Restraining Factors in Hedda Gabler Essay

This essay has a total of 1078 words and 10 pages.

Restraining Factors in Hedda Gabler



Rhoades 1

Laura Rhoades

Cason

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

Rhoades 2

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

leaders.

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
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