WORKS IN TRANSLATION ESSAY
IB Diploma - Literature HL
In what way does Henrik Ibsen’s use of irony in Hedda Gabler contribute to the play’s examination of 19th century Norwegian social ideology?
Name – Daniel Bloch
School Number – 001926
Candidate Number – 001926-002
Session – November, 2014
Word Count – 1365
Reflective Statement: Word Count - 379
I only had superficial knowledge about Henrik Ibsen and the society in which he lived prior to the Interactive Oral, however, by the end I obtained a far greater understanding of the man, his culture, and how his experiences influenced his writing, particularly Hedda Gabler.
After finding out that Ibsen’s family went through bankruptcy and a long-standing feud, it revealed to me why he wrote so many of his plays, including Hedda Gabler about financial hardships and social class issues. From a childhood where he was brought up witnessing such family drama, it is of little surprise to me that his texts are realistic, incorporating objects as motifs and dialogue reflecting the social conventions of the time. In Hedda Gabler’s case, there was the pistol collection, the piano and Eljert Lovborg’s manuscript. All of these stage properties become motifs that Ibsen uses to represent a 19th Century Norwegian household. Furthermore, he used these objects to explore the inner states and psyches of those within the bourgeois. An example of this being the portrait of General Gabler, which Hedda keeps in the back room. This is a key motif that represents the fall of the upper-middle to higher class as it foreshadows Hedda’s inadequacy in living up to her families past.
During the Interactive Oral I became aware of the fact that Ibsen wrote and or directed as many as 146 plays, most of which were recognized as ‘scandalous’, and Hedda Gabler is no exception. Hedda’s character particularly romanticizes scandalous behaviour, which opposed social and cultural conventions for women at the time. Ibsen wrote in a way where he would effectively ‘open’ the once ‘closed’ doors to the private lives of the middle class. During the play, all the little indecent incidents that would typically be held secret were revealed to the public. For example, Judge Brack’s proposal to Hedda about a potential “love triangle” exposes how men at the time would discreetly try and see how much they could get away with, particularly when asserting their masculine dominance over females, such was the dominant social ideology of the time. This highlights the clear social double standard that was endorsed by males at the time, who would dichotomize their actions based upon being in the public domain or in privacy.
The dominant 19th century Norwegian social ideology of the growing middle-class endorsed a patriarchal structure to the family where men were encouraged to earn a good income and have a respectable public image. In conjunction, the expectation of women was to support the husband and play a domesticated role. In Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen employs verbal, dramatic and situational irony to explore the varying public and private personas of the main characters. Ibsen’s use of irony invites his audience into the unstable psyche of the characters, revealing their intense unhappiness and duplicity. These ironic forms allow Ibsen to critically examine the false values and behaviours of 19th century Norwegian society.
Verbal irony is a key feature of Hedda Gabler and adds both tension and humour to the play. The dialogue contains layers of verbal irony, which are used to examine the contrast between the social ideology of the time and the actual behaviours of the middle-class outside of the public domain. This contrast is evident from the start of the play as Hedda encounters Aunt Julle who asserts that Hedda “certainly [does] have a tremendous lot of luggage,” 1 a snide comment referring to Hedda’s evident ‘emotional’ baggage opposed to her suitcases. This...
Bibliography: Ibsen, H. & Fermor, U. M. (1961). Hedda Gabler and Other Plays. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng.: Penguin Books.
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