Women Oppression in Hedda Gabler

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Women Oppression in Hedda Gabler

In Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, the oppression of women in the Victorian era is shown through Hedda’s resistance of those societal norms that limit her to a domestic life. It is fitting that the title of the play is Hedda's maiden name, Hedda Gabler, for the play largely draws upon the idea that Hedda views herself as her father’s daughter rather then her husband’s wife. Throughout the play Hedda struggles to satisfy her ambitious and independent nature within the narrow role society allows her. Unable to be creative in the way she desires, Hedda's passions become destructive both to others and to herself. Although she strives for independence with her masculine traits, Hedda also internalizes the Victorian conception of how a proper lady should behave. Hedda desires intellectual creativity, not just the domestic norm she has fallen into that binds her to a limited social function. Raised by a general, Hedda has inherited the characteristics of a leader and is wholly unsuited to her new role of suburban housewife. General Gabler's portrait keeps him present throughout the play, as do his pistols and Hedda's insistence on being her father’s daughter rather than Tesman's wife. In Ibsen’s time, pistols would have been depicted as male objects. Hedda’s fascination with the pistols shows that she lacks typical feminine characteristics. It’s also important that she refers to them as "General Gabler’s pistols" (1, 801) after Tesman expresses concern of her referring to then as her pistols: “Well, I shall have one thing at least to kill time with in the meanwhile…my pistols, George” (1, 796-799) Tesman shows he has anxiety about the fact that his wife Hedda does not conform to the traditional ideals of femininity of the time. Pistols are viewed to most as dangerous objects however Hedda sees them as just toys; this is very similar to the way that her lethal manipulations are solely for her own amusement. Hedda is unaccustomed to her new life; she has fallen into a lower class and subsequently is not thrilled with her new social position. Other characters also acknowledge Hedda’s fall in social standing: “General Gabler's daughter! Think of the sort of life she was accustomed to in her father's time” (1, 26-27). Since Hedda is unable to have the authority or the wealth her father once had, she exercises power by manipulating her husband George Tesman as well as others around her by exhibiting her very masculine traits. Hedda displays these traits throughout the play because she does not want to conform to the feminine ways or the accepted stereotypes of her gender in society. Hedda's marriage to her husband, Mr. Tesman, only increases her desire for power because he is a constant reminder that now, according to society, she belongs to Mr. Tesman, which Hedda resents. Hedda's unsuitability for her domestic life is also shown by her impatience and evasiveness at any reference to her pregnancy. Women at this time were expected to marry and then have many children immediately after getting married. At the start of the play Tesmen’s aunt bombards him with questions of the suspected child to be “But listen now, George, have you nothing, nothing special to tell me?” (1, 112-113) She expects Hedda to most certainly be pregnant, especially after such a long honeymoon. Hedda on the other hand clearly does not want to face the prospect of being controlled and tied down by one more responsibility and expectation. When Tesman refers to the possibility of Hedda being pregnant, “but have you noticed what splendid condition she is in? How she has filled out on the journey?” (1, 276-277) Hedda’s only response to this is “Oh, do be quiet… Oh, you can't see anything.” (1, 278) She avoids any questions or conversations about children or a pregnancy throughout the play. Hedda is not at all warmed up to the idea of pregnancy and the prospect of motherhood. Alluding to her pregnancy Judge Brack says to...
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