Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Women and Femininity

By Henrik Ibsen

Women and Femininity

HEDDA
[Goes up the room.] Well, I shall have one thing at least to kill time with in the meanwhile.
TESMAN
[Beaming.] Oh thank heaven for that! What is it, Hedda. Eh?
HEDDA
[In the middle doorway, looks at him with covert scorn.] My pistols, George.
TESMAN
[In alarm.] Your pistols!
HEDDA
[With cold eyes.] General Gabler's pistols. [She goes out through the inner room, to the left.] (1.500-4)

In Ibsen’s time, pistols would have been decidedly male objects. Hedda’s proclivity for them remind us that she lacks typical feminine characteristics. It’s also important that she refers to them as "General Gabler’s pistols." She’s almost channeling her father (and his masculinity) here.

BRACK
Not even—the specialist one happens to love?
HEDDA Faugh—don't use that sickening word! (2.54-5)

Again, Hedda shies away from female emotions AND from the institution of marriage.

I had positively danced myself tired, my dear Judge. My day was done—. [With a slight shudder.] Oh no—I won't say that; nor think it either! (2.65)

Hedda suggests that she married because she had to; that’s what women do in this day and age. When she says that her "dancing" was up, she means that her single time had run out. George was simply the best of many evils, it seems.

BRACK
No, no, I daresay not. But suppose now that what people call—in elegant language—a solemn responsibility were to come upon you? [Smiling.] A new responsibility, Mrs. Hedda?
HEDDA
[Angrily.] Be quiet! Nothing of that sort will ever happen! (2.174-5)

Throughout the play, Hedda systematically rejects all the elements of marriage and womanhood. Suspense builds since the audience knows (or at least strongly suspects) that Hedda is pregnant. We know she’s going to have to come to grips with at least this by the end of the play.

HEDDA
[Beside the glass door.] Oh, be quiet, I tell you!—I often think there is only one thing in the world I have any turn for.
BRACK
[Drawing near to her.] And what is that, if I may ask?
HEDDA [Stands looking out.] Boring myself to death. (2.180-1)

It’s quite possible that boredom really is at the root of all Hedda’s dissatisfaction. If this is true, do her actions seem more or less forgivable?

TESMAN
Why, bless me—then Aunt Julia was right after all! Oh yes—I knew it! Hedda! Just fancy—Eilert Løvborg is not going to stand in our way!
HEDDA
[Curtly.] Our way? Pray leave me out of the question. (2.268-9)

Statements like this reflect Hedda’s resistance to marriage. She may legally be George’s wife, but she’s hardly OK with the idea of a union between them.

HEDDA
Do think it quite incomprehensible that a young girl—when it can be done—without any one knowing—
LØVBORG
Well?
HEDDA
—-should be glad to have a peep, now and then, into a world which—?
LØVBORG
Which—?
HEDDA
—which she is forbidden to know anything about? (2.348-52)

Hedda’s relationships with men are often about living vicariously. There is so much she isn’t allowed to do because of her sex, so she experiences it through others. You can apply the same reasoning to her attempt at crafting Eilert’s suicide to her own liking.

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