Monstrous Characters in Frankenstein and Hedda Gabler
In Whale’s classic motion picture interpretation of Frankenstein, the Creature is nothing but a monster, a blight to humanity, from the moment of his creation. The inherently evil nature depicted in the movie comes as a direct result of the damaged condition of the Creature’s brain, representing the common theory of time that promoted the correlation between the brain structure and personality. Thus, the basic theme Whale exalts in the work is that monsters, and criminals in everyday society, are born, not made. The novel Frankenstein and the play Hedda Gabler also portray monstrous characters, though the origin of their malevolence deviates from Whale’s early twentieth century thought dramatically. Ibsen and Shelley both illustrate that monstrosity develops after one’s exalted ideal of humanity is disappointed, ultimately causing monsters to resort to self destruction. Hedda Gabler and Frankenstein’s Creature are both portrayed as monsters in that they deviate from standard human behavior toward excessive wickedness and cruelty. Hedda’s actions reveal a deep-seated hatred for her fellow man. In one instance, she lashes out intentionally against Aunt Julie, insulting her poor socioeconomic status. Hedda explains to Brack, “I pretended I thought [her hat] was the maid’s” (Ibsen 254). Aunt Julie, a mother-figure in the story, has no outstanding quarrel with Hedda, yet seems to live in fear of her. She mentions that the very hat which Hedda insulted she bought for the express purpose of pleasing her new niece-in-law, so that Hedda, “wouldn’t feel ashamed of [her]” (Ibsen 224). In a way, their new familial relationship adds to the power that Hedda holds over Aunt Julie; she certainly takes advantage of it at the same time that Julie feels greater need to shield herself from it. It is important to note that Hedda has no ulterior motive here other than to simply destroy Aunt Julie’s humanity in the same way she figuratively destroys the humanity of Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg in burning the manuscript. As Hedda throws the pages into the stove, she says, “Now I’m burning your child, Thea! You, with your curly hair. Your child and Eilert Lovborg’s” (Ibsen 288). The manuscript is representative of both its ‘parents’ just as a human child is created from the flesh of both father and mother. Thus, in one fell act, Hedda destroys a part of both Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg. The Creature of Frankenstein also seeks to attack humanity, specifically his creator, by aiming his malice at his family. The Creature tells Frankenstein directly that “your sufferings will satisfy my everlasting hatred,” and the surest way to bring about his suffering is to attack those he loves (Shelley 254). He kills William, but while this murder may seem obviously monstrous, the true monstrosity of the act comes not from the act itself, but from the intention behind it. The Creature himself says, “I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exaltation and hellish triumph” (Shelley 170). Just like Hedda, his intention here is to bring about human misery, the true mission of a monster.Hedda and the Creature direct their cruelty toward humanity because society failed to live up to the ideal which they held it to. Hedda expresses her disappointment in the world, saying, “I want to be free of everything ugly” (Ibsen 279). Hedda expects beauty, excitement, honesty and romance from humanity. She anticipates Lovborg to return with ‘vine-leaves’ on his head, symbolizing an ideal human society where men and women are free to indulge in the goodness which the world has to offer. It is not physical ugliness from which Hedda seeks to disentangle herself, but the deformed and unsightly society which she nonetheless finds herself in. Her marriage to Tesman and her pregnancy bind her forever to participate fully in the humanity which so disgusts her. When asked by Brack why she consented to marriage, Hedda responds that, “it was certainly more than my other admirers were willing to do for me” (Ibsen 251). Hedda waited until the last possible, acceptable moment to be married by the standards of her time; the stage directions mention that she is very near thirty. She held out for beauty as long as she could, but in the end she realized that humanity would never live up to her ideal. This brutal realization causes the scathing viciousness of Hedda’s personality and prompts her to destructive action against her fellow man. As Hedda laments the loss of her former hope for happiness, she remarks to Tesman, “well, at least I have one thing left to amuse myself with…my pistols” (Ibsen 247). Hedda’s pistols not only symbolize her volatile personality, but also the monstrosity which she has resorted to. She speaks of this violence as if it is all she has left to comfort her in a world without joy. Not only will Hedda strike out against society, but it will ‘amuse’ her; it will bring her a sort of grim satisfaction to crush those who have disappointed her vision of beauty. Hedda shares this destructive ecstasy with the Creature of Frankenstein, who was born with and initially reveled in a glorious opinion of man. After he has observed the DeLacey family for a time, the Creature remarks, “as yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil; benevolence and generosity were ever present before me, inciting within me a desire to become an actor in the busy scene where so many admirable qualities were called forth and displayed” (Shelley 150). The excellent behavior and relationships exhibited by the DeLacey family inspire in the Creature a triumphant and honorable conception of humanity. Although he reads about murder, crime and pain in books, he cannot believe they exist when such an example of beauty is his only real experience. The Creature becomes dependent on this ideal, and when it fails to hold true, he resorts to violence for compensation. He says, “feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to control them; but allowing myself to be borne away by the stream, I bent my mind toward injury and death” (Shelley 164). The Creature has put all of his faith in the DeLacey family and in the exalted picture of humanity that they gave him; consequently, when they cruelly spurn him, he has nowhere to direct his anger but back at humanity. With no one to turn to in his despair and anger, the only option is to allow his hatred to dictate what would become a series of monstrous actions, for he says, “I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear” (Shelley 173). It is his determination that if humanity cannot accept his love, if it cannot live up to the ideal which the DeLacey’s laid out, then it deserves nothing more than his derision and hatred. With the realization that humanity cannot be changed, Hedda and the Creature seek to remove themselves from it. After Hedda’s final attempt to manifest her ideal in the real world with the death of Eilert Lovborg fails, she realizes that nothing she ever does will be enough to overcome the gross society which surrounds her. Upon hearing of the sordid details of his death, she exclaims, “what is it, this – this curse – that everything I touch turns ridiculous and vile?” (Ibsen 299). The anguish which stems from her disappointment in humanity knows no bounds, and her monstrous tirade against it can in no way serve as sufficient compensation. Brack makes the hopelessness of her situation abundantly clear, to which Hedda proudly proclaims, “I’d rather die” (Ibsen 301). Since she cannot stomach a ‘ridiculous and vile’ society, the only choice that remains to Hedda is to remove herself from it completely. Her last act is a slap in the face of ugliness, for she performs her suicide just as she envisioned Eilert Lovborg’s: beautifully. Hedda had come to rely on monstrosity as a source of comfort in a disappointing world, and when even that proved ineffectual, when society continued to win, the only out left to her was death. The Creature shared this poignant sentiment; he expresses that “there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death” (Shelley 141). Like Hedda, the Creature can only find temporary solace in his monstrosity, quickly realizing that nothing he does will ever change the way humanity acts towards him. He speaks of his decision to die, saying, “I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings yet unsatisfied, yet unquenched” (Shelley 274). Violence failed to satisfy those needs of the Creature which could only be quenched by love, and without the chance of ever fulfilling those needs, he chooses to eradicate them. For both characters, death is the only escape from a world that would never be enough for them. The monsters portrayed in these works of fiction became such out of good intention, wishing only to live at the highest level that man could achieve. It was not this goal that truly drove them to destruction, but rather their utter dependency on it. When it failed, they ultimately had nowhere to turn but toward violence and death. Society cannot be judged on a pass or fail basis; individuals must be willing to help change it by becoming a part of it rather than lashing out monstrously against it.Works CitedFrankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Universal, 1931.Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays: Volume 1. New York: New American Library, 1992. pp 221 – 304.
