Placed in similar crises as previous Ibsen heroines, Hedda Gabler faces an impasse in her life. Sharing Nora's craving for freedom and Mrs. Alving's compliance with social conventions, Hedda finds no outlet for her personal demands; she is constantly torn between her aimless desire for freedom and her commitment to standards of social appearance. Refusing to submit to her womanly destiny, Hedda has such an unsatisfied craving for life that she is incapable of being emotionally involved with others. When Nora Helmer recognized her own unsatisfied needs, she left her husband and children. Considering her most "sacred duty" was to find herself, she left home to discover her personal worth through facing life's experiences before being able to relate to others. Like Nora, Hedda Gabler is a stranger to herself. However, lacking Nora's daring and defiance of conventions, she is unable to undergo the trials of self-evaluation and becomes a morbidly self-vindictive, destructive virago, capable only to strike out against the successful socially conforming individuals who represent an implicit reproach to her uninformed cravings. In the play, Ibsen provides enough information to show how Hedda's problem is the product of her special background. Raised by her military father, Hedda must have grown up in an atmosphere of strict discipline and conformity to rules. Becoming a beautiful sought-after young woman, she attended many social affairs but never found anyone to marry; probably she was not rich enough to interest the eligible bachelors of high social standing. As a product of the nineteenth century, when women were destined to become either respectable old maids like George's aunts or humble housekeepers like Mrs. Elvsted, Hedda is an anomaly. Instead of preparing his daughter for wifehood or motherhood, General Gabler taught her to ride and shoot, skills symbolic of the military mystique which became for Hedda the basis of her fascination with the violent and the romantic. Inheriting from her father, whose forbidding portrait hangs in the Tesman's drawing room, his pride and coldness as well as his imperious commanding attitude toward others of a lower rank, Hedda lacks compassion for weak and submissive creatures like Thea and Aunt Julia but has a respect for power and independence, qualities she finds in Brack and Lövborg. Since it was unthinkable at the time for a woman to receive either an intellectual or a professional education, Hedda's intelligence remained stultified. Unable to recognize the demands of her individuality, she remains enslaved to a standard of social conventionality and can only admire from afar the forbidden world where there is freedom of expression and an uninhibited exuberance of life. Eilert Lövborg provides Hedda with the vicarious experience of an individual who enjoys an unfettered creative life. She drew sustenance from his soul's outpourings as he told her of his dreams, his work, and his excessive way of life. At the same time, Hedda was too ignorant and inexperienced to accurately evaluate Lövborg's character; she regarded him not as a creature of reality, but as the person — and realization — of her adolescent quest for the romantic. When Lövborg made serious demands on her, Hedda rejected him. Stultified at the emotional level of an adolescent and repelled by his unconventionality, she could no longer tolerate the intensity of an actual relationship and shrank from responding to his demands. George Tesman, on the other hand, is an acceptable husband especially because he makes no demands on Hedda's emotional incapacity. Posing no threat to her internal security, he is able to provide her with material security and to indulge her tastes for luxury and an active social life. Besides being sincerely fond of his bride, George satisfies Hedda's conventional standards (he is "correctness itself") and leaves her imagination free to indulge her demand for independence and courage. Having thus married to inure herself from any internal threats, Hedda coldly plans to base her life on the enjoyment of external advantages. The drama begins at this point and develops characters and events which swiftly undermine Hedda's system of values. Her pregnancy is the first disturbance to her calculated system of inner protection. Hedda then learns that George's appointment may be deferred, a situation which deprives her of luxury and active social entertainment. It is significant that Lövborg, Hedda's romantic ideal of the free and life-intoxicated hero, becomes George's professional rival. According to her conception, Eilert's free spirit must have somehow been conquered, or she must have deceived herself as to his true nature. In either case, Hedda is deprived of her favorite ideal and must try to reinstate the old Lövborg in order to maintain an equilibrium between fantasy and reality. When she discovers that Thea Elvsted has preempted her former power over Eilert, now temperate, hard-working, and successful, she overrides Thea to gain the desired influence over Lövborg. This too backfires, for his liberation from Thea's steadying influence becomes a sordid debauchery that ends with Eilert's ignoble death. Thus, all Hedda's expectations dissolve into a vulgar residue that she cannot accept. Brack administers the final blow to her dream of independence when he threatens her with blackmail. After all her efforts at manipulating others so that she can remain free of fettering responsibilities and slavish domestic attachments, Hedda learns that she is forever at Brack's "beck and call" if she wishes to avoid being involved in a sordid scandal. With this final disillusion, Hedda no longer has a life worth facing. In a tragic attempt to "do it beautifully," she puts a bullet through her temple. -------------------------------------------------
Characterization of Secondary Characters
