Critical Analysis of Ibsens Hedda Gabler
A spider becomes caught in its own web. This is an example of an attempted manipulation that went awry. Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, is a work about a woman who manipulates the fates of others in order to fulfill her own desires. The title character is a woman who has recently returned from a six month “honeymoon” with her groom, Tesman, a man whom she does not love. She yearns for freedom, but she feels as if she cannot leave her marriage. To occupy her time, she manipulates the lives of everyone around her. Hedda kills herself after becoming engorged in her own manipulations. Through the use of theme, setting, and then-current affairs, Ibsen produces a work that uniquely portrays the sources of the motivations of this manipulative woman.
Whether it be the burning of her former loves manuscript or supplying him with the pistol to shoot himself, Heddas malevolence shows the ability of man to have total disregard for the life of another. Hedda coldly manipulates the lives of everyone around her. Through these manipulative actions, she ruins the lives of all of her acquaintances. Because she is not happy in her marriage, she attempts to forbid anyone else to live a content life. For example, after she persuades Eljert Lovborg to consume alcohol, he ruins his reputation and loses something that is most precious to him: the manuscript of a book that he had been writing with Mrs. Elvsted. Although Hedda realizes the importance of this manuscript to both Lovborg and Mrs. Elvsted, she chars it. Because Lovborg and Mrs. Elvsted have put their souls into this manuscript, Hedda metaphorically relates her action to burning their child. This cold thoughtlessness demonstrates Heddas disregard for the life of a fellow human being. Heddas actions
ultimately lead to her demise. After giving Lovborg her pistol and insinuating that he must kill himself, Heddas cruel intentions are finally revealed. Judge Brack learns of her dealings and, thus, gains an opportunity to take advantage of this situation. When Hedda realizes that she will always be at the mercy of Judge Brack, she does the only thing she can do to escape this situation; she shoots herself. Throughout her manipulations, Hedda maintains a facade of innocence. Her truly malevolent nature, though, is displayed through her actions that relate this theme of mans inhumanity to man.
One may be able to determine the cause for Heddas desire to manipulate when the setting is examined. The whole of the play occurs indoors. Therefore, Hedda is constantly submerged in a place in which she is unhappy. Because her husband Tesman is constantly occupied with other happenings, Hedda is left in a setting that lends itself to plans of manipulation. Heddas true dreams and aspirations are those of freedom and independence (Hemmer 2). Her setting however, is an antithesis to her proclivity. While Hedda maintains a desire to be free to do as she pleases, her situation is one in which she is confined in her home. Because she constantly remains in this monotonous setting, she occupies her time with scheming against everyone around her. This is perhaps the principal cause for Heddas manipulations.
In addition to the setting, the time period in which Hedda Gabler was written is key to the background of Heddas manipulations. The late nineteenth century was a time for change for the women of the world. The womens suffrage movement brought forth the concept of the importance womans rights (Womens 1). Regarded by many as a feminist play, Hedda Gabler investigates the consequences of excessive feminism
(Mazer 1). Hedda Gabler is portrayed as an extremely strong-willed woman. During the times in which this play is set, numerous womens rights and suffrage movements were occurring across the world. It can be inferred that Heddas assertive attitude is characteristic of the time period. To Hedda, it is preposterous that she would have to be under the power of a man. When Judge Brock implies that he will disavow all knowledge of the source of the gun that killed Lovborg if Hedda becomes “subject to his will and demands” (Ibsen 262). She states, “No longer free! No! Thats a thought that Ill never endure!” (Ibsen 262). At this time women across the world were adopting new ideas on their place in society. The atmosphere of the era provides an explanation of the source of Heddas manipulations.
The three aspects that explain Heddas motivations for manipulation shed much light on Heddas overall desire for manipulation. Truthfully, Hedda desires to manipulate the lives of others because she cannot manipulate her own life. She does not want to remain in her marriage, but she lacks the courage to get out of it. Because of the times and her situation, she feels that she cannot leave her husband. It seems as if these manipulations are a sick form of entertainment for Hedda. One could regard this play as a purely feminist work or as the story of a woman who has no regard for human life. In either way in which it is regarded, Ibsen realistically portrays the motivations of Hedda Gabler through his use of theme, setting, and current events.
Hemmer, Bjorn. “The dramatist Henrik Ibsen.” http://odin.dep.no/ud/nornytt/ibsen.html
Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays: A Dolls House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Mazer, Cary M. “Hedda Gabler.” http://www.english.upenn.edu/~cmazer/hedda.html.