Escaping through Manipulation
In Henrik Ibsen’s acclaimed play Hedda Gabler, the main female character, Hedda Gabler, is a modern woman striving to attain her desires through manipulation. She persistently endeavors to create a world that matches her masculine character by exploiting the people around her. Gabler also accomplishes her task by p a character’s will, giving her subtle and deceptive control. Through Gabler’s exceptional skills as a manipulator, the play scrutinizes the feminine role and what defines a woman. Through manipulation, Gabler discovers joy and a sense of power not often felt by women during her time. She takes advantage of her ability by constantly interfering in the lives of other characters, easily shaping their wills to meet her desires. Gabler admits this in her conversation with Mrs. Elvsted in Act 3. Mrs. Elvsted states, “You have some hidden motive in this, Hedda!” to which Gabler replies, “Yes, I have. I want for once in my life to have power to mould a human destiny”. Gabler is able to do so because she is surrounded by individuals who function solely on the basis of society’s values, rendering their actions predictable. Gabler refers to individuals that she can manipulate as “specialists”, saying to Judge Brack in Act One, “Tesman is–a specialist, my dear Judge.” Judge Brack assumes that Gabler means Tesman is a specialist of his subject. Yer her definition also implies the narrow vision on life and living that often comes along with specializing in just one thing. This broader definition of a specialist is confirmed later when Gabler reveals to Judge Brack that he too is a specialist. By manipulating “specialists” and setting herself apart from them, Gabler creates her own world that runs parallel to the puppet stage of society. She is able to temporarily escape the social norms that she considers others to be trapped in. A primary social norm that Gabler refuses to conform to is the traditional role of a submissive wife. In a sense, subjecting herself to the role of a wife and mother is the ultimate sign of failure to Gabler. Thus, when many try to gain knowledge about her role as a wife or potential mother, Gabler quickly dismisses the topic. For example, when Brack questions her about motherhood in Act 1, Gabler responds, “Be quiet! Nothing of that sort will ever happen!”. When questioned again by Judge Brack about her prospective parental role, Gabler replies, “I have no turn for anything of the sort, Judge Brack. No responsibilities for me!” Gabler especially feels the pressures of conforming to a feminine role with Aunt Tesman, who questions her about her weight and her stomach, almost hinting about the potential for children. In reality, Gabler defies the definition of a conventional woman. She is not at all submissive; she manipulates people, especially men, for her own power; she absolutely refuses to take on the role of a wife and mother or even address it. The reason behind her defiance is that in Gabler’s mind, submitting to the role of society is to submit to the role of a wife and mother–and to submit to the role of a wife and mother is to lose power and freedom to pursue one’s own interests. Throughout the play, Gabler repeatedly rebels against most aspects of being traditionally “feminine.” In the beginning of the play, Aunt Tesman comes over to check up on the married couple. Despite her new aunt’s kindness towards her, Gabler dislikes Aunt Tesman because Aunt Tesman reminds her that she is married and expected to soon bear a child. Gabler dislikes the idea of being pregnant. Thus, so as not to dwell on it any further, she makes a nasty comment about Aunt Tesman’s new hat. However, Aunt Tesman does not leave and the threatening subject of potential children arises, like Gabler feared it would. The conflict arises when Tesman says in Act 1, “Yes, but have you noticed what splendid condition she is in? How she has filled out on the journey?” His insinuation of his wife’s pregnancy is quickly dissolved when his aunt replies, “Oh, do be quiet—!”. However, Aunt Tesman picks the matter up further by clarifying Tesman’s statement with a question, “Filled out?”. The conversation serves as a reminder to Gabler of her forthcoming doom. Hence, she dislikes Tesman and Aunt Tesman for reminding her that pregnancy is what is expected from her as a wife, and not her own choice. Mrs. Elvsted is also the kind of figure disliked by Gabler, because she is the embodiment of all that is considered womanly. This consideration is based on how Gabler interacts with Mrs. Elvsted, which is not at all kindly unless there is something to gain by being kind, another manipulative aspect Gabler utilizes. Even when the two were in school together, Gabler disliked Mrs. Elvsted. As Mrs. Elvstead reminds Gabler in Act 1, “when we met on the stairs you used always to pull my hair”. This utter dislike of Mrs. Elvstead is not only relegated to the past. In Act 3, Gabler muses to Mrs. Elvstead, “I think I must burn your hair off after all.” Thus, Gabler defies the feminine role by defying the individual who is the epitome of this role. She accomplishes this by manipulating Mrs. Elvstead to release information to her in the beginning of the play about Lovborg. Later, when she has no reason to be nice, Gabler treats her harshly. Another example of Gabler’s unwillingness to conform to the feminine role is conveyed through the manipulation of Lovborg and the burning of his manuscript. A prime example of Gabler’s masterful manipulation of Lovburg is in Act 3, when she is able to persuade Lovborg to take her pistol and end his life “beautifully”. Also, while burning the novel towards the end of Act 3, Gabler cries, “Now I am burning your child, Thea!–Burning it, curly-locks! Your child and Eilert Lovborg’s. I am burning–I am burning your child.” The burning of the book as a substitute of a child is Gabler’s way of freeing herself from the chains of child-bearing. She physically refuses to submit to the roles of a mother and wife not only by refusing to be impregnated but by also burning the symbolic figure of a child. Her actions reveal the extremes of what she will do in order to not be caged in by society’s outlook on a female. Her desperation becomes so extreme that Gabler believes her only true escape from the constrictive roles of womanhood is through death. When it is discovered in the final act that Gabler commits suicide, Judge Barack’s closing line is, “Good God!–people don’t do such things”. Thus, Gabler is finally able to escape the roles of femininity by doing the thing that “people don’t do”. In sum, Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” reveals one woman’s persistent effort to fight off the pressures of assuming a traditional feminine role. Through her tactful manipulation of others, the play “Hedda Gabler” serves as a whole to question the social chains of femininity and what makes a woman. Despite Gabler’s efforts to have control over her life and the lives of others as well, she still cannot obtain the true control over her life that she wants. Hence, she shoots herself as the ultimate escape from the social roles of a woman–and in doing so, she manages to break the chains of society from around her.
Hedda Gabler’s Beautiful Illusion
Henrik Ibsen depicts Hedda Gabler as a woman who is trapped in her own life. Hedda has a thirst for life which she has not satisfied. She prefers a life filled with excitement, thrills and courageous situations: “There was something really beautiful and fascinating – and daring, it seems to me – about our secret closeness” (265). However, Hedda is reluctant to step outside her boundaries and experience the world the way she desperately wants to. Fantasy is the only way for Hedda to escape the realities of her life: “Of this beautiful illusion” 298). Ibsen uses Hedda as a vehicle to show that people need something in life to live for. Hedda Gabler’s “beautiful illusion” is a life where the mind and body can be set free to live a life which is meaningful, exciting, and distinct.Hedda Gabler wants a meaning to her life. In her present situation, Hedda is not satisfied with her life: “I often think I have talent for only one thing in life… boring myself to death” (257). She is desperately searching for something that has meaning in her life, something to live for. Hedda discovers Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg share a “child” between one another, something that is significant to the both of them. Even though Hedda and Tesman may have a child of their own, she does not see it as meaningful. Hedda is jealous of Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg’s “child” because it is meaningful to the both of them. Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg both live for their “child”. Hedda’s jealousy deprives them of their “child”: “Now I’m burning – I’m burning the child” (288). Hedda’s rash actions show that she has no meaning in her life. These actions show Hedda is willing to commit deeds that hurt and offend people, in an attempt to excite herself by seeing their reactions. This is Hedda’s way of creating a momentary situation to live for. Hedda’s “beautiful illusion consists of a life with significance and meaning. However, she has no reality to base it on: “What you do is jump out – and stretch yourself a little” (252). Hedda believes she has no meaning in her life: “And the train goes on” (252). Her “beautiful illusion” is a way for her to free her mind, and give her hope that someday she may find a meaning in her life.Hedda wants to live a life full of excitement. She wants to experience a life that is fun and intriguing. Hedda is unable to do this because she is afraid of being close to anything: “Oh-! Let me go” (231). She is even unwilling to be close to her own feelings: “Love? You are absurd!” (264). She is a coward who has to feel excitement through other people: “And the confessions I used to make – telling you things about myself that no one else knew of then” (265). Seeing other individuals live exciting lives is apart of her “beautiful illusion”. It gives her hope that one day she may also be able to live an exciting life, one that is on her own terms. The illusion of Lovborg dancing around with vine leaves in his hair is a major part of Hedda’s “beautiful illusion”. This illusion portrays Lovborg as living similar to the Greek god Dionysus. It shows Lovborg living a life full of excitement and