HEDDA GABLER THEMES

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ENGLISH IV-DC
3/27/13
HEDDA GABLER---THOUGHTS AND THEMES
To answer these questions, we will look closely at the play. We will not necessarily answer the questions in
the order listed, nor will our discussion always be phrased in Ibsen's terms, but we will arrive at answers.
But we may not arrive at one answer or one interpretation that every class member, including me, agrees
with. This is a highly complex play: Hedda Gabler's behavior is contradictory; the characters are not easily
judged because they have positive and negative traits; the issues raised are numerous and complicated;
finally, the structure of the play does not reveal Ibsen's point of view. What I mean by the play's not
revealing Ibsen's point of view can be explained by referring to Hamlet. Hamlet is unquestionably an
honorable man with upstanding qualities whom the audience is expected to admire. It is not so clear how
we are to view Hedda: is Hedda to be condemned for her selfishness and destructiveness? is she to be
admired for her courage and determination? is she both admirable and despicable?
IS HEDDA GABLER A TRAGEDY?

The tragic vision. The seven elements traditionally regarded as elements of tragedy: (1) a
catastrophic conclusion, (2) that will seem inevitable, and (3) that occurs, ultimately, because of
the human limitations of the protagonist, (4) who suffers terribly, and (5) whose suffering often
seems disproportionate to his or her culpability. Yet (6) the suffering is usually redemptive,
bringing out the noblest of human capacities for learning, and (7) for accepting moral
responsibility.
Hedda Gabler Themes
Manipulation
Hedda is famous as a cold-hearted, manipulative woman years ahead of her time. In this play,
her ability to influence others has a lot to do with her sexuality and good looks. Machinations
become a sort of game, a way of escaping the boredom of Victorian-era Norway. Because
women can’t seek power through careers or scholarship, Hedda seeks it through controlling
others.
Women and Femininity
Hedda Gabler takes place in Norway in the late 1800s. Women are restricted by Victorian values
and prevented from having any real lives of their own. As such, they exist only in relation to men.
The women in this play all seek to solve one fundamental problem: what to do with their lives.
Emptiness and malaise are the only common factors between them, however, as the various
"solutions" to this "problem" differ greatly.
Wealth
Hedda Gabler explores a marriage between an aristocratic woman and a seemingly middle-class
man. Wealth is a constant barrier between them, not only as far as money is concerned but also
in regards to class. Interests, mannerisms, even personalities and friendships, are all tied to
class. Because of this, the notion of "rich" and "poor" is often more about power, influence, and
reputation than it is about cash.
Respect and Reputation
In Hedda Gabler, playing by society’s rules is often more important than human life. Set in the
late 1800s, the characters are constrained by Victorian values, particularly when it comes to sex.
Because so many sexual topics are taboo, many of the conversations and machinations can be
understood only in subtext and innuendos. The threat of public scandal hangs constantly over the
characters’ heads, threatening to ruin social status, and therefore lives. At the same time, some
characters find pleasure in rebelling, albeit it secretly.
Courage/Cowardice
Courage is tied to the idea of rebellion in Hedda Gabler – rebellion against society and its
constraints. For one character, this means secretly defying the limits of her sex by manipulating
and coercing the men around her. For another, this means leaving the good graces of his
aristocratic family and engaging in a life of alcohol and debauchery. For yet a third character, it
means leaving her husband behind to be with the man she loves. Are the characters courageous
or cowardly?
Appearances
Beauty is power in Hedda Gabler. Hedda herself is a stunning woman of aristocratic good looks,
which she uses to get what she wants. Because everyone wants to sleep with her, she has power
over men – a rare scenario in a world defined by Victorian values (according to which women are
subservient and men dominant). Aesthetics are important to the play as well: the aristocratic
class, more so than the middle class, is obsessed with appearances and with avoiding what it
deems ugly. The retreat into a romanticized, idealized world of aesthetic rather than moral values
is a hallmark of the titular character.
Dreams, Hopes, and Plans
If Hedda Gabler teaches one lesson, it is that dreams cannot be relied upon. In this play, all plans
for the future are predicated upon falsities, lies, misunderstandings, or miscommunication.
Whether it be marriage, friendship, babies, professional pursuits, or economic risk, no thing is a
sure thing. The characters continually act based on these false certainties with regard to the
future, and they are repeatedly punished for doing so.
Drugs and Alcohol
Hedda Gabler features a recovering alcoholic as one of its main characters. The play draws a
connection between the idea of courage and the idea of drinking – surely a man must be
courageous to turn his back on the rules of a Victorian society and engage in drunken
debauchery? In this play, yes, that is the case. Alcoholism is interpreted as the mark of a free
spirit, rather than a disease which needs to be treated.
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