Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Courage

By Henrik Ibsen

Courage

MRS. ELVSTED
I shall never go back to him again.
[…]
HEDDA
But what do you think people will say of you, Thea?
MRS. ELVSTED
They may say what they like, for aught I care. [Seats herself wearily and sadly on the sofa.] I have done nothing but what I had to do. (1.354-363)

This may be the one representation of true courage we actually see in Hedda Gabler.

HEDDA
Because I have such a dread of scandal.
LØVBORG
Yes, Hedda, you are a coward at heart.
HEDDA
A terrible coward. (2.360-2)

It’s odd that, throughout the play, Hedda makes statements like this one. She thinks she is a coward; she thinks she has no power over anyone; she thinks she is poor. These thoughts seem to run contrary to her external image.

HEDDA
The fact that I dared not shoot you down—
LØVBORG
Yes!
HEDDA
—that was not my arrant cowardice—that evening. (2.370-2)

This is a bit open to interpretation, but it seems as though Hedda is referring to the additional cowardice of breaking up with Eilert in the first place. She didn’t have the guts – as Mrs. Elvsted seems to have had– to trash her reputation.

LOVBORG
And then she is so brave, Mrs. Tesman!
MRS. ELVSTED
Good heavens—am I brave?
LØVBORG
Exceedingly—where your comrade is concerned. (2.394-6)

This is a dig at Hedda: Eilert is driving home the fact that Thea has what she lacks.

HEDDA
Ah, yes—courage! If one only had that!
LØVBORG
What then? What do you mean?
HEDDA
Then life would perhaps be livable, after all. (2.397-9)

Courage makes life livable…how does this change our interpretation of Hedda’s eventual suicide?

HEDDA
Eilert Løvborg has himself made up his account with life. He has had
the courage to do—the one right thing. (4.161)

How is this "the one right thing," as Hedda calls it? Is Eilert in some way paying for his sins here? Are those sins connected with his alcoholism, or with Mrs. Elvsted?

HEDDA
[In a low voice.] Oh, what a sense of freedom it gives one, this act of Eilert Løvborg's.
BRACK
Freedom, Mrs. Hedda? Well, of course, it is a release for him—
HEDDA
I mean for me. It gives me a sense of freedom to know that a deed of deliberate courage is still possible in this world,—a deed of spontaneous beauty. (4.191-3)

This is evidence for our "Hedda lives vicariously" theory. Thinking she can never act this way, Eilert’s death is the closest she gets to independence.

HEDDA
But what do you think your husband will say when you go home again?
[…]
TESMAN
[Shrieks to BRACK.] Shot herself! Shot herself in the temple! Fancy that!
BRACK
[Half-fainting in the arm-chair.] Good God!--people don't do such things. (4.302-3)

Hedda shows her bravery by being willing – finally – to break social boundaries and, like Mrs. Elvsted, to do what "people don’t do."

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