without any restraints: “With vine leaves in his hair – fiery and bold” (271). This is the kind of life Hedda has a thirst for. Hedda’s illusion of Lovborg ties into her “beautiful illusion” of life because it shows an individual living a daring life full of excitement.Hedda’s “beautiful illusion” consists of a unique path in life. Something that is out of the ordinary and has distinction. Hedda thinks her perfect life will always have something unique to talk about: “And can talk about all kinds of lively things” (252). Ibsen portrays Tesman as being a dull individual. In the play, Hedda ponders a unique career for her husband: “I was thinking – if I could get Tesman to go into politics” (256). The contrast of Tesman’s actual boring career with Hedda’s ideal career show Hedda’s “beautiful illusion” only has unique and exciting events within it. Events that are bold and distinct play a major part in Hedda’s “beautiful illusion”. Hedda likes things that stand out, and are distinct: “In the chest you say… Not the temple?” (296). Bold and unique events make Hedda’s “beautiful illusion” tick: “Of a world that – that she’s forbidden to know anything about” (265). The reason Hedda Gabler kills herself is because she realizes her “beautiful illusion” will never become a reality. Judge Brack deprives her of a unique and distinct life: “So I’m in your power, Judge. You have your hold over me from now on” (302). This deprivation proves that Hedda’s “beautiful illusion” must have distinction to it, because she is no longer willing to live a life that has no hope of being unique and not free.Henrik Ibsen proves Hedda Gabler’s “beautiful illusion” consists of excitement, distinction and a will to have meaning in life. Hedda wants excitement and freedom in her illusion, this was shown by the way she was drawn towards Eilert Lovborg’s fascinating adventures: “And the confessions I used to make – telling you things about myself that no one else knew” (265). Hedda’s desire for something that is distinct and stands out was shown by the way she committed suicide: “Shot herself in the temple!… People don’t do such things!” (304). Ibsen shows Hedda Gabler’s “beautiful illusion” consists of a life with meaning, this was shown by Hedda’s search for something she could live for: “Is there nothing the two of you could use me for here?” (303). The purpose of the “beautiful illusion” enables Hedda to experience life the way she wants to: “It was the hunger for life in you!” (266).Works CitedIbsen, Henrik. “Hedda Gabler.” Four Major Plays: Volume I. Translated with forward by Rolf Fjelde. Signet Classic: New York, 1965
Hedda Gabler as Artist of Manipulation
In the play Hedda Gabler by Isben, Hedda works as a type of artist of life. In an attempt to create a sense of beauty which she obsessively strives for, she creates her art by manipulating the lives and wills of the other characters around her. Through the character of Hedda the play offers a unique perspective on the definition of art, as she works as both the artist and part of the art that we are reading. As a work of art, it both critiques the cultural framework of love, marriage, and femininity, and offers a clear-cut escape from these repressive cultural restraints.Hedda creates beauty as an artist through the medium of manipulation of others. She seems to find joy and a sense of power in being able to control and manipulate those around her. Throughout the drama, she interferes in the lives of other characters, easily bending their wills to meet her own needs. Mrs. Elvsted states, Ã¢ThereÃ¢s something behind what youÃ¢re doing HeddaÃ¢?. To which she answers, Ã¢Yes there is. For once in my life I want to have power over another human beingÃ¢? (288). She manipulates others as if they were just puppets in a play that she has created making her both the creator and participant in a work of art.She is surrounded by puppet-like automatic characters who ventriloquize the patriarchal values of their society. Virtually all of these characters are easily manipulated and Hedda takes advantage of this, giving her a sense of control in her own life. Such characters are referred to as specialists. To Hedda, this is a description of these puppet-like characteristics, meaning they think only literally and mechanically without questioning the world around them. By manipulating them, Hedda creates a world outside of the ventriloquilism that they practice and she escapes the social norms and constructs that the other characters are so wrapped up in. This allows her to think independently without regard to the societal constructs that the drama critiques.Hedda refuses to conform to the traditional role of a submissive, domestic female that the characters around her try to impose on her. The aunt, Miss Tesman, reinforces the importance of what Brack calls her, Ã¢most solemn responsibilityÃ¢? (256). She shows the cultural conviction that a womanÃ¢s most important role in life is that of motherhood. The aunt reduces Hedda, as a woman, to a mode of producing children by focusing entirely on her stomach when addressing her. She constantly questions Hedda about her weight gain and stares at her stomach, hinting at the fact that she is possibly pregnant.Hedda actually defies the definition of what a woman should be: she is far from submissive, she manipulates all the men in her play for her own power and refuses to take on any domestic or mothering role. When Brack questions her about motherhood she responds, Ã¢Be quiet! YouÃ¢ll never see me like thatÃ¢? and Ã¢I have no talent for such things, Judge. I wonÃ¢t have responsibilities!Ã¢? (256). She defiantly refuses to ventriloquize the ideas that the other characters are forcing on her. To be free of responsibility is to be free of the role of motherhood and wife. By denying these she essentially no longer fits the definition of a woman and takes on the male role.The varying roles of men are shown in the three male characters in the novel. As HeddaÃ¢s husband , Tesman would seem like the representative of the patriarchal society that she is attempting to escape from. Although he diminishes, never seeming to take her too seriously, he is a weak example of the male patriarchal values. He is easily manipulated by his wife and relinquishes control to her in an effort to please her. Although he seems unaware of it, Tesman maintains little power in the relationship, allowing Hedda to seize this power and explore the role of the man in the relationship.The actual personification of patriarchy and social domination of women by men is seen in Brack. His profession as a judge declares all the oppressions of a patriarchal society; he acts as the law, a ruling force of judgment and a figure in a position of power. Hedda describes him in the final scene as Ã¢the one cock of the walkÃ¢? (303) meaning the strong dominant and oppressive male force that has power over women. Finally he gains power over her in the end when he finds out she is involved in LovborgÃ¢s suicide; as a woman she is ultimately unable to escape the societal oppression that Brack comes to represent.Throughout the play Hedda attempts to rebel against representations of the feminine. The figure of Mrs. Elvsted seems to be a representation of the repressive femininity that Hedda attempts to escape from. She reacts to her violently at times, pulling her hair out as a child and deciding, Ã¢I think IÃ¢ll burn your hair off after allÃ¢? (272). She physically acts out against the role that others expect her to take by hurting someone who represents this feminine role.The destruction of LovborgÃ¢s paper is also representative of HeddaÃ¢s refusal to accept the cultural narrative of what femininity should be. While burning it she says, Ã¢Now IÃ¢m burning your child, Thea! You, with your curly hair! Your child and Eilert LovborgÃ¢s. Now IÃ¢m burning Ã¢” IÃ¢m burning the child.Ã¢? The burning of the book as a representation of their child is HeddaÃ¢s method of setting herself free from the role of motherhood. She wants to find a way out of her own pregnancy so that she will not have to face the results that motherhood would have on her as a powerful female. Her jealousy at the relationship between Lovborg and Mrs. Elvsted seems to have led her to the point of near insanity. It is something that she can not control and it is this loss of control that seems to push her over the edge.The drama continually questions and critiques the idea of love and marriage and the position of male and female within this context. Despite this, there seems to be no actual love in the play. The relationship between Hedda and Tesman is one of convenience as they follow the normal narrative of a marriage, but there is clearly something lacking. Her disinterest in his beloved slippers in the first act shows that Hedda seems to care very little about Tesman. It seems as if she is with him for material gain and because he is easily manipulated by her. Tesman tries to keep her happy but treats her more like a possession that he has won than an individual.The play questions if there is such a thing as love in marriage at all. It critiques the idea of true love and marriage as something that is unattainable due to power relationships that exist within a marriage. It seems to suggest that marriage itself is a primitive desire endorsed by the idea of love in which the social domination of women by men is justified.Hedda seeks a marriage in which husband and wife would be equal but seems unable to find it. The social constructs of marriage work so that a male is in the position of power and a woman is submissive to him. Hedda seems to conclude that a true marriage would never exist because of the existence of this social narrative. She imagines a way around it but seems to conclude that it is something that could never exist in reality.The play Hedda Gabler works as art by questioning the cultural framework of femininity, marriage and love. It looks at the primitive motives behind marriage as a construct of a patriachical society. Hedda concludes that a true marriage can never really exist but the character herself finds an escape by the end of the play. She escapes through her suicide, not only because of her death, but because she finally manages to break the cultural narrative through the act itself. In the final line she says, Ã¢But good God! People donÃ¢t do such things!Ã¢? (304). She has finally managed to escape, to do what people just donÃ¢t do.
