Setting as a Clarification of Motives in Hedda Gabler

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Setting as a Clarification of Motives in Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen centralizes one of his most renowned plays, Hedda Gabler, around an upper-class housewife, and the complexities behind her seemingly average life. The title character finds herself in conditions that would be highly sought after by most young women of the nineteenth century: in a seemingly stable marriage with a comfortable home, and significantly more freedom than most females were offered within the context of the play. For this reason, Hedda’s tragic suicide comes as a surprise, and is often considered to be incomprehensible and unjustifiable in the minds of audience members. That being said, Ibsen clarifies Hedda’s motives by using the play’s setting to offer hints and explanation regarding the character’s condition as well as the factors that make her a victim of society. By understanding Ibsen’s use of the broader setting of nineteenth century Norway, as well as the smaller and more detailed setting on stage, one can in turn begin to understand the reasoning behind Hedda’s final impassioned decision and the events leading up to the play’s tragic conclusion.

The nineteenth century was a time of patriarchal dominance, which is the foundation beneath most of Hedda’s internal conflict. Being raised by her father as a young girl, Hedda was treated more like a son than a daughter, and therefore able to enjoy freedoms that were typically reserved for males of the time. In the first scene of the play, Miss Tesman brings attention to this fact by exclaiming, “what a life she had in the general’s day!” (Ibsen 201) and remembering the days when Hedda would ride horses with General Gabler, “galloping past” (201), rather than trotting as would be customary for young women of the era. When Hedda agrees to marry George Tesman, she sacrifices this liberty of gender ambiguity, and confines herself to the societal restrictions of the time. Nevertheless, although Hedda displays an outward compliance to...
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