Anti-heroism And Female Masculinity In Hedda Gabler By Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler (1890), and this was one of his famous works. Ibsen’s character, Hedda, was portrayed as a very complex and interesting woman. She did not fit into society’s expectations of women; because she does not follow the roles women were supposed to follow. Hedda has been called the female Hamlet. During the 18th century, women had a specific role; they were to stay within their household. They were usually only to perform duties and “chores” around the house, while the husbands worked and had free will. The husbands earned an income and were the only financial source in the household; this furthermore made women dependent on the man for everything. Women could be considered slaves to the house, because they were home keepers and submitted to their husbands.

“Hedda Gabler does not conform to the woman’s role of the time; she feels imprisoned in her gender role, her marriage, and her presumed pregnancy, and prefers to play with pistols she inherited from her father”. Women had no control over their lives and Hedda refused to be sucked into this reality. All women had a calling during this time, and that was motherhood and marriage. They were unable to do any outside hobbies, because they were considered the property of the man. Hedda seeks freedom and power throughout the entire play, which is why she is so rude, miserable, and manipulative towards everyone.

Hedda Gabler (1890) is an amazing interpretation of anti-heroism and female masculinity during the 18th century. Hedda Gabler is one of the central characters within the play that represents female masculinity and power. “Hedda is described as an attractive upper-class woman, but her comportment is not particularly feminine”. She marries into lower-class and is bored with her marriage and often complains throughout the play of how she only married because she felt it was her time. She comes off dismissive and rude towards everyone she speaks to. Hedda craves control and power, by doing so she manipulates her husband into buying a house he cannot afford. Her husband does so because he wants to please her, but nothing can please Hedda because she has such high standards of everyone. This is an example of control she has over her marriage and how she seeks power, even though, during this time women were not allowed to speak up in the marriage. Hedda is also suspected to be pregnant, but she sees becoming a mother as something that will take away the freedom she is obsessed over. “In a society where every woman’s calling was thought to be marriage and motherhood, rejecting motherhood was tantamount to denying one’s femininity”. Hedda sees this as imprisonment; which furthermore explains why when it is brought up about her weight gain she tells everyone to be quiet and shuts them down.

Hedda obsesses over having control, mainly over men. When one of the characters, Lovborg, tells her he has lost his manuscript, she uses this as an opportunity to manipulate him. Instead of telling him she knows where the “lost” manuscript is, she withholds the information. She uses his despair against him by encouraging him to commit suicide. She hands Lovborg one of her pistols and tells him to kill himself beautifully. She wants Lovborg to shot himself in the head, but he does not. “When she learns that he did not shoot himself in the head (as she herself will do), she assumes that he must have shot himself in the chest instead and exclaims, “I am saying that there is beauty in all this.” He instead dies from an accidental shooting to the genitals and bleeds to death. Hedda is distraught when she finds out, but not because she cares. It is revealed that she is afraid of scandal and has lost control. Lovborg’s death did not go as she had planned it to and she loathes that. When she learns that Judge Brack knows of her deceit, she is terrified because she knows he is attached to power and influence. Judge Brack uses his knowledge to take control of Hedda through sexual blackmail. She views sex as a tedious act and it will victimize her. She also knows that no one will ever believe her testimony behind giving Lovborg her pistol. She soon realizes that she does not have power over anyone. She sees no way out of her scandal than to commit suicide. “Hedda dies in order to avoid scandal, to avoid lowering herself to escape Judge Brack’s sexual blackmail and to preserve her freedom”.

In conclusion, do Hedda’s actions make her an anti-hero? She wanted what was best for her. She did not want to be treated as a “slave”, because she did not want to be under the control of a man. Hedda Gabler wanted power; not to feel as if she was imprisoned. During that time, women did not have a say in any matter, everything was strictly up to the husband. She refused to accept the reality of her actions which is why she is so afraid of scandal. For example, she was in denial and refused to acknowledge her pregnancy. Also, when Hedda learned that Lovborg’s death was not “beautiful” and he did not die the way she had planned she could not take it. When Hedda fails at gaining power of everyone, Judge Brack takes advantage of her by sexually blackmailing her. She then sees that the only way out of his control and the scandal she has created is suicide. Hedda went about gaining control and power the wrong way; which led to her ultimate demise. “Would she say that her own suicide, a clean shot through the temple, was a deed done in beauty? Is her suicide a last, reckless act of freedom?”.

Works Cited

  • Björklund, Jenny. “Playing with Pistols: Female Masculinity in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 88, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1–16. EBSCOhost,
  • Moi, Toril. “Hedda’s Silences: Beauty and Despair in Hedda Gabler.” Modern Drama, vol. 56, no. 4, 2013, pp. 434–456. EBSCOhost,
16 December 2021
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