Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Plot Analysis

By Henrik Ibsen

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Plot Analysis

Initial Situation

Hedda is miserable, and probably pregnant. George is going to get a post as a professor. Aunt Rina is sick and will likely die soon.

This is the situation when the play begins. There is inherent conflict in Hedda’s dissatisfaction, cold demeanor, and callous cruelty towards Aunt Julie, but these are merely appetizers for what is to come in the next stage. Just wait.


Mrs. Elvsted is distraught and has left her husband; Eilert could start drinking again; the Judge wants Hedda in one way or another; George has to compete for his professorship; and Hedda has a scary penchant for her pistols.

This is a messy situation we’ve got here. What’s great is that all these conflicts are wrapped around Eilert – this makes for some tension-filled scenes, since the stakes are high for everything he says and does.


There’s more to Hedda and Eilert’s past than we thought. Meanwhile, Eilert does start drinking again, and the most valuable prop to ever grace the stage is lost.

The lost manuscript really raises the stakes on everything, from Eilert’s relationship with Thea to his professional rivalry with George to his lingering feelings (maybe?) for Hedda. The drunken debauchery on the night of the stag party reminds us of Hedda’s deadly fear of scandal, a threat always waiting in the wings.


Hedda burns Eilert's manuscript/brain-child.

Until now, Hedda’s discontent and inner rage have been bubbling threateningly beneath the surface of that cool, pale exterior. Now it comes raging forward, in a nearly demonic moment (tell us that scene didn’t give you the creeps). If you check out our discussion of fire in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," you’ll see that we’ve actually been building towards a fire-related climax from the get-go. And Ibsen doesn’t disappoint.


What happened to Eilert?

When George returns to his house and demands the manuscript back from Hedda, he’s worried that Eilert might do something to himself in distress. And, quite frankly, so are we.


The Judge explains everything; George and Mrs. Elvsted begin work on The Big Important Book, Version Two.

You guys know the drill – the denouement is the stage where stuff gets explained. In this case, it gets explained twice. We THINK we’re getting the dish when the Judge tells Hedda, George, and Thea what happened, but we don’t hear the real deal until Brack gets Hedda alone in the corner.


Hedda shoots herself in the temple.

There are a lot of interpretations you can apply to the ending of Hedda Gabler, and we discuss a fair number of them in "What’s Up With the Ending?"

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