Henrik Ibsen portrays a microcosm of nineteenth century Norwegian societyin his play Hedda Gabler. Hedda, the protagonist, exhibits a mixture ofmasculine and feminine traits due to her unique upbringing under GeneralGabler and the social mores imposed upon her. However, although this societyvenerates General Gabler because of his military status, his daughter Heddais not tolerated due to her non-conformity to the accepted genderstereotypes.
Hedda’s gender-inverted marriage to Jorgan Tesman, her desirefor power and her use of General Gabler’s pistols are unacceptable in hersociety and motif of “One doesn’t do such a thing!” that is alluded toduring the play and expounded upon Hedda’s death that shows that Hedda’suncertain stance between masculine and feminine gender roles and theirassociated traits is not tolerated by her society.Ibsen employs a reversal of traditional gender roles within Hedda andJorgen Tesman’s marriage to emphasises Hedda’s masculine traits. Heddadisplays no emotion or affection towards her husband Jorgen. This appearanceof indifference is a trait that is usually common to men: Tesman – “My oldmorning shoes. My slippers look!…
I missed them dreadfully. Now you shouldsee them, Hedda.” Hedda – “No thanks, it really doesn’t interest me’. Inanother gender role reversal, Hedda displays a financial awareness, whichher husband, Jorgen does not posses.
Although Brack corresponds with Tesmanabout his honeymoon travels, he corresponds with Hedda concerning thefinancial matters. This is a role that is usually reserved for men.Hedda does not only display traits, which are definitively masculine, orfeminine, she also objects to and often defies the conventions establishedfor her gender by society. She rejects references to her pregnancy as areminder of her gender: Tesman – “Have you noticed how plump (Hedda’s)grown, and how well she is? How much she’s filled out on our travels?”Hedda – “Oh be quiet!” Hedda is reminded not only of her feminine role ofmother and nurturer here, but also as wife and “appendage” to Tesman: “Andto think is was you who carried off Hedda Gabler! The lovely HeddaGabler!..
.now that you have got the wife your heart was set on.” As a womanof the haute bourgeoisie, Hedda is “sought after” and “always had so manyadmirers” and has been “acquired” by Tesman as hide wife. Hedda resents thegender conventions that dictate that she now “belongs” to the Tesman family- a situation that would not occur were she a man: Tesman – “Only it seemsto me now that you belong to the family…” Hedda- ” Well, I really don’tAlthough these traits displayed by Hedda are masculine, they are not those,which her society cannot tolerate.
To entertain herself in her “boring”marriage she plays with her father’s, General Gabler’s, pistols: Hedda -“Sometimes I think I only have a talent for one thing…
boring myself todeath!” “I still have one thing to kill time with. My pistols, Jorgen.General Gabler’s pistols” Jorgen – “For goodness’ sake! Hedda darling! Don’ttouch those dangerous things! For my sake, Hedda!”. These pistols are asymbol of masculinity and are associated with war, a pastime which women areexcluded from other than in the nurturing role of nurses and are thus nottolerated by society. Tesman implores Hedda to cease playing with them, buteven his “superior” position as her husband does not dissuade Hedda, who isfound to be playing with them by Brack at the beginning of act two. Brackalso reminds Hedda of the inappropriate nature of her “entertainment” andphysically takes the pistols away from Hedda. Hedda – “I’m going to shootyou sir!” Brack – “No, no, no!.
..Now stop this nonsense!” taking the pistolgently out of her hand. If you don’t mind, my dear lady…
.Because we’renot going to play that game any more today.”As a parallel to Hedda’s masculine game of playing with General Gabler’spistols, Hedda plays the traditionally female role of a “minx” with Brack.Hedda – “Doesn’t it feel like a whole eternity since we last talked to eachBrack – “Not like this, between ourselves? Alone together, you mean?”Brack – “Here was I, every blessed day, wishing to goodness you were homeHedda – “And there was I, the whole time, wishing exactly the same”At the beginning of act two, Hedda encourages Brack’s flirtation with herby telling him the true nature of her marriage to Tesman that it is amarriage of convenience: Brack – “But, tell me..