Social Power in Hedda Gabler
One of the central themes in Henrik Ibsen’s tragic play, Hedda Gabler is the illusion of power among the social classes. To expose this theme, Ibsen creates a powerful and socially privileged character whom he titles Hedda. She represents the social and cultural freedom that was believed to be possessed by those of higher class within bourgeois of the nineteenth century. At the same time, Ibsen also presents other middle class and less powerful characters, such as Auntie Juju, Thea Elvsted and Eilert Loevborg. These characters contrast Hedda’s powerful and often offensively privileged character, demonstrating the costs of social acceptance and control.As the plot evolves, Hedda exploits and manipulates the characters. She exerts these behaviors in order to maintain the social power and prestige as one of higher class. Throughout most of the play her deceptive actions towards power are successful as people submit without question. This perversion twists and wounds Hedda as she comes to realize that she does not have the social power to control those who are inferior to her. Disillusionment of the social system unravels as the reader recognizes that the power lies not among the individuals of the higher class, but within the social order itself.Our first impression of Hedda is not favorable. Although she appears to be a woman of great beauty and exceptional social standing, her personality condemns almost every woman that comes into contact with her. After returning from her honeymoon into a new house, Hedda automatically presses her social domination upon those nearby. Her first reaction ranges from disapproval to actual offense as she casts insults against the early arrival of Auntie Juju and the homely look of her hat (1253-1254). The attacks invoke fear and awe in the social standing that Hedda holds as one from affluence.Hedda further propels her social power upon the other characters in the play through manipulation and deception. Her husband, George Tesman, bends to her every demand and dismisses her baneful remarks. The reader assumes that Tesman was not born into a prosperous family since he has little wealth and is in great debt. It is understandable as to why he is delighted to be fortunate enough to have “won” such a favorable bride (1250). This is why he is only able to see how “pretty and charming” (1254) she is. He is unable to see how uncaring she is as she does not morn the death of his Aunt Rena (1295). Tesman is blind to the way that she manipulates him with the announcement of her pregnancy so that he may forget that she has taken away the power from Loevborg by burning his manuscript (1296-1297).Like Tesman, Thea Elvsted and Eilert Loevborg fall into her snare as she further exploits them to maintain her social power. Hedda uses her social position and her seemingly comforting demeanor to coerce Thea into telling the story of her marriage to Elvsted and her subsequent relationship with Loevborg (1260-1262). Her social standing, which generally puts her above reproach, lends itself to her overall believability and supports her manipulations.Hedda’s power over Loevborg developed prior to her encounter with him in the play. As he was one of Hedda’s suitors before she was married, she made him fall in love with her and through this love she was able to control him. When Loevborg encounters her later in the play she still holds some portion of his love and power. With the knowledge that she gained from Thea, Hedda is able to undermine Thea and Loevborg’s relationship, allowing Hedda to regain back his full admiration and power over him.Hedda assumed that with her marriage to Tesman he would soon become an esteemed professor. With his appointment she would be able to climb back up on the rung of the social ladder that she used to stand on while her father was alive. Loevborg poses a threat to Hedda’s social growth as he unexpectedly became a contender for her husband’s position in an academic post (1265). This fear brought Hedda to impose her power over Loevborg as she manipulated him into drinking (1280). In his drunkenness, Loevborg brought upon himself his own ruin and lost the only item that was to advance him socially, his manuscript. When Loevborg comes to her, distressed at the loss of his new book, Hedda does not tell him that she possesses it. Instead she uses it as a means to control the outcome of Tesman’s competition against Loevborg for the position of professor and her path to a higher social power.Eilert Loevborg’s apparent suicide is the result of Hedda’s manipulation of the truth and misuse of her social power. This is demonstrated in the way in which she reacts to this appalling turn of events. The other characters show concern and feelings for the actions taken by Loevborg, even his competitor, Tesman. But Hedda apparently feels no remorse and does not sense her role in his actions (1298). Instead she is capable only of recognizing the social benefits and power that her husband’s position will allow her. When Hedda discovers that Loevborg’s death was an accident rather than a result of her manipulation, the perception of her own intentional control shifts.In the final pages of the play, Hedda’s life of power, social control and personal order appear to unravel. She loses her ability to perceive herself as the determinant in social actions, and instead becomes a useless social pawn. No longer does she control the life of her husband or the actions of Loevborg. Rather than risk the loss of her social perception and her propriety, Hedda takes her own life in a final monumental act of social order.Unfortunately for Hedda, the same social status that supported her life as a seemingly powerful woman also determined her downfall. Her social elevation made those around her believe that she was superior to them, giving her power to manipulate and direct them. Hedda herself, along with all of the elevated class of the bourgeois, accepted this role. To all the people in society, the upper middle class assumes control of the social order. With Hedda’s folly, the reader is able to see that social standing does not possess the control that society deems it to have.Through the character of Hedda, Ibsen portrays the illusion of power retained by the different classes within the social system. He takes deep schisms and acute problems that afflicted the bourgeois society and place them on the stage. On the surface, the middle-class homes gave an impression of success and appeared to reflect a picture of a healthy and stable society. But Ibsen dramatizes in Hedda Gabler, the hidden conflicts in this society by opening the doors to the private and secret rooms of the bourgeois homes. He shows what can be hiding behind the beautiful façades: moral duplicity, confinement, betrayal, manipulation, and not to mention a constant insecurity.Works CitedIbsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. Expanded ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1995. 1247-1304.
Expectations, Introspection, and Suicide in Ibsen and Shakespeare
Both William Shakespeare, likely the greatest English playwright of all time, and Henrik Ibsen, arguably one of the most brilliant and influential modern dramatists, are known not only for the power of their tragedies but also for their memorable female characters. Among the most famous of these is ShakespeareÃ¢s Ophelia, HamletÃ¢s doomed lover, and Hedda Gabler, IbsenÃ¢s most enduring female villain. At first glance, these two women do not have many similarities: dutifully obedient Ophelia suffers passively between her fatherÃ¢s demands and HamletÃ¢s mockery, while Hedda is scornful and manipulative to all those around her. However, upon more careful inspection, it becomes clear that the two characters have much more in common than simply being tragic female figures. In fact, it is their common gender that makes them remarkably similar. Hedda and Ophelia Ã¢” though created hundreds of years apart Ã¢” are both helplessly (although sometimes subconsciously) influenced by the expectations of the men that surround them. Furthermore, thus indoctrinated in masculine hierarchies, both women are trapped in the social structures that these hierarchies propagate, rendered incapable of introspection or amending their positions. Finally, at the end of their respective plays, these very power structures that restrict the two women are the ones that ultimately leave them no choice but to break them: Ophelia descends into madness, and she and Hedda are forced to take their own lives.Though Hedda and Ophelia are players who are engaged through radically different worlds and social settings, the link of gender difference between the two is undeniable. Indeed, as John Russell Brown argues in his Ã¢Representing Sexuality in ShakespeareÃ¢s Plays,Ã¢? nearly all modern dramatists cannot deny the influence of Shakespeare, especially when interrogating traditional gender hierarchies: Ã¢So many plays deal outright with…gender difference that anyone wishing to study or stage them needs to only to ask how Shakespeare dealt with these subjectsÃ¢? (169). This is especially the case in Hamlet, in which gender difference is Ã¢not centralÃ¢? (Brown 169) to the play, but also in which it is glaringly apparent that the female characters are influenced by the expectations of the men surrounding them.The most obvious example of this working of masculine influence can be found in the beginning of the play, when the audience is first introduced to the character of Ophelia. The third scene of the opening act begins with Laertes instructing his sister to be wary of HamletÃ¢s affections: Ã¢The chariest maid is prodigal enough / If she unmask her beauty to the moon…best safety lies in fearÃ¢? (1.3.36-7, 43). Though Ophelia seems to take his message to heart, she cannot help but comment on her brotherÃ¢s own hypocrisy: Ã¢Do not… / Show me the steep and thorny way to heavenÃ¢? while he, on his ventures into Paris, Ã¢himself the primrose path of dalliance treadsÃ¢? (1.3.48, 50). Notably, Laertes impatiently brushes aside his sisterÃ¢s comment (Ã¢I stay too longÃ¢? (1.3.53)), and, on cue, Polonius enters to confirm the double standard that his son has set forth. Polonius dispatches his son to Paris to sow his wild oats, to learn that Ã¢to thine own self [one must be] trueÃ¢? (1.3.78). However, as Juliet Dusinberre remarks in her discourse on women and authority in Shakespeare, Ã¢[PoloniusÃ¢] daughter must not rely on her own judgmentÃ¢? (94). Even her conviction of HamletÃ¢s sincerity arouses her fatherÃ¢s contempt: Ã¢You speak like a green girl / …think yourself a baby / That you have taÃ¢en these tenders for true pay / Which are not sterlingÃ¢? (1.3.101, 105-107). Just as Laertes expects Ophelia to regard his advice as valuable even in its hypocrisy, so Polonius makes sure that Ã¢her whole education is geared to relying on other peopleÃ¢s judgmentsÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94). This Ã¢educationÃ¢? is complete and in full force when Ophelia is sent to spy on the supposedly insane Hamlet. When Polonius comments Ã¢IÃ¢ll loose my daughter to himÃ¢? (2.2.162) it is apparent that not only OpheliaÃ¢s sexuality, but her judgment and her conscience, are the property of her father. By Ã¢allowing herself to acquiesceÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94) to the deception of Hamlet, and thus to the overwhelming influence of the men around her, she is not only being false to her lover, but inevitably Ã¢false to herselfÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94).The case that dutiful and deferential Ophelia is unquestionably influenced by the men around her is easy to make. But what about the willful Hedda, who seems not only to scorn but also to control the emotions of the men around her? Tesman, her husband, would presumably be the largest influence on Hedda. Yet, next to his wife, the mediocre scholar seems almost effeminate, having only Aunt Julie as Ã¢both father and mother to [him]Ã¢? (Ibsen 216). Indeed, just as Hamlet might rebuke himself for his own inaction, Hedda seems to do the same Tesman, whose effeminate ineptitude dictates that he Ã¢Must like a whore unpack [his] heart with wordsÃ¢? (Shakespeare 2.2.589), never truly becoming what Hedda wants him to be. What Hedda longs for is not Ã¢a contemptible onlooker on the worldÃ¢? (Dusinberre 278) but Ã¢Finally Ã¢” an actionÃ¢? (Ibsen 280). She never finds the latter in Tesman.Nonetheless, delving deeper into IbsenÃ¢s drama, one can easily see that Hedda has been indoctrinated just as much, but not as explicitly, as her Shakespearean predecessor. Very early in the play, even before Hedda enters, it is apparent that she has inherited some kind of lifestyle expectations from her father: Aunt Julie, while listening to BertaÃ¢s fears about Hedda, remarks Ã¢General GablerÃ¢s daughter Ã¢” the way she lived in the GeneralÃ¢s day!Ã¢? (214). Significantly, we are introduced to Hedda not by her own name, but by immediate association with her father. Later, when Aunt Julie meets Hedda in person, it becomes even clearer that Hedda has some great stake in the social expectations impressed upon her: after mistaking Aunt JulieÃ¢s hat for the maidÃ¢s, then seeing her out with Tesman, Hedda exasperatedly remarks, Ã¢But where did she get her manners, flinging her hat around…People donÃ¢t act that wayÃ¢? (222). This obsession with the proper way to act, especially for fear of a scandal, takes on a particularly masculine tint when Hedda learns that her old schoolmate, Mrs. Elvsted, has come to town without permission. As Mrs. Elvsted asserts that Ã¢My husband doesnÃ¢t know that IÃ¢m goneÃ¢? (229) Hedda immediately replies in surprise, Ã¢What, your husband doesnÃ¢t know?Ã¢? (229). Furthermore, she implicitly assumes that Mrs. Elvsted will be returning to him shortly: Ã¢What do you think your husband will say when you go home again?Ã¢? (229). Despite her contempt for her own husband, Hedda would never leave him Ã¢” she has been too much indoctrinated in a masculine social hierarchy. She naturally assumes that Mrs. Elvsted has not left her husband for good: when HeddaÃ¢s schoolmate replies to her question of returning home, Ã¢Up there, to him?Ã¢? (Ibsen 230), Hedda answers, Ã¢Of course, of courseÃ¢? (230). To Hedda, a woman can never leave a spouse, who, no matter how effeminate, is male and therefore necessary to be attached to. One can even see scraps of the Ã¢educationÃ¢? that Laertes and Polonius seek to give Ophelia in their ensuing conversation. When Mrs. Elvsted describes to Hedda the work she has done with Eilert Lovborg, she adds that he has Ã¢taught me to think, to understand all sorts of thingsÃ¢? (230). Like Hedda, the reader is Ã¢concealing an involuntary smileÃ¢? (230), knowing that the only thing Lovborg probably taught Mrs. Elvsted was to Ã¢understand thingsÃ¢? just as he does. However, this smile can also be reserved for Hedda herself, for clearly she has been taught how to think just as Mrs. Elvsted has Ã¢” within a male-dominated social framework.Hedda and Ophelia are thus left to operate in a world of strictly male-influenced expectations that both women, clearly affected by the men around them, feel themselves implicitly required to uphold. The significant result of this influence is not only that both women are trapped in a masculine social structure, but also that they lack the capability for introspection Ã¢” for fully comprehending the consequences of the social hierarchy and its direct effect on them. Again, in OpheliaÃ¢s case, the effect of her father and brotherÃ¢s influence is obvious. HamletÃ¢s lover, as Dusinberre suggests, is irrevocably Ã¢chained into femininity by PoloniusÃ¢? (306), a father to whom her chastity must be forever placed above all else. Indeed, Ophelia is inextricably implanted in a social structure that speaks of her virginity in monetary terms: Polonius warns his daughter to Ã¢Tender yourself more dearlyÃ¢? (1.3.107) in her dealings with Hamlet. Under the strict influence of her father, Ophelia becomes little more than property, but more significantly has no chance or right to develop an individual capacity for reason apart from her father. Since her entire education under Polonius Ã¢is geared to…placing the reputation for chastity above even the virtue of truthfulnessÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94), Ophelia effectively has Ã¢no moral sense of [her] ownÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94). The right to her own sexuality and the right to her own judgments are both inextricably liked to Polonius. Thus, Ophelia must see the world in menÃ¢s terms. She simply does not have the ability to reflect on her position in the social hierarchy instilled in her by her father, nor can she ever have it: Ã¢Her reason has not been educated to exercise itself without his guidanceÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94). Indeed, this femininity is so deeply ingrained in her that to expunge it completely, she must lose her reason; instead of succumbing to her father, she must succumb to madness.For Hedda, again, the influence of the social hierarchy in which she is trapped is more subtle. Unlike Ophelia, Hedda will and does question the motivations of those around her. IbsenÃ¢s tragic female even seems to have a very villainous streak: she manipulates everyone around her, with inconsequential social incidents or larger, destructive actions. When Hedda wishes to talk with Mrs. Elvsted alone, she merely prods Tesman to write a letter. Always deferential, he complies, and to a questioning Mrs. Elvsted Hedda replies, Ã¢DidnÃ¢t you see that I wanted him out of the way?Ã¢? (Ibsen 227). Later, when speaking alone with Judge Brack, Hedda admits to other little games: referring to her Ã¢little run-inÃ¢? (242) with Aunt Julie, she reveals that she had purposely meant to fluster TesmanÃ¢s old aunt: Ã¢SheÃ¢d put her hat down there on that chair (Looks at him smiling.) and I pretended I thought it was the maidÃ¢sÃ¢? (Ibsen 242). Hedda appears to be very content with the joke, until Judge Brack pauses to question her motives. A change of mood occurs: she nervously replies, Ã¢Oh, you know Ã¢” these thing just come over me like that and I canÃ¢t resist them…I canÃ¢t explain it, even to myselfÃ¢? (242). Hedda knows that she isnÃ¢t happy, that something is lacking in her life, yet she canÃ¢t turn to herself and explain it. She is supposed to be relieved that she is married, having, as she says, Ã¢danced myself outÃ¢? (239) by the age of twenty-nine. Nonetheless, she must revert to manipulative games (Ã¢What in GodÃ¢s name am I to do with myself?Ã¢? (237)) to satisfy a need for control simply because she cannot control her own life. To Hedda, her existence is wrapped up in the social structure that she feels she needs to uphold. Essentially, as Bradbrook asserts in her discussion on Hedda as a stage character, Ã¢Hedda has neither self-awareness nor responsibility …Although she is once or twice seen alone, there is nothing in the play that could be called a soliloquy from herÃ¢? (qtd. Lyon 79).Thus, while Hamlet may soliloquize all he wants about action and in action, Hedda must conform to the dictates of her social structure. Ironically, as Bradbrook points out, Hedda is a character for whom we have no inner monologue: Ã¢she is shown entirely in actionÃ¢? (qtd. Lyon 79). Yet because she is so embedded in the hierarchy of which she is a part, she cannot consciously take action, and she simply attributes her need to play control games, like with Aunt Julie, to other causes: she sighs to Brack, Ã¢I often think I only have one talent…boring the life right out of meÃ¢? (244). While Hedda, indoctrinated in her social beliefs, thinks that boredom is a cause, it actually is merely a symptom of the lack of control that she feels. Indeed, even the fact the Hedda must use this type of speech indicates that, as Charles Lyons argues in his socio-linguistic analysis of IbsenÃ¢s dialogue, HeddaÃ¢s language Ã¢is the language of the oppressedÃ¢? (21). In a world of male-dictated expectations and social structures, Hedda, like Ophelia, has no real control over her own life or decisions.As Hedda remarks to Tesman, however, Ã¢there is always a way outÃ¢? (Ibsen 256). Unlike the men who surround them, though, Ophelia and Hedda are trapped in a social structure that will not allow them to truly realize its full effects nor react without harsh reprimand or, what Hedda fears most, scandal. Thus, while HeddaÃ¢s comment is true, both female characters are left with little choice. As Dusinberre asserts, Ã¢Polonius allows Ophelia no identity independent of his rule, a condition which makes her incapable of coping with a world in which he has no partÃ¢? (94). Upon her fatherÃ¢s murder, then, Ophelia must escape into madness and her consequent suicide: Polonius has left her no other option. PoloniusÃ¢ warning to his daughter that HamletÃ¢s Ã¢will is not his ownÃ¢? (1.3.17) rings strangely false: while Hamlet may freely ponder the existential decision of life or death, Ophelia has no such luxury. Her only way to free herself of her fatherÃ¢s grasp, her only course for true action, is what Dusinberre calls her Ã¢revolt of insanityÃ¢? (261). Thus, when Claudius laments, Ã¢Poor Ophelia / Divided from herself and her fair judgmentÃ¢? (4.5.84-85), Ã¢the irony lies in the fact that she was never allowed to have any judgmentÃ¢? (Dusinberre 94). A different but comparable scenario applies to Hedda. Consumed by her need for control, but for lack of any better outlet, she must constantly turn away from taking hold of her own life and instead strive to change the life of a man. In Tesman, she is hopeless Ã¢” she is convinced that there is no greatness in him. Thus, by the end of the drama, her need for power over something, since it cannot be herself, has reached a fever pitch. She finds an opportunity for action that she could never find in her husband when a devastated Lovborg converses with her about his manuscript. Lovborg, in his despair, asserts that he only wants to Ã¢put an end to it allÃ¢? (272). Hedda, snatching one of her pistols, gives it to him as a souvenir, imploring him, Ã¢Do it beautifully, Eilert Lovborg. Promise me thatÃ¢? (272). Even when LovborgÃ¢s suicide is openly reported, Hedda, relieved by such Ã¢action,Ã¢? comments, Ã¢IÃ¢m saying that here, in this Ã¢” there is beautyÃ¢? (280). To Hedda, no greater relief can come from a true action; more significantly, the only true action and release that she now understands is taking oneÃ¢s own life, as she asserts, Ã¢This act of Eilert LovborgÃ¢s Ã¢” thereÃ¢s a sense of liberation in itÃ¢? (283). Thus, when Brack threatens to implicate her in LovborgÃ¢s death, Hedda immediately sees no other way out: Ã¢IÃ¢d rather dieÃ¢? (284). Like Ophelia, who is forced into madness, Hedda is effectively forced into suicide: the lack of control becomes too much, and the only true action she understands is death. Even after asserting, upon HeddaÃ¢s death, that Ã¢people donÃ¢t do such thingsÃ¢? (286) (an oft-repeated phrase of HeddaÃ¢s, ingraining her into her social structure), there still seems to be an echo of HeddaÃ¢s only truly liberating words: Ã¢Finally Ã¢” an actionÃ¢? (280).Though their two characters vary greatly, ShakespeareÃ¢s Ophelia and IbsenÃ¢s Hedda Gabler are both inevitably trapped together simply by the fact that they are female. Both Ophelia and Hedda are highly influenced by the men that surround them Ã¢” Ophelia directly and overtly by her brother and father, and Hedda by the overarching social figures of father and husband. Because of the expectations of these male figures, neither Ophelia nor Hedda can transcend the social structure created for them. Ophelia, with no real sense of reason or judgment, must rely completely on her father; and Hedda, though sensing her lack of control, can only detect the symptoms of her imposed social hierarchy, and seek to control others rather than herself. Inevitably, the power structures that restrict both these women are the ones that eventually leave them no other choice but to drastically expunge the expectations placed upon them: Ophelia casts off her fatherÃ¢s judgment through descent into madness and suicide, while Hedda seeks true action and control in taking her own life. For Hedda and Ophelia, Ã¢to be or not to beÃ¢? never really was the question; since both women were never truly allowed to exist independently from the beginning, their only choice in the end lay in madness and death.Works CitedBrown, John Russell. Ã¢Representing Sexuality in ShakespeareÃ¢s Plays.Ã¢? Shakespeare and Sexuality. Ed. Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. New York: St. MartinÃ¢s Press, 1996.Ibsen, Henrik. Ã¢Hedda Gabler.Ã¢? Four Major Plays. Trans. Rick Davis and Brian Johnston. Lyme, New Hampshire: Smith and Krause, 1995.Lyons, Charles R. Hedda Gabler: Gender, Role and World. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. London: The Arden Shakespeare, Thomson Learning, 2001.
The duality of Loevborg in performance
Typical of his work, Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ challenges social convention through deeply flawed and simultaneously, progressive characters. Eilert Loevborg is one of the more unconventional characters in the play, and as a man who has solely managed to capture the imagination of the eccentric Hedda Gabler herself it is important that he is played so that the audience too can feel mystified by, and drawn to, him. Although nineteenth century Norway was a patriarchal society, Loevborg was by no means safe from social expectations and judgement, and Loevborg should thus be presented as flawed but likeable. The same could not be said for the character of Hedda, but given Ibsen’s aims to challenge the audience’s views, it is necessary to still create a likable eccentric so as to make the audience question that which is ‘normal’ and acceptable.
Prospects were bleak for Loevborg, who had become somewhat washed up as a result of alcoholism and his general nonconformity, and yet there is still a small glimmer of hope in his words and actions. Following his entry, which in itself is similar to Hedda’s due to the length of discussion and the creation of mystery leading up to his arrival, Loevborg clearly acts as a foil to the men around him who are far more conventional. While the interaction between him, Tesman, and Brack is important because it will allow the audience to see him as the atypical man he is, his section with Hedda is what really reveals his true character as the removal of the men would prevent him from even contemplating acting in accordance to that which was normal and expected of a male of the time. Arguably, Loevborg is just as calculating but not as cold as Hedda, and thus can be presented as a softly spoken, thoughtful man. It is vital that Loevborg is seen as pleasant, as the audience, regardless of era, should look past what they would typically expect of a man and open their eyes to the possibility that men do not need to put on a front of dominance and suffocating masculinity to be likable.
To further prove this point, an actor playing Loevborg could move with a certain litheness reflecting the movement of Hedda herself, thus creating a sense of equality and connection. While the audience could take on a more Hedda-like view and see this gentleness as evidence that Loevborg is weak – or indeed, Hedda is strong – the movement will ultimately be reflective of Loevborg’s progressive mindset and hopeful attitude. The line “You didn’t love me, then. You just wanted knowledge.” is reflective once more of both Hedda and Loevborg; the lines are now blurred between Hedda’s undying need to understand and manipulate the world around her, and the intensely emotional nature (or now, the lack thereof) of her relationship with Loevborg. Said with great consideration and tentativeness, this line should leave the audience to interpret the extent to which Loevborg truly loves Hedda, or if he is merely interested in a detached way. Loevborg is a man of great duality, conforming neither to the intellectual field (his radical work is never accepted) or the traditionally masculine one, epitomized by Hedda’s father; the actor should thus perform with great subtlety, displaying hints of emotion but ultimately highlighting that they are forever masked by the expectations of masculinity. This level of duality will further open up debate, in terms of both Loevborg’s relationship with Hedda and also, his generally poor relationships with other men.
A huge contrast to this moment is seen in act three, where we really begin to see the darker side of both Hedda and Loevborg. While Loevborg had previously been cool and collected, he is now consumed by his emotion and thus, further confusing the audience’s opinions and expectations of him. Once more, the audience will see the ever-complex Loevborg in a different light, this time through the eyes of the society who shunned him and drove him to this point of desperation in the first place. Given their previous liking of Loevborg, created by his gentle and pleasant demeanor, the audience will be forced to battle their own morality and views,ultimately coming to the conclusion that no man or woman is so simple that they can be pinned down to just one defining characteristic. While Loevborg had previously talked of Hedda killing him with fondness and almost serenity as a result of his perceived connection to and warmth towards her, he will now say the line “You should have used it then” with the cold power and yet, detachment, of a man who has finally given up but still can’t quite let go of his deepest, darkest feelings of passion.
Loevborg is a deeply conflicted man, and even beyond the realm of literature and theatre is a universal symbol of the semi-ethereal presentation of people who do not conform to society. While he, a clearly intelligent man with a sharp mind, could have had it all in the patriarchy of the nineteenth century, it was ultimately the depth of his passion that betrayed and destroyed him, just as it did Hedda Gabler herself. Perhaps ultimately, brokenness does not discriminate and even those with the potential to do great things cannot escape from being swept away by society’s suffocating expectations and prying eyes.
A Symbolic Analysis of the Piano in Hedda Gabler: Using Jung to Understand Ibsen
In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Lady Russell convinces Anne not to marry Frederick Wentworth as she finds him unworthy of Anne. Similarly, in Hedda Gabler, Hedda herself conceals her knowledge of and destroys Eilert’s manuscript in order to end his and Thea’s relationship. Involving oneself in other’s affairs can satisfy one’s desire for control. However, this behavior is often symptomatic of a disconnect between one’s personal consciousness and one’s personal and collective unconscious self. Henrik Ibsen masterfully uses the Tesman’s piano to symbolize Hedda’s personal and collective unconscious desire for control while acting as a vehicle to show her reconciliation with the two at the end.
Ibsen’s play, and particularly its symbolism, can be understood through reference to the psychology of Carl Jung, who divides the psyche into three major areas of analysis: the personal conscious, personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. Jung credits the personal conscious with the creation of the “persona”. The persona envelops the constructed, outward appearance one shows the world. Whereas Jung only acknowledges one consciousness (the personal), he differentiates unconsciousness between the personal and collective. The personal unconscious differs within individuals, whereas the collective unconscious remains the same for every person due to the uniformity of the human psyche. The personal unconscious holds the “shadow.” The shadow encompasses the darker and more shameful urges one personally feels yet does not consciously acknowledge. The collective unconscious houses the “animus/anima” archetype. The animus refers to masculine traits in women that can either balance their femininity or overpower it. The anima refers to feminine traits in men. Jung believes to reach individuation one must reconcile the persona with the shadow and acknowledge one’s archetype. Individuation is the process of acknowledging one’s unconscious nature and incorporating it into the consciousness.
The appearance of the piano at the beginning of Act 1 shows the pressure others put on Hedda to lessen her masculine desire for control which she attempts to yield to but ultimately fails at. Although not explicitly dictated to her, Hedda feels immense pressure from society and familially to have a child. The expectation remains clear when Aunt Juliana quips with Tesman that he will “find some use for them [two empty rooms]—in the course of time.” (Ibsen 24). The pressure manifests physically upon the piano when Berta places Aunt Juliana’s bouquet on the piano and Hedda removes it. However, Hedda succumbs to softening her unconscious willfulness in certain situations, such as when she agrees to refer to Aunt Juliana by “Aunt” to appease Tesman. (38). She shows a degree of compromise when she states, “I’m only looking at my old piano. It doesn’t go at all well with all the other things…Suppose we put it there in the inner room…” (39). By placing the piano, the symbol for her masculine urge for control, deeper into the house, she represses the feeling rather than relinquishes it.
Hedda’s piano playing at the beginning of Act IV reveals how her control over Eilert has satisfied her desire for control for the time period. After the dramatic end of Act III Hedda plays the piano for the first time in the play, which the stage directions describe as “a few chords.”(174). At this point in the play, Hedda has effectively destroyed Eilert and Thea’s relationship by concealing her knowledge of the manuscript and then incinerating it. Hedda has felt control by acting as a catalyst for Eilert’s descent back into ill repute, but more importantly by intentionally inflicting pain upon Thea. Thea acts as an object of loathing and jealousy for Hedda, as well as a foil for her. Whereas Hedda’s allure lies in her assertive seductiveness, Thea’s depends on her ability to inspire creativity in and hold power over men through her meek femininity.
