Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Manipulation

By Henrik Ibsen

Manipulation

Yes, of course—it makes it a little more expensive. But Hedda had to have this trip, Auntie! She really had to. Nothing else would have done. (1.75)

Hedda doesn’t even have to manipulate George; he acts the subordinate oaf just fine on his own.

HEDDA
Well then, we must try to drift together again. Now listen. At school we said to each other; and we called each other by our Christian names—
MRS. ELVSTED
No, I am sure you must be mistaken.
HEDDA
No, not at all! I can remember quite distinctly. So now we are going to renew our old friendship. [Draws the footstool closer to
MRS. ELVSTED
] There now! [Kisses her cheek.] You must […] call me Hedda. (1.300-2)

Hedda always gets what she wants without actually revealing her desires, a technique no other character can execute in the play, even Judge Brack.

HEDDA
[Leaning against the arm of the chair.] Thea—my poor, sweet Thea—now you must tell me everything—exactly as it stands.
MRS. ELVSTED
Well, then you must question me.
HEDDA
What sort of a man is your husband, Thea? I mean—you know—in everyday life. Is he kind to you? (1.330-2)

Notice that Hedda is always the one asking the questions, and very rarely the one revealing any information about herself.

HEDDA
Oh, it was a little episode with Miss Tesman this morning. She had laid down her bonnet on the chair there—[Looks at him and smiles.]—and I pretended to think it was the servant's. (2.127)

Did you notice that the Judge is only the guy Hedda confesses the truth to? And yet, she still manages to keep him under her thumb, at least in the first few acts…

LØVBORG Yes, Hedda, and when I made my confessions to you—told you about myself, things that at that time no one else knew! There I would sit and tell you of my escapades—my days and nights of devilment. Oh, Hedda—what was the power in you that forced me to confess these things? (2.337)

Løvborg recognizes what indeed proves to be Hedda’s greatest asset: her ability to make others reveal their secrets. She does the same with Thea and even with Brack, who admits some rather scandalous desires to Hedda in the second act.

HEDDA
I saw it plainly in Judge Brack's face a moment ago.
LØVBORG
What did you see?
HEDDA
His contemptuous smile, when you dared not go with them into the inner room. (2.417-9)

Hedda knows that this will not get Eilert to drink – she’s really just taking pleasure in taunting him.

HEDDA
Yes, I have. I want for once in my life to have power to mould a human destiny.
MRS. ELVSTED
Have you not the power?
HEDDA
I have not—and have never had it. (2.492-4)

Most of Hedda’s actions in the play are driven by this very desire for power, but her claim here that she’s never had it is an odd one. What about Brack? Eilert? Her husband?

HEDDA
[Looks at him with a smile.] So you want to be the one cock in the basket—that is your aim.
BRACK
[Nods slowly and lowers his voice.] Yes, that is my aim. And for that I will fight—with every weapon I can command. (3.205-6)

Brack is the only character to match Hedda in selfishness and scheming.

LOVBORG
None. I will only try to make an end of it all—the sooner the better.
HEDDA
[A step nearer him.] Eilert Løvborg—listen to me.—Will you not try to—to do it beautifully? (3.319-20)

This is a testament to Hedda’s dissatisfaction and malevolence – she jumps at the opportunity to machinate and control even at the cost of a man’s life.

BRACK
Well, fortunately, there is no danger, so long as I say nothing.
HEDDA
[Looks up at him.] So I am in your power, Judge Brack. You have me at your beck and call, from this time forward.
BRACK
[Whispers softly.] Dearest Hedda—believe me—I shall not abuse my advantage.
HEDDA
I am in your power none the less. Subject to your will and your demands. A slave, a slave then! [Rises impetuously.] No, I cannot endure the thought of that! Never! (4.276-9)

It’s very possible that this is the reason for Hedda’s suicide, rather than her pregnancy or Eilert’s ignoble death.

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