by Henrik Ibsen
Tools of Characterization
We think it’s interesting that George, Aunt Julie, and Thea are all blondes, whereas Brack, Hedda, and Eilert are brunettes. It’s almost as if some sort of grouping were going on! The latter are smart, quick, rebellious, jaded, aware, come from aristocratic families, and hardly satisfied with the status quo. The former are middle-class (remember that Mrs. Elvsted came to her current home as a governess originally), slower, more naïve, and end up getting played by the other camp.
The characters can be grouped by complexion. The bourgeois Thea, Miss Tesman, and George are all fair. The aristocratic Hedda, Brack, and Løvborg all have darker coloring. Their coloring visually distinguishes the two groups, as do the values and social class they share. Diana has red hair.
In his introduction to Four Major Plays, translator Rolf Fjelde discusses the importance of props throughout the corpus of Ibsen’s work. Characters often have a single, defining prop, one that follows them through the course of the play and in some way comments on or reinforces what we know about their character. While Fjelde discusses the idea generally, we can apply this to Hedda more specifically. The most obvious prop is Hedda’s pair of pistols, which we discuss further in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory." They define her as a violent, masculine, dangerous woman. Eilert’s single prop is his manuscript – it ties him to Mrs. Elvsted and paints him as a successful scholar. George Tesman always carries around books and notes; he rearranges other people’s information without being able to produce much of it on his own. Aunt Julie enters the stage for the first time carrying what Hedda will later consider a bourgeoisie hat and parasol; she is middle-class and unable to please Hedda, despite putting herself out in an attempt to do so.
Check out the stage directions for Hedda, particularly when she’s interacting with Mrs. Elvsted. Notice how she’s a little bit violent? In Act I, she physically sits Mrs. Elvsted down on the sofa before settling beside her. Later, she "forces [her] down into the armchair." At the end of Act II, she leans in threateningly close to Mrs. Elvsted while promising to burn off her hair. She then "drags Mrs. Elvsted, almost by force, toward the doorway." All of these actions illustrate that Hedda is forceful and violent, and that Thea, by contrast, is passive, weak, and often the victim.
Speech and Dialogue
Because he’s a big bore, George Tesman uses the same words over and over. In case you didn’t notice, Hedda mocks him in Act IV by repeating his two catch phrases, the little "Uh?" at the end of passages and the "Imagine that!" that he just can’t seem to get enough of. (In some translations, these appear as "Eh?" and "Fancy that!") Hedda also makes fun of his word choice when he gets the news of his dying aunt and declares he’ll just "hop" right over there. She mocks the turn of phrase, asking if he’s really going to "hop."
Compare George’s ineloquence to Hedda’s formality of language, and in particular to her scathingly witty banters with Judge Brack. Double, even triple entendres abound, their exchanges are full of subtext, and neither of them ever skips a beat. Brack can keep up with Hedda intellectually; George can not. This goes some way in explaining why George is so inadequate for her as a husband.