is also indicative of the kind of “facelessness” that women of the era were often subject

to. Yet another aspect of the General’s rearing of Hedda is her unusual fascination with

his pistols. This fascination is one of the first given clues that Hedda was raised as a boy

would have been. The mere possibility of Hedda being raised as a male is sufficient

evidence to explain her underlying disdain at being a woman—unable to express herself

as a man would. Instead, Hedda simply “contents herself with negative behavior instead

of constructive action” (Linnea 91). Since she cannot express herself outright, she amuses

herself by manipulating others. The most compelling episode of Hedda’s perfected brand

of manipulation is the role she plays in the death of Eilert Lovborg, a former love.

Despite the fact that Eilert is the only person who can evoke true passion in 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 unable to directly control anyone or anything,

Hedda chooses to rebel against the society that shapes her and obliterate one of its future


Needless to say, the Victorian era of literature and society did not offer a

profusion of opportunities for young women. This fact is made abundantly clear in

Hedda Gabler. Despite the fact that society stifles Hedda, it is not the only factor

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that restrains her from gaining independence, as well as expressing herself. In reality,

Hedda’s own cowardice generously contributes to her inescapable end. But, of course,

the root of her cowardice is her former life involving her father, General Gabler.

Even though Hedda takes pleasure in creating scandal, however, she is deathly frightened

of being associated with it. One such incidence involves Thea Elvsted, Hedda’s long-

forgotten schoolmate, explaining to Hedda her current, scandalous situation concerning

Eilert Lovborg, who is Thea’s stepchildren’s tutor. Specifically, Thea is rebelling against

the conventions of society and pursuing Lovborg. Hedda, constantly aware of scandal,

responds in a predictable manner: “But what do you think people will say of you,

Thea?” (1). This scene is the first of many that reveals Hedda’s inability to

disregard society and scandal and live the life she has never dared to live. Indeed, the

sole reason that Hedda marries George Tesman is due to the fact that he is the only

one of her suitors that expresses an interest in marriage. Once again, Hedda’s fear of

society’s ideals for women forces her to compromise her thoughts and desires, thereby

causing her to feel jealous and trapped. “It [Hedda’s mind] has merely gone round and

round the cage she has built for herself, looking for a way to escape” (Ellis-Fermor 43).

In other words, Hedda has come to the realization that there is no way out of her “place”

in society, as well as life. She will never be any man’s equal or a “real” person. Also,

much like the rest of society, Tesman views Hedda as an object, a collectible. Finally,

due to the circumstances imposed upon her by Norwegian society, Hedda responds with

the one act of courage she has managed to muster in her short, meaningless life—she kills

herself with her father’s pistol.

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While Hedda is considerably responsible 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, both play major roles in the shaping of her character. If it were not for

her extenuating circumstances, as well as her solitary act of courage, one can only

speculate what she might have come to represent in contemporary feminist literature.

However, literature is not founded on speculation and guess work, it is based on visible

feelings, emotions, and actions. With this in mind, one is forced to recognize what Hedda

truly represents: the cold, emotionless product of a disapproving and domineering society

and father.

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Ellis-Fermor, Una. “Introduction to Hedda Gabler and Other Plays.” Modern Critical

Views: Henrik Ibsen. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House,

1999. 41.

Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. Ed. Stanley Applebaum. New York: Dover, 1990.

Linnea, Sharon. Barron’s Book Notes: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House & Hedda Gabler.

New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 1985.