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.