As usual in Ibsen's tightly constructed dramas, each character provides, by comparison, insight into every other character. The characterizations of Thea Elvsted and Miss Juliana Tesman, unlike Hedda, depict women who submit to their socially imposed feminine roles and derive satisfaction from their lives: they devote themselves to the unselfish tasks of raising children and serving to inspire masculine creativity. Julia, for instance, has raised George Tesman, who became a promising academician, and now that the nephew has grown up, she takes care of her invalid sister. Thea, after having married an unloving elderly man in order to care for his household, has found a satisfying life assisting and inspiring the work of a creative and brilliant writer. Through her devotion, Lövborg has been able to channel his undisciplined energies to produce according to his potential. His masterpiece, the product of their mutual inspiration, is the natural child, which, through love, Thea and Eilert have conceived. Compared to Aunt Julia and Mrs. Elvsted, Hedda seems an unnatural woman. Refusing to relinquish her freedom, she regards childbearing as loathsome and destroys the manuscript conceived by Thea and Lövborg as if she were murdering her own child. Degrading Aunt Julia by insulting her new bonnet, Hedda expresses hostility toward her husband as well as his relatives. Hedda's emotional sterility is countered by Judge Brack's lack of compassion. Unlike Hedda, Brack has a profession and is free to amuse himself without overstepping the masculine social conventions. This parallel between them illustrates the double standards of society, which denies rights of self-expression to women. The emptiness of Brack's emotional life is underscored by his attributes of vulgarity and lechery. Willing to first compromise Hedda's respectability as a married woman, he has no compunctions about using blackmail as a weapon guaranteeing his selfish ends. Like Hedda, Brack wishes to substitute power over someone for love which he is unable to give. George's bumbling ordinariness contrasts vividly and humorously with Lövborg's flamboyant and creative brilliance. Where George writes about the "domestic industries of Brabant in the middle ages," Eilert works on a book dealing with the "civilizing forces" of humanity in the future. George delights in researching among old manuscripts; Lövborg considers the problems of the future. Seeing only an inexperienced bride, the husband admires Hedda for her qualities of beauty and poise and expects that she will learn to love him at some future time. Hedda's former lover, on the other hand, is fascinated by her "craving for life" and has insight into her cowardly retreat to convention. George is eager for his professional appointment, which will guarantee his ability to support his household, while Lövborg looks forward to the "moral victory" he will achieve from delivering his scheduled lectures. Solicitous to his aunts, George cherishes sentimental reminders of the love and care he received as a child (as shown by his delight at receiving an old pair of slippers Rina embroidered for him); Lövborg, recognizing that the past is irreclaimable, breaks with Thea when he loses the manuscript they have written together. Ibsen sets the brilliant writer as an exact counterpart to the medieval scholar in many ways. Where one is erratic, the other is steady; one deals with abstract and philosophical problems, the other concerns himself with concrete and detailed minutiae. Because of these qualities, however, Lövborg, a representation of the discontinuity in living a free life, cannot carry on his work. George, on the other hand, representing the continuity of living a structured life, is able to take up Lövborg's work and eventually fulfill the writer's promise of greatness. With this situation, Ibsen seems to imply a balance of human forces: the erratic genius is necessary to provide the impelling idea, but the character who is gifted with less imagination and an ability to work hard at concrete details is the one able to realize the idea. -------------------------------------------------
It is fitting that the title of the play is Hedda's maiden name, Hedda Gabler, for the play is to a large extent about the formerly aristocratic Hedda's inability to adjust to the bourgeois life into which she has married. Her tragedy lies not only in her own suicide but in her desire that Ejlert should have a "beautiful" suicide: she hopes that life can be beautiful, can measure up to a certain standard, regardless of practicalities like professional success or failure. She is amused by how much Tesman* worries about making a living. This aristocratic privileging of "aesthetic" matters causes Hedda to feel very unsympathetic to Tesman. She doesn't allow him to use the word "we" to describe the two of them. It also allows her to feel little guilt when "cheating on" him, if only on an emotional level, with Ejlert and Judge Brack. Her values, based on an aesthetic standard rather than the moral standard to which her husband conforms, are beyond Tesman's control or even his understanding; as a result, he cannot predict her actions. At the same time, however, Hedda's apparent pregnancy draws attention to the tragic nature of her quest. She continually denies the inevitable. The rest of the male characters are more or less in love with Hedda, perhaps because of her almost decadent sense of beauty. Brack wants to establish a private relationship with her, parallel to her relationship with Tesman, and Ejlert dearly hopes that she shares his "passion for life." She finds both of these ideas silly, openly rejecting Ejlert's notion and teasing Brack by saying that he wants to be "the cock of the walk." Even Mrs. Elvsted feels intimidated by Hedda. Because of this popularity, she is the most powerful character. She toys with others because she can find no solace or entertainment in life. Indeed, Hedda's power is so far-reaching that her own self-destruction leads almost inevitably to the destruction of the other characters' lives.