.I don’t quite see why, inthat case…
er…” Hedda – “Why Jorgen and I ever made a match of it, youmean? Hedda – “I had simply danced myself out, my dear sir. My time was up.”Brack is emboldened by Hedda’s seeming availability and pursues the notionof a “triangular relationship” with Hedda. Not only does Hedda’s”coquettish” behaviour towards Brack exhibits the feminine side of hernature, it also demonstrates that in some instances she conforms tosociety’s expectations of females.
Hedda’s reference to “(her) time (being)up” shows the socially accepted view that women must marry, because they arenot venerated as spinsters. By conforming to this aspect of her society’smores and marrying before she becomes a socially unacceptable spinster,Hedda demonstrates that she is undeniably female and accepts this.Hedda’s constantly seeks power over those people she comes in contact with.As a woman, she has no control over society at large, and thus seeks toinfluence the characters she comes into contact with in an emulation of herfather’s socially venerated role as a general.
Hedda pretends to have beenfriends with Thea in order to solicit her confidence: Thea – “But that’s thelast thing in the world I wanted to talk about!” Hedda – “Not to me, dear?After all, we were at school together.” Thea – “Yes, but you were a classabove me. How dreadfully frightened of you I was in those days!” Once Heddalearns of Thea’s misgivings about Lovborg’s newfound resolve, she uses it toHedda – “Now you see for yourself! There’s not the slightest need for youto go about in this deadly anxiety…
“Lovborg – “So it was deadly anxiety …on my behalf.”Thea – softly and in misery Oh, Hedda! How could you!”Lovborg – “So this was my comrade’s absolute faith in me.”Hedda then manipulates Lovborg, by challenging his masculinity, into goingto Brack’s bachelor party and resuming his drunken ways of old. Hedda’s”reward” for this is to find that Lovborg’s manuscript, his and Thea’s”child” falls into her hands, where she burns it, thus destroying the childand alto the relationship, both of which Hedda was jealous of.
Similarly, Hedda seeks to push her husband, Jorgan, into politics: “(I waswondering) whether I could get my husband to go into politics…” Thiswould raise Hedda’s social standing and allow her to attain and maintainpower. Hedda’s manipulation of people in order to attain power is a traitthat is stereotypically predominant in men. The society of nineteenthcentury Norway venerates the image of submissive, static passive and purewomen. Roles of power are normally allocated to men in such a society.
The society in Hedda Gabler demonstrates its intolerance of Hedda’smasculine behaviour by contributing to her death. Hedda is found to beplaying with her pistols in act two by Brack. After disgracing himself andreturning to his “immoral” ways at Hedda’s behest, Lovborg is manipulated byHedda into “taking his life beautifully” and she gives him one of GeneralGabler’s pistols. However Lovborg dies from an accidental wound to thestomach rather than a patrician death from a bullet to the head and Brack,utilising his position of power within the judicial system, sees the pistolthat he accidentally killed himself with. Recognising it as being GeneralGabler’s pistol, he returns to Hedda to stake his claim. Hedda refuses to bein the power of Brack, she had been “heartily thankful that (he had) nopower over (her)” however, her fear is realised as Brack attempts to forcehis way into a “triangular relationship” with Hedda (and Tesman) in returnfor not exposing the scandal that she had provided Lovborg with theinstrument of his death.
Hedda is “as fearful of scandal as all that” andtakes her life, ironically avoiding the scandal surrounding Lovborg’s deathand yet causing a scandal concerning her own. Hedda’s masculine preferencefor the pistols to any feminine task of housekeeping and her fear of scandaldue to not conforming with society’s accepted gender roles leads her to killherself, thus demonstrating that things which “one doesn’t do” are nottolerated by her society of nineteenth century Norway.Bibliography: