In the beginning when the reader meets Hedda Gabler, one can see how she is quite a high maintenance character by how she complains that the maid has” opened the door. I’m drowning in all this sunlight. ” (Ibsen 1469). Exerting her power over her husband, George Tesman, she demands him to close the curtains, which he does complacently. Later Hedda notices an old hat lying on the chair and worries that someone may have seen it. When she learns that the hat belongs to Miss Tesman, George’s dear aunt, she does not apologize for her comment which shows her tendency to belittle others, even if they are family.
Hedda utters to her husband, “But where did she get her manners, flinging her hat around any way she likes here in the drawing room. People just don’t act that way. ” (1418). The author depicts Hedda as a neurotic woman who criticizes the actions of others in an attempt to demonstrate her self- imposed superiority over others. Her pretentious comment introduces the theme of a high and mighty character, which readers will begin to hate, who eventually succumbs to the pressure of appearing perfect in society. In the scene where George and Hedda receive news that Mrs.
Elvsted, an “old flame” of Tesman, will be visiting, Hedda remembers her as the one with “that irritating hair she’d always be fussing with” (1418). By this remark, the reader can predict that Hedda, very jealous of Mrs. Elvsted, will attempt to flaunt her superiority over her throughout the rest of the play. Once Mrs. Elvsted arrives, and she and Hedda are alone they chat about a variety of topics: marriage, love, and most importantly, a man named Eilert Lovborg, with whom Mrs. Elvsted is in love.
Admitting her feelings of loneliness in her marriage, Mrs. Elvsted strives to justify her relationship with Lovborg and mentions how happy he makes her when he allows her to help him write, as he is a published author. However, Mrs. Elvsted is unsure of the future of their relationship because “the shadow of a woman” stands between them. This unidentified woman was going to shoot Lovborg when they broke up. As Hedda learns of this, she comments, “That’s nonsense. People just don’t act that way here. ” (1424). Yet, an astute reader can tell that Hedda is hiding something: she was, in fact, the woman who had previously tried to shoot Lovborg.
Ibsen does this to show that Hedda acts in a manner that contradicts her snooty statements. Later in the play when Lovborg visits Hedda, he confronts her by asking why she married George because it is apparent that she does not love him. Then he inquires if she ever loved him while the two had previously been in a relationship, and he reminisced about how he confessed so many secrets to her. “Ah, Hedda, what kind of power was in you that drew these confessions out of me? ” (1440) he asked. Mischievously, she responds, “You think it was a power in me? (1440).
All the while, Hedda takes pleasure in knowing that she can control others by exerting her power over them. Deeper into their conversation, the reader learns that when the two enjoyed a secret friendship, Hedda had threatened to shoot Lovborg, but she did not because she feared the scandal it would have caused. Once again, Hedda proves to be overly concerned of what society thinks. On the outside, she appears to fit the mold of how a woman in society should behave; yet, internally, she struggles with a predisposition to act in a contradicting manner of what society regards as acceptable behavior.
She is propelled by this internal conflict during the entire play. Earlier in the play, the reader inferred that Hedda envies Mrs. Elvsted because of her relationship with Lovborg; therefore, the reader expects to see Hedda parade her superiority over Mrs. Elvsted. True to her character, Hedda rips out the pages in Lovborg’s manuscript, which Mrs. Elvsted helped him write, and throws them into the stove. Crazed, Hedda exclaims, “I’m burning your child, Thea! You with your curly hair! Your child and Eilert Lovborg’s. I’m burning it!
I’m burning your child” (Ibsen 1456). Right before this manic event, Hedda urges Lovborg to commit suicide, gives him one of her pistols, and expresses her desire for him to do it “in beauty” (1456). Once she persuades Lovborg to commit suicide, Hedda can no longer suppress her internal conflicts and shoots herself in the head. The reader can assume that Hedda commits suicide beautifully, as she hoped Lovborg would do. Her motto of “people just don’t act that way,” proves to be false because her actions are exactly what she says people do not do.
Throughout Hedda Gabler, the main character possesses much contempt for her husband, insults others, and resents a former acquaintance. Despite her concern with society’s opinion of her, she feels trapped within society’s standards to act a certain way. Yet, in doing so, she becomes dejected from others and society as a whole. Repeatedly, she uses the following phrase: “People just don’t act that way,” in an attempt to suppress her internal desires to be like one of those people. By the end, Hedda cannot live torn between two different realities; she chooses to behave like one of those people, and she commits suicide- in beauty, of course.
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