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Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler


by Henrik Ibsen

The Babies = Death Motif

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Typically, we would expect babies to be associated with spring, flowers, light, life, and some very cuddly Easter bunnies. But in this play, babies are associated with destruction. What is life to everyone else spells death for Hedda. Let’s take a look.

In Act I, Hedda enters the parlor and is distraught to find the glass door open and light pouring in. She immediately has George draw the curtains. She also dislikes the overly abundant smell of flowers permeating her house, and instructs her husband to keep the door open for fresh air. Already we’re seeing that for Hedda, light and flowers – typical signs of life – are distressing. Why? Because she doesn’t want to have a baby. Later, in Act II, Hedda comments again on the smell of flowers, this time to Judge Brack. She declares there is "an odor of morbidity about it." It reminds her "of a bouquet—the day after a ball." The implications here are clear. Hedda, no longer in the prime of single gal life, is herself like a bouquet after the ball, especially now that she’s pregnant.

Throughout the course of Hedda Gabler, the image of death is repeatedly tied to the image of birth. In Act IV, Hedda finally admits her pregnancy – moments after news arrives that Rina is dead. Aunt Julie even draws a parallel between weaving a shroud for her dead sister and making new clothes for Hedda’s baby. Thea and Eilert’s "child" is destroyed at the play’s climax. And did you read "Character Role Identification," where we establish that Mrs. Elvsted is about construction while Hedda is about destruction? Good, because notice that Hedda is the one having the baby while Thea "[has] no children of her own."

Hedda Gabler reflects Hedda’s psychological state. Because Hedda finds the thought of new life morbid, that is how the motif manifests itself in the play.

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