The leap from the meandering chords Hedda plays on the piano at the beginning of Act IV to the rousing song at the end shows Hedda’s use of individuation to take final control over her life. At the end of Act V after being blackmailed by Judge Brack, Hedda runs her fingers through Thea’s hair and retreats to the back room to play a “wild dance” on the piano before committing suicide. (207). The “wild dance” acts as her epitome or signaling of reaching individuation. The two major events that happen before Hedda’s exit allow Hedda to become aware of her personal and collective unconscious need for control and then act upon the knowledge. Judge Brack’s blackmail causes Hedda to weigh the value of life without control. She acknowledges her personal unconscious desire for control when stripped away from her explicitly and harshly.
Rather than experiencing subtle pressures exerting control, Hedda is faced wth a figure who lessens her, Hedda’s, control over the world of the play. Thea’s ability to use her overt femininity to gain control over Hedda’s husband causes Hedda to acknowledge her collective unconscious failing by her rule by her animus. Seeing no way to regain the control that has been recently stripped of her and no way to channel archetypal femininity, Hedda makes the decision to take her own life. The piano, thus, acts not only as an object physically affected by the world, like Hedda, but as a vehicle for the acknowledgment of her integral need for control.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution came new schools of thought that attempted to define the position of the individual within the society. The Romantic Era that dominated the early part of the 19th century tried to establish the individual as a creature of emotion and experience. Romanticism was eventually succeeded by Realism, which was a movement that strayed from the more figurative, almost idealized, imagery of the previous era to one that focused on the mundane and darker times of men. It was a movement that aimed to represent and recreate everyday life into literature—with all its ebbs and flows. One of the bigger topics of discussion in literary circles in the latter part of the 19th century was that of the correct life, which is very prominent in these two works: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a novella by Leo Tolstoy, and Hedda Gabler, a play by Henrik Ibsen. Both works tell the stories of the lives and deaths of their respective title characters as they deal with the realities of life in the late 19th century. Both authors utilize the motifs of alienation and satisfaction in similar fashion to propagate the dichotomous relationship of the society and the self, however, within that scope, they take opposing stances on the idea of purpose and how it relates to the overall notion of the “correct life”.
With the backdrop of mass urbanization and industrialization brought about by the aforementioned Industrial Revolution there was a newfound ideal for the individual to find a place in society. And, because of mass urbanization causing a sudden increase in population density, it became much easier for one to grow distant from the world around him, thus the topic of alienation became a social issue in the late 19th century. The title character of The Death of Ivan Ilyich struggles with this problem of loneliness and pushing people away throughout much of the novella. But Tolstoy’s view on this notion goes far beyond saying, “don’t alienate people”. Ivan is very direct and open about whom he chooses to ignore, Tolstoy observes, “… he tried to ignore his wife’s disagreeable moods, continued to live in his usual easy and pleasant way, invited friends to his house for a game of cards, and also tried going out to his club or spending his evenings with friends” (749). He desires to stay away from his family and instead wishes to play bridge with his friends. This is problematic in two ways. Not only is he overlooking some element of love but the people who he associates with ultimately influence his life in negative manner. Ivan never truly lives life for himself; rather, he merely goes through the motions of living a socially acceptable lifestyle. This is reflected in the person he chooses to marry, the schooling and job he undertakes, and even how he spends his money. But things are still more complicated than this. Tolstoy does not simply want to say that one should spend most of the time surrounded by family because that too can be noxious to one’s life.
This is especially true in the case of Ivan and his family, who often make life miserable for each other. The narrator notes, “” Is it our fault?’ Lisa said to her mother. ‘It’s as if we were to blame! I am sorry for papa, but why should we be tortured?’” (775). This passage shows how the illness is putting a burden on the family bonds and how the ailment makes it hard for them to be together. They are simply incompatible and maybe distancing themselves from each other is the best course of action. Ultimately, to understand what Tolstoy has to say about alienation we must examine what happens when the eponymous hero is left alone.
It is interesting to note that most of the thematically rich action takes place after Ivan’s unfortunate injury and when he is bedridden. In his state he begins to not only attempt to rationalize his existence—when discussing Caius—but also make groundbreaking revelations about life and death. These last few weeks of his existence are probably his most profound and important because thoughts and, on the topic of alienation, they are made when he is alone, in a sense. Ivan is never truly alone in his demise because he conjures himself an alter ego of sorts. He begins talking to his consciousness, which signifies Ivan evaluating his own life compared to the society around him. It also interesting to note that this alter ego also depicts a part of Ivan that is not all bad; it has the moral and social qualities that would allow it to be socially acceptable and a good influence on the reader. Through Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy wants to say something overwhelming, and possibly alien at the time, about this notion of alienation: it is imperative that we do not alienate ourselves, that is, we must find a sense of belonging and individuality that allows the self to conquer the society and stand out.
Henrik Ibsen explores a similar notion in his play Hedda Gabler, albeit from the opposite extreme of the spectrum. Unlike Ivan, the title character of this work is more open about intimately socializing with people. As a matter of fact, the entire focus of this play is on the deep relationships and social interactions between the characters. Hedda herself is a part of multiple love triangles but it is exactly this form of interaction, which poisons her. To elaborate, whenever she is around other people she is forced to abide to the social norms fit for a woman in the 19th century. Similarly to Ivan, the people she associates with are poor influences for her, for example, conversations with Brack or Eilert put strains on her relationship with George. This is reflected in her behavior around her friends and family. That is to say, Henrik Ibsen uses his heroine to explore the facades that people put on when they are so deeply rooted within social circles. That is, characters such as Hedda act outside their nature to appease social standards. Hedda says, “ [Miss Tesman] put her hat down there on the chair [Looks at him smiling] and I pretended I though it was the maid’s” (804). This passage recalls a time where Hedda had to act a certain way outside of what she is used to in order to keep up appearances. But once again it goes much deeper than to say that too much interaction can get stressful because of how society wants us to act. And once again, in order to get a clear message about alienation, we must examine what the characters do when they’re alone. Ibsen does not utilize monologues, soliloquies, or asides in order for the audience to get an insight into a character’s psyche; however, this makes the time when they are alone very special. Hedda Gabbler, is left to her own devices at three key points in the play: when she plays with her pistols prior to Brack’s arrival, when she burns Eilert’s manuscript, and finally when she ends her own life. Very crucial moments of the work and they all carry with them significant weight when it comes to the character development of Hedda. The times when the characters are alone show the reader what the characters are really like. Interestingly enough, Hedda too has a double of sorts. She has an alter ego, that, like Ivan’s, would allow her to be more socially acceptable and instill in her characteristics reminiscent of a morally good person: her unborn child. Additionally, these episodes embody the same message Tolstoy was trying to depict: alienation is not inherently a negative trait, at times it can be imperative to avoid interaction to find some time to think and reflect in silence.
The motif of alienation lends itself to another, larger notion of satisfaction, which dictates both Ivan’s and Hedda’s lives very profoundly. But it is too easy to say that the two characters suffer because they are unhappy. The issue is more complicated because the two almost refuse to believe that they are dissatisfied. For example, Ivan rationalizes saying that because he got a better job and earns a little more money he is somehow better off and happy because he can fill his home with ornaments and things. Similarly, Hedda attempts to convince herself that she is content by filling her home with material possessions. Their flaw lies in their endeavor to appease the social standard of luxury and possession. To that effect they are both in a sense wearing false smiles when around others all the while bottling up more and more depression, which turns out to be fatal for Hedda. Their major flaw lies in the fact that both characters assign deep meanings to objects that inherently do not have one: money, curtains, and manuscripts. Furthermore, they avoid or ignore the simplicity of happiness. Truthfully, it does seem difficult to attribute the era of Realism to joy, as the former was intent on fleshing out the brutalities of the world. It is not entirely the fault of Ivan or Hedda for being unhappy but the authors do agree that an attempt—to smile, to laugh, to enjoy one’s self— at least has to be made in order for the individual to find some sense of satisfaction within a society that has given up on the idea.
The relationship between the self and the society, especially in the context of the “correct life”, comes down to the idea of purpose and fulfillment. And it is on this issue that Tolstoy and Ibsen disagree. The best way to examine the difference of opinion is to consider the physical aspect of death within both works. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is aptly named because of the immense focus on the actual process of death. Within the novella, the period of injury, illness, and suffering is very drawn out to the point where it dominates a majority of the work. Death is very significant to Ivan because gives him the opportunity to reflect on his life to see what went wrong. It is also very important for Tolstoy because it allows him to explore the theme of fulfillment. To elaborate, the author believes that a person cannot be truly meaningful in life and that it is through death that we find a purpose. This is why he puts a lot of emphasis on Ivan’s suffering and not on the fatal blow. He notes, “…that drawing-room where he had fallen and for the sake of which (how bitterly ridiculous it seemed) he had sacrificed his life…” (764). Ivan himself finds humor in his predicament because of how ironic and pedestrian his death really is. His passing is truly a far cry from the protagonists of the past but Tolstoy does not describe it as flawed. The title character’s only fault seems to be that he has no desire to seek meaning or purpose and at first that is why Ivan believes he has not lived society’s idea of the “correct life”, but considering this is also a mistake. Near the end of the novella Ilyich redeems himself, after his aporia and catharsis he has an epiphany about fulfillment, which is reflected in the final meeting between him and his son. He thinks to himself, “’Yes, I am making them wretched,’ he thought. ‘They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die” (777). Although it is a grim realization to make, Ivan becomes aware through this exchange that the only way he can rectify his mistakes with his family is to die and put them at peace. Another way to interpret this final moment is that in a way Ivan passes down some form of knowledge to his son about how to carry one’s self and how to live correctly. And that, according to Tolstoy, is the true purpose of life; it is not about desiring fulfillment or freedom but making the lives of others easier.
