Hedda Gabler’s Change In Mindset In Henrik Ibsen's Play

Henrik Ibsen has managed to move the literary narrative, in the late 19th century, from idyllic romanticism to one more fuelled by what is known as realism. Ibsen was one to drive forward the concept, best defined as “the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly”. He has written countless plays with a protagonist that reflects the ideals of 19th century Norway, Hedda Gabler being one of the many. The rise of realism is shown in the main characters development throughout the play, as she is first shown a woman with aesthetic standards, who has created a world for herself that best suit these standards. Towards the end of the play she has lost that way of seeing the world as she develops a better grasp of reality, by way of various events that take place throughout the play like the acknowledgment of her own pregnancy and Eliert’s sudden death. The cause of Hedda Gabler’s idealistic mindset is her constant suppression as a woman during the rise of the women’s suffrage movement across Scandinavia, as well as the denial of her position in society, as she is a woman who contradicts her own social status. Hedda Gaber has managed to fabricate a fantasy, which fits her own desires of the world. One where she is the dominant, head-strong character who has the ability to manipulate and influence the people around her regardless of her gender. She uses this ideal world she has created for herself as a way of avoiding the reality of her situation, which she is inevitably forced to acknowledge as it is; the reality.

Ibsen himself has alluded to the fact that Hedda has a sense of poetry in her deep down, but there not being an outlet for it in the society she lives in. This is why Hedda is seen to have what would be considered as an idealistic mindset, as her thought and desires do not align with those of a typical 19th century Norwegian woman. She wished for authenticity and beauty. Yearnings that would not be expected when taking her upbringing and social setting into account. From very early on it was clear that Hedda is pregnant. Despite this being very clear to the audience, she fails to address it any way, shape or form. If she were to be pregnant, she would be eventually one day be faced with the responsibility of having a child, and therefore lack the freedom she desires. Hedda’s relationship with Eliert was also one to influence her idealistic mindset as she has set him up to act as an imaginary romantic hero. Hedda gives reason for this by explaining that it is understandable that a young woman might want experience of a world that is meant to be unattainable, and more importantly forbidden. She was draw to him, a man who seemingly dared to live out his fantasies and deepest longings, despite her fear of scandal.

Such events (coming to terms with her pregnancy and the death of