Exploration Of The Theme Of Gender Inequality In Henrik Ibsen’s Play Hedda Gabler And Major Barbara By Bernard Shaw

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer


When artists set to create works of literature, their creations usually reflect the happenings in society at the time when they develop the works. The reflection of the happenings in the society in a piece of literary work is usually in the form of themes.

One of the main issues that plagued society during the late 19th century and the early 20th century is gender inequality. Consequently, most of the works of literature created around this time advance the theme of gender inequality. Having been created during this era, Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” and Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” both advance the theme of gender inequality as shown in the dialogue below.

The Dialogue

It is 5:30 pm. Waiters at the Royal View Hotel are changing shifts, and so the hotel looks busier than usual. A middle-aged woman, Barbara, arrives at the hotel dressed in a long robe and a large headgear. She heads straight for the reception and leaves a note for a friend she should be meeting at the hotel. She then climbs the wooden staircase to the first-floor balcony where there is a table with two chairs. She is approached by a waiter who leaves immediately and returns with a glass of water. For about minutes, Barbara is sitting alone sipping from her glass of cold water. She is then joined by her guest.

Barbara: (Standing to greet her) Hello! I am glad you found time to come.

Hedda: (Pulling the other chair and sitting). Hello Major Barbara! I am glad we finally met after the long wait. Though you look a lot more different from what I thought. I expected to find a gigantic woman dressed in full military regalia.

The two laugh heartily for about half a minute. A waiter arrives and takes orders from the two women now seated across from each other. They remain quiet until he returns with a tray from which he serves them coffee. As he walks away, Barbara pulls her chair closer and leans over the table so that she is staring straight into Hedda’s eyes.

Hedda: You are a major for the Salvation Army. What business do you have dressing like a normal woman? If I met you somewhere along the road, I would never have known you are the same Major Barbara that I have heard so much about.

Barbara: (Chuckling). Please call me Barbara my dear. I would have loved to always dress in military regalia and advance my course through a military approach. However, I have realized that that does not work anymore. I am peacefully convinced of my mission to redeem mankind. I have realized that the world and its salvation are in the hands of the wealthy rather than God.

Hedda: And you are sure you are going to succeed against them? How adequately prepared against the hurdles that are bound to come your way are you?

Barbara: I just hope I will make it. The course is made even more complex by the fact that I am a woman. The society is quite unfair on this. No one believes that a mere woman like me can identify and fight against the ills in our society.

Hedda: I understand you, dear. It is not easy being a woman in our society. I might be wrong, but I think ours is a typical example of a depraved society. Our society seems intent on sacrificing the individual expression and freedom of women to its self-interest.

Barbara: (Sighing). You got it dear. Life as a woman is quite hard. The society bars us from taking part in activities of a world outside our household. Despite our desires, we are not adequately equipped for freedom outside our families.

Hedda: (speaking in a low tone). And that is my worry; that’s my pain. We have been confined to a life of misery. We have the desire but lack the ability for a constructive effort at self-determination.

Barbara: Too bad! There must be some way out of this situation. We must fight the mistreatment of women. If only we can unite without considering our social classes, I am optimistic we can win.

Hedda: I feel like I had already lost this battle. I feel that I do not influence this world. (Looks at her watch) I must get back home before my husband starts worrying about me.

Barbara: Thanks for coming. It was glad sharing ideas with you. I hope to see you soon.

They both rise and walk out of the hotel. At the hotel’s gate, each of them catches a cab and head their separate ways.

Explanation of the Dialogue

The dialogue above focuses on gender inequality in the two plays. My choice of gender inequality as the topic of focus for the dialogue was guided by the prominence of this theme in the two plays. The theme of gender inequality is well articulated in the play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen. In this play, Hedda reveals women’s lack of power to make decisions concerning their lives when she remarks as follows “I had danced myself out. My day was done—. [With a slight shudder.] Well no—perhaps I shouldn’t say that; nor think it, either” (Ibsen 29). With this remark, Hedda implies that her marriage to George Tesman was not because she wanted to but rather because she had to. That’s what women did in that day and age.

Likewise, the play ‘Major Barbara’ by Bernard Shaw advances the theme of gender inequality. The unfair treatment of women in this play is revealed by Rummy when she remarks as follows “That’s what’s so unfair to us women. Your confessions are just as big lies as ours: you don’t tell what you really done no more than us; but you men can tell your lies right out at the meetins be made much of for it; while the sort o confessions we az to make az to be whispered to one lady at a time. It aint right, spite of all their piety” (Shaw 92).

With this remark, Rummy expresses her bitterness with the existence of different standards for men and women. I also settled on the two characters because they are the main characters in the two plays, and thus they contribute more towards the plot development of their respective plays.


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