In contrast, Ibsen believes that one’s purpose can only be achieved in life. This is why he chooses to introduce death multiple times, in a less conservative way than Tolstoy. After all, three characters die within the span of 36 hours. But in doing so, and ignoring what suffering may come from a prolonged death, Ibsen turns the focus to the actual instant of death. That is to say, the deaths in Hedda Gabler are more vivid than the one in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Unlike in the novella, the play does not leave much room to ponder what happens after the heroine dies and instead the emphasis is put on her life, and what a life it is! The purpose of Hedda’s actions is brutally clear: she desires freedom from the social mores and the minutia of her life. And she attempts everything, regardless of how immoral it is. But in the pursuit of her purpose it is revealed how strong a character she really is and how admirable her struggle is. She tries to break the mold of the 19th century woman by bidding to become the author of her own life, which is why she puts so much emphasis on beauty. When speaking to Brack she says, “All I know is that Eilert Løvborg had the courage to live life his own way, and now—his last great act—bathed in beauty” (834). To her, and to Ibsen this idea of beauty or a beautiful death is important, because after all, that’s all there is. But, whether Hedda is crazy or not and why she chose to commit suicide is up for question. To answer it would be to grasp what Ibsen says about purpose. Once again, it is very sad to imagine it this way, but the only way Hedda can achieve her goals is through life—after all she wants personal freedoms. Once she cannot get them, suicide becomes the only option because according to Ibsen there is no opportunity to achieve her goals after death like there is in the novella. The message remains that in order for the self to conquer the society the individual must live with purpose and with reckless abandon of the social norms.
Overall, this question of the correct life really comes down to the individual level and how the self can exist within the society. It is easy to examine themes or motifs such as alienation, satisfaction, or purpose but in the end even those do not paint the full picture. If we consider only those aspects or if we examine them in a particular light then we don’t do justice to the lives of the characters we want to explore. It seems easy to describe Ivan Ilyich or Hedda Gabler as bad characters simply because they don’t fit a very arbitrary blueprint of the perfect life but it would be wrong to do so. Within their settings the two respective title characters exhibit specific idiosyncrasies, which allow them to break anonymity and become known to the world. And in that sense, even with their flaws, they become examples of how to live to become relevant and fulfilled.
Ibsen, Henrik. (2002). Hedda Gabler. London: Methuen Drama.
Tolstoy, Leo. (1973). The Death of Ivan Ilych. New York: Health Sciences Pub. Corp.
Props, Stage Directions, and Their Symbolism in Hedda Gabler
The play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen centers on a woman named Hedda, the daughter of General Gabler, who is married to George Tesman – a person in the middle class. In the play, Ibsen has described the set in a way which makes it very distinct; the rooms are depicted as dark, with the curtains drawn back. Above the sofa, there hangs a big portrait of General Gabler. Ibsen has used these props and stage directions in the play as symbols to help us develop a much deeper understanding of the plot itself as well as of the character of Hedda.
What strikes the reader and audience of the play from the very first Act is Hedda’s apparent love of ‘darkness’ – both literal as well as figurative. The stage directions begin with descriptions of the rooms: ‘tastefully appointed reception room, decorated in dark colours’ (167) and ‘downstage by the right is a large, dark, porcelain stove’ (167), which introduce the dark look of the play. Almost as soon as Hedda makes her first appearance in the play, she remarks “Ugh…the maid’s been and opened the verandah door. The place is flooded with sunlight” (176). Afterwards, she asks Tesman to close the windows. Everytime she opens a curtain, there is a mention of her closing them again, thus reinforcing the idea of her ‘loving’ darkness.
Another thing that becomes evident is her dislike for flowers, or at least the ones brought in by Miss Tesman. In a different translation available on Gutenberg, Hedda says “Yes, fresh air we certainly must have, with all these stacks of flowers,” a remark which obviously seems to be a sarcastic comment. Later, in Act 2, she says to Judge Brack that these flowers have “an odour of death” (208). These constant references to her not liking light and flowers – which closely bring an image of life and happiness with them – gives us a sense that Hedda has an inherent dislike of life. This interpretation is also supported by the fact that death remains a constant theme in the play, and also that Hedda is shown to embrace death; which can be seen clearly in the numerous times she talks about death as something beautiful rather than tragic – like her not stopping Lovborg’s suicidal thoughts, but rather encouraging him by giving him one of her pistols and asking him as a last favour to make his death ‘beautiful’. The flowers in a way represent happiness – or rather, life – and Hedda’s dislike of them represents her dislike of life – and that she might be choosing to be unhappy by not doing what she really wants.
Another prop, which seems to have the most significant impact on the play, is the portrait of General Gabler hanging on the wall. Though the General is not physically present in the play, the portrait signifies his importance to the play, and also seems to serve as a reminder for Hedda to uphold her values, rather than do something to ruin her reputation. There are numerous occasions where Hedda’s relationship with her father were brought up, talking about how they spent a lot of time together when she was a child, and this could be a reason that the General was as big an influence that he was. As an effect of her father’s values being rubbed off on her, it seems as though she is suppressing her desire to ‘be free’ to conform to what is expected of her; to have a husband, a good house and financial status, etc. These repressed desires seem to cause frustration within herself which comes out as her manipulative attitude. This also serves as a basis to explain why she married Tesman, even though it is quite evident that she never wanted to. Her suppressing her emotions can be more clearly seen in the fact that she obviously wanted to be with Lovborg, but that would come at the cost of her reputation, which causes jealousy because Lovborg is now with the woman she seems to despise the most – Thea. Hedda could not be with Lovborg, and she wanted no one else to be as well, so she did what she did best – try to get control over him and destroy the relationship, and eventually, him. Thus, the portrait of the General signifies Hedda’s urge to conform to her values, and begins to explain her manipulative attitude.
Another interesting thing is the interpretation of the stage directions in the plays. Quite a few directors of the play have depicted the portrait to be extremely large, and rather striking to the eye of the spectator, and while this has several implications of it’s own, it starts to feel romanticized. Ibsen’s depiction of the portrait as a normal sized one – something that could actually be found in a real house – makes the idea that the General does have an impact over the play much more believable and well as realistic. Ibsen once wrote in a letter, “The title of the play is Hedda Gabler. My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than her husband’s wife” This clearly shows the importance of the portrait as depicted by Ibsen himself, since a portrait was the only way to exert that General Gabler was indeed a very important part of the play, symbolically looking over all the happenings in the house.
Another important motif in the play is the set of pistols given to Hedda by her father. Not only do they signify how she is the daughter of the General, but they also exemplify Hedda’s divergence from traditional feminine values and interests. The pistols were a symbol of power, and their mere possession made Hedda feel like she was powerful, which ties in coherently with Hedda’s manipulative attitude. Another interesting interpretation which I found on the same source, was that in the same way that Hedda considers the very dangerous guns as toys, her manipulative nature – which leads to Lovborg’s death as well her own – is just another source of amusement for her, and just another was for her to seek the power she so badly wants. As the acts progress, the symbolic representation of power through the pistols begins to become more evident. From the first act, Hedda has the pistols with her, and at the same time is trying to gain control over everyone else. By the end of Act 3, she has successfully managed to gain control over everyone and even exerting it in the form of trying to break apart the relationship between Thea and Lovborg. But as soon as she gives away her pistol to Lovborg, she symbolically gives away her power with it, because the discovery of Hedda’s pistol with Lovborg is what enables Judge Brack to blackmail her. Hedda uses the rest of her power – the other pistol – to finish herself, because she does not want anyone else to have control over her. It is the General and his values, along with the pistols of course, that she tries to uphold so badly that leads to her own demise.
Overall, Ibsen has used the props as well as the stage directions in the play in a brilliant way, depicting the props as having both physical and symbolic importance. The stage directions have been described and interpreted by most play directors successfully, thus enabling the spectator as well as the reader of the play to gain a much deeper understanding of the play if they look closely. I believe that every single element in the play was equally as important; the darkness represented Hedda’s character, the pistols her greed of power and control, and the portrait of the General representing her repressed desires, each explaining in their own way why Hedda was the way she was described to be.
 Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Babies = Death Motif in Hedda Gabler.”Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 25 June 2015.
 Cummings, Michael J. “Hedda Gabler: A Study Guide.” Cummings Study Guide.
 Sanders, Tracy (2006). “Lecture Notes: Hedda Gabler — Fiend or Heroine”. Australian Catholic University.
 Shmoop Editorial Team. “Those Guns in Hedda Gabler.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 25 June 2015.