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Psychoanalysis of Hedda gebler

Psychoanalysis in Hedda Gebler
• Dildar Ahmed
Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalysis was founded by
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud believed that
people could be cured by making conscious their
unconscious thoughts and motivations, thus
gaining insight.
The aim of psychoanalysis therapy is to release
repressed emotions and experiences, i.e., make
the unconscious conscious.
• In Hedda Gabler (1890), Ibsen lays a great emphasis on
individual psychology. However, Hedda Gabler was not
understood at the time of its publication. Ibsen’s
portrayal of this type of a neurotic character was met
with the most vehement criticisms.
• Even her Norwegian contemporaries received Hedda
Gabler as a weird character.
• A critic wrote in Morgenbladet that Hedda was ‘a monster
created by the author in the form of a woman who has no
counterpart in the real world’.
• It was only when the science of human behavior
developed and people began to show more eagerness in
the play.
• Hedda Gabler, ‘the best known of Ibsen’s creations
apart from Nora Helmer’.
• Ibsen intended Hedda Gabler to be portrayed in the
play more as the General’s daughter than as Tesman’s
• Her father taught her all kinds of masculine acts like
riding horses and firing pistols instead of preparing her
for wifehood or motherhood.
• In the play, she is found playing with her father’s
pistols, a possible Freudian ‘phallic symbol’ which
shows her latent wish to be a man. Thus, she wishes to
shove away all feminine ways.
• Ibsen can only be understood in the context of the Norwegian
literary culture he grew up with .
• Ibsen was in many respects an anti-Romantic. But if there is one
truth which has emerged clearly from the age of theory
(Psychoanalysis) it is that no text can be finally enclosed in a single
defining and exclusive context.
• For in reality both his general approach to Ibsen's plays and his
detailed interpretations of them would be unthinkable had Freud
never written.
• Ibsen, like Freud, is an archaeologist of the psyche. It is in fact
something of a regular feature of critical writing on Ibsen that
where the critic feels impelled to distance himself from.
• psychoanalysis (as several do), the Freudian infection will
nevertheless be seen to have invaded his text in one surreptitious
fashion or another.
• But being a woman with a strict compliance to
social conventions, she cannot become the
sort of person she wishes to be.
• Thus, her unfulfilled desires are repressed and
she keeps on yearning for things she can never
• This psychological ‘repression’ ultimately
makes Hedda Gabler a ‘neurotic.’
• With this mental unbalance, she grows up into a handsome
young woman. And as she becomes advanced in age, she
starts to suffer from depression.
• Finally, when Tesman proposes, she accepts readily on the
basis that Tesman is almost sure of being appointed as a
professor. Hedda sees only the money that Tesman will get
from such a lucrative post.
• However, Tesman’s expected post of professorship keeps
eluding him. This means that Hedda could not get enough
money to enjoy the kind of life she wants.
• Her life becomes more and more boring. Her personality
keeps on deteriorating day by day.
• Hedda, in spite of all her discontent, remains obsessed
with the image of conventional woman, probably
because of the strict compliance to social conventions.
• Thus, she can only complain about her marriage but
she does not have the courage to leave Tesman.
• In this connection, it would be apt to state that she
suffers from ‘Oedipus complex’ or rather ‘Electra
• None of the flirts surrounding her, as also her husband,
were as charismatic as her father.
• In this play, Ibsen shows that Hedda’s ‘suppression’ of
her desires affects her behavior throughout the play.
• Hedda’s ‘hysteria’ is the reaction to her female roles to which she is
unsuited. Hedda rejects marriage and pregnancy but it does not
mean that she achieves the way of living she wants and thus she
becomes very
• depressed.
• Hedda’s resentment is directed towards others in the form of
hatred, violence and destruction, which is a form of ‘transference.’
‘Transference,’ according to Freud, is the redirection of feelings and
desires retained from childhood towards a
• new object.
• She hates all those who could achieve those desires she cannot
attain. So she tries to manipulate the lives of others to ruin them.
• Harold Clurman said, ‘the neurotic temperament, the frustrated,
the physically or morally unsatisfied often sees beauty in
• Hedda’s complete unwillingness to accept responsibility is one of
the biggest aspects of her neurosis.
