Hedda Gabler: Literary Analysis

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Hedda Gabler is a Norwegian play written in the 19th century, Ibsen uses characters to represent the societal difficulties in this time as well as the reoccurrence of key themes; life and death are themes that present themselves throughout the play, Hedda’s relationship between the two is juxtaposed as she passionately see’s beauty in death and morbidity in life.

Hedda’s fascination with death begins immediately in the play reflected in her discontent within her marriage. This early revelation presents her character as very cold. Her evident grief towards her old life, makes her persistent to find entertainment in the misery of others, and this misery is driven by her interest in the concept of death. Death is first presented in Act 1, upon the introduction of ‘Hedda Gabler’, once Hedda arrives and notices the potent smell of ‘lavender and dried roses’ and the light drawing room, she is immediately repulsed, ‘It’s got the odour of death about it.’ Flowers are not typically associated with death, but rather life and new beginnings, ‘this light’s blinding me,’ light is also an image of life and hope that Hedda is sensitive to, suggesting that she has a very distorted perception on life and death. This perspective she holds to death is her aesthetic, Hedda is fixated on her aesthetic being beautiful that she rejects beauty in any other form, to remain true to the ideal that has given her hope.

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Children stereotypically represent life, innocence and vulnerability. When it is discovered that Hedda is pregnant, she forthrightly denies being pregnant and refuses to openly admit that she has a new-found responsibility over a life other than her own. In contrast, Thea creates a child for herself through her manuscript and loves it unconditionally. Both women find themselves with a child however they perceive their children to hold different restrictions and capabilities. Hedda’s child represents her conformity into the Victorian woman she struggles to stray from, and Thea’s represent a new life with Eilert and her freedom from her own husband. ‘Occupation that’d interest me? ’ Judge Brack calls children ‘occupations’ further leading Hedda to claim that a child would do nothing to salvage her from boredom, she doesn’t want judge Brack to have the satisfaction of labelling her as a subordinate woman. When Hedda burns the manuscript, she does so out of spite, she is envious of Thea, her own child is the end of her freedom, so by killing Thea’s she is killing Thea’s opportunity to start anew, consequently foreshadowing the death of herself and her own child. She confidently sacrifices her own life and her child’s to obtain her freedom; her suicide is the point in her life where she has control over her own destiny and that of her child, ‘For once in my life I want to have the power to shape a man’s destiny’ she has an un-healthy obsession with power and the only life that is subject to her power Is her un-born child. This child is defenceless and within Hedda span of control, therefore in her moments of weakness when power is taken from her, she still has the comfort of power over her un-born baby.

When death arises during the Play Hedda refuses to regard it as morbid and sorrowful. ‘…look on sickness and death,’ this quote demonstrates how she is trying to shield herself from everyone else’s view on death, as it distorts the aesthetic world, she has created surrounding death. She wants death to be beautiful, which is why when she gives Eilert Loveborg her pistol she tells him ‘do it beautifully’ she wants to share her ideal with the one she loves, someone who can sympathize with how society can be restricting, Eilert like Hedda was pretending to be someone he wasn’t and fighting his alcoholic urges constantly, which is why Hedda manipulates him into drinking again as she wants him to also stop being the man of ‘principle’ expected of him. It can be suggested that manipulating Eilert into taking the pistol, she is trying to prepare herself for her own inevitable death, she will be able to part peacefully, knowing that Eilert had courage and could similarly justify suicide as beautiful, he is a well-educated man, who has knowledge of the past and of the future, so Hedda was unintentionally seeking his approval. Ibsen portrays death as beautiful to emphasis the juxtaposition, death and beauty do not complement each other, the way that Hedda and Victorian society contradict each other.

The symbolism of the objects within the rear room, held important significance to Hedda and her life as everything within the room is relevant to her life as an aristocrat. ‘I’m just looking at my old piano. It doesn’t really go with all this’ , ‘portrait of a handsome old man in general’s uniform’ both these objects represent her old life, her piano presents the wealthy education she received, implying she enjoyed a life of luxury. The portrait is her father General Gabler, he was the only person she had a relationship with where she felt comfortable with her position in society. Both these objects highlight the comfortable life she lived and how she might miss the old life she was so accustomed to. Despite her pistol belonging to her father and her old life, they do not represent life to Hedda they represent her early departure of the life of a bourgeoisie. The pistols being the end of her life imply the irony of the situation and she dies among the objects of her old life and at the hands of her father’s pistol, implying she wanted to die with the only things that gave her peace in her life, and now they will give her peace in her death as well.

All death within the play occurred off stage, this is because in the Victorian era, the audience had to be sheltered from the bloodshed and were only subject to hearing off stage monologues. Each death in the play occurred silently, there was no focus on Aunt Rena or Eilert Loveborg, however when Hedda burnt Thea’s imagined child, she did so on stage in view of the audience, further highlighting the importance of the manuscript and what it’s death insinuates, by displaying the burning of the manuscript he also displays the malicious lengths that Hedda’s character would go to intentionally cause this death. ‘I’m burning it! I’m burning your child! ’ the exclamatory used stresses the vindictive action and personality trait that Hedda exudes. There is no beauty to this death suggesting that in this point Hedda has rejected her aesthetic to cause the foreseeable destruction of those who appreciate life. When the scene prepares for the suicide of Hedda Gabler as expected she leaves the scene retiring off stage. ‘A shot is heard from the rear room’ and her death was anticipated throughout the play, from the loss of other characters to her last words, ‘from now on I’ll be quiet’ . Therefore, her own death didn’t seem to be given enough time, highlighting the irrationality of her decision, and the emotional preparation that she experienced.

To conclude, Suicide is a death often unexplainable, no one has the insight into an individual’s life to determine the cause of their determination to inflict pain upon themselves. It can be derived from her behaviour that the catalyst for her death was boredom, a common view even from critics ‘bores herself — to death’ , however I do not believe her relationship between life and death was solely driven by boredom. She doesn’t want to be the typical Victorian, which is understandable given the suffocating patriarchal society, the 19th century dictated how a woman should live her life by providing her with constricting expectations. She was expected to ‘spend her time reading, sewing, receiving guests, going visiting, letter writing’ , it has been argued that Hedda was prepared for this lifestyle, though Hedda did not have the preparation for this married lifestyle, until the demise of her father, Hedda enjoyed hunting and horseback riding, attributes like those cannot be forced into a stale lifestyle of requirements. ‘people do not do such things’ sated Brack upon finding her dead at her own hands, this quote highlights the dramatic irony of how she left the world. ‘People do not do such things’ this was what Hedda was trying to achieve, leaving the impression that she wasn’t what they all expected, she surprised them with the reality of the lengths she’ll achieve to be in control of her own destiny.  


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