• Hedda is not in a right frame of mind as she thinks that she can
marry but should not get pregnant.
• Her burning of Lovborg’s manuscript which she refers to as
• Mrs. Elvsted’s child is the manifestation of her desire to kill her own
• Hedda is more dangerously neurotic than Nora because while Nora
only leaves behind her children, Hedda vehemently avoids the very
notion of childbirth and murders her unborn child by killing herself.
• Central character, who is seen in some qualified sense
at least, as an existential, or romantic, or tragic
heroine. Hedda Gabler, it seems, presents us with a
particular version of 'liberal tragedy', that form in
which the claims of an alienated individual are
uncompromisingly asserted against those of a
conventional society .
• At the age of twenty nine, and having 'danced herself
out', the aristocratic Hedda Gabler has married Jørgen
Tesman, an indefatigable scholar and pedant. If
Tesman's world seemed to offer her some sort of
security, in the event she feels that she is suffocating
in middle class atmosphere.
• The action of the play is presided over by the
portrait of Hedda's father, General Gabler, which
now hangs in the Tesmans' drawing room.
• This portrait of Hedda's dead father serves as
the symbol of a military-aristocratic world which
no longer offers his daughter a home. Of her
mother we hear no mention at all, and Hedda's
only other remaining connection with the world
she comes from is the pair of pistols which she
has inherited from her father.
• habit of firing off these pistols, from time to time, dramatises the
profound dissonance between herself and her present world, and
her frustration with the emptiness of her life.
• During the opening scenes of the play various hints are thrown
out to suggest that Hedda is pregnant, but the prospect of
motherhood is so far from providing her with a reason for living
that it seems to be anathema to her. Certainly the child would be
born into an unpromising environment, for throughout the play
we have the utmost difficulty in thinking of Hedda and Tesman as
a parental couple. Tesman's naïve assumption that they have
everything in common is matched by Hedda's inward belief that
they have nothing. The struggle to constitute the parental couple
is one of the play's deep preoccupations.
• Complications unfold when we learn that
Hedda herself has had an earlier relationship
with Løvborg, which broke up when she
threatened to shoot him.
• Løvborg had in some undisclosed fashion
begun to ask too much of the relationship.
• Commentators are preoccupied with the
character of the protagonist, her supposed
revolt against 'middle class society', the
authenticity or otherwise of her final action, and
hence the validity of her claims to heroic status.
• The protagonist of Ibsen's play is for all of us a
deeply troubling dramatic creation - outside of
Shakespeare and the Greeks
• It is believed that Hedda also displays 'serene
self-confidence' is simply astonishing, for what
is Hedda Gabler if not a deeply troubled soul?
• The book-child theme is embedded in the more overt drama of sexual
liaisons and rivalries, for example, in that the various couplings suggest a
range of possibilities as to the parentage of the 'child'. And because the
play generates so many different 'subject positions', in this and other
ways, we come to feel that it is being staged in some figurative space in
which the potentialities of human nature are being very profoundly
• To ignore this theme is to turn aside, understandably perhaps, from
some of the deepest unconscious fears, phantasies and anxieties which
the play arouses: that if we surrender to some of our darkest impulses,
for instance, we may destroy everything that is good in the world. It is
also, at the same time, to miss the way in which the book-child theme
shapes the structure of the play as a whole. Throughout Hedda Gabler
there is a triangular patterning which has been given remarkably little
attention, despite the fact that it is very prominently highlighted during
the scenes between Hedda and Brack:
• The relationship between Hedda and Brack - a
sterile and destructive sparring between
egotisms - which has no reference at all to the
theme of the 'child'. From Hedda's marriage to
Tesman, to the relationship formed during the
closing scene by Tesman and Mrs Elvsted (with a
view to their resurrecting Løvborg's book-child)
each liaison is shaped by this second 'triangular'
theme - that is to say, the parental couple with
their embryonic offspring.
• Freud noted that the primal scene is felt by
the child to be sadistic in nature, but he did
not explain this finding.
Freud's 'primal scene
• Freud's 'primal scene' figures in the play - haunts it indeed, from
beginning to end.
• The opening exchange of the play, between Tesman's Aunt Julle,
and his servant Berte, notify us that the young couple, Jørgen
Tesman and Hedda Gabler, having returned the previous evening
from a six month honeymoon trip, are still in bed, though it seems
to be quite late in the morning. These events, especially as they
are spoken of by these two good-hearted and motherly women,
are natural enough in themselves, but everything which
subsequently happens in the play serves to make the nature of
the sexual relationship between the off-stage couple (which is of
course variously constituted) a source of great perplexity for the
'spectator' both on and off the stage, this of course being the
essence of the primal scene experience.
• The dramatis personae in Hedda Gabler can rather crudely
be classified in two categories - the concerned (Thea
Elvsted, Tesman, Aunt Julie, Berte) and the demonic
(Løvborg, Brack, Hedda).
• Creativity would be realised in the marriage of
imagination and concern, then this union seems to be
(almost) beyond the play's conceiving, for within the
collective psyche of the play imaginative energy seems to
be entirely dissociated from concern and inseparably
linked with ruthlessness. It is clear in fact that the sense of
creative potentiality which the play generates is matched,
if not overborne, by a will to destruction which threatens
to leave us with nothing but its own epitaph to
• the treatment of human destructiveness in
Hedda Gabler presents us with a remarkable
anticipation of Melanie Klein's writings on
the theme of envy.
• From a Kleinian point of view the choice of alcoholism as the
weakness of character which Hedda is able to exploit - in order to
wreak havoc upon the relationship between Løvborg and Thea - is
by no means an arbitrary one. If it is obvious enough that Thea
Elvsted plays the part of the good mother who literally weans
Løvborg, lovingly, from his addiction, how is Hedda Gabler's cruel
exploitation of that addiction to be understood? Like a number of
other accounts of her motives which she puts forward, Hedda's
claim that in driving Løvborg back to drink she is liberating him
clearly lacks authenticity.
• Gnawed by her emptiness Hedda gives herself the phantasy
'satisfaction', through her identification with Løvborg, of both
greedily consuming and wreaking vengeance upon the frustrating
good object.
• The stereotypical reading of Hedda Gabler,
which sees Tesman, with his relatives and
household, as representing a
claustrophobically bourgeois complacency and Hedda, by a simple antithesis, as the
imprisoned spirit of authentic protest makes the real complexities of Ibsen's play
impossible to discern.
• A particular cause of envy is the absence of it in
others. The envied person is felt to possess what
is at bottom most prized and most desired - and
this is a good object, which also implies a good
character and sanity. Moreover the person who
can ungrudgingly enjoy other people's creative
work and happiness is spared the torments of
envy, grievance and persecution. Whereas envy
is a source of great unhappiness, a relative
freedom from it is felt to underlie contented and
peaceful states of mind - ultimately sanity.
• The subject of envy comes up at a crucial
moment in one of the scenes between Hedda
and Tesman, when Tesman is about to reveal
that he has Løvborg's manuscript in his
possession. Before revealing this he makes
clear in his own way how much the book has
impressed him:
• Why is Hedda Gabler so preoccupied with style? Why
is the aesthetic of suicide of such importance to her?
And how are we to judge this final action of hers? If
Hedda is bidding for the full tragic effect, does the
setting of her action after all render it grotesque,
absurd, overblown? Is she in the wrong play - a tragic
heroine framed by the elements of farce? When the
curtain falls, has the play's heroine brought about a
transformation of her life, or been mocked in the
attempt? Imposed her own poetic shape upon her life
and circumstances, or lent herself, in the endeavour,
to scandal and derision - or mere incomprehension?
• Embedded in this metaphor is the issue
which haunts our thinking about
psychoanalysis and literature. Does
psychoanalytic interpretation commit us to
the idea that literary characters (and real
human beings) are to be seen, necessarily, as
acting out a script which is always already
• The play deals with the story of a woman who
is torn with an inner conflict between her
unfeminine cravings on the one hand and her
journey along the feminine path of marriage
and pregnancy on the other.
• She is portrayed as a woman who cannot find
her own identity.
• And in her quest for identity, she ends up
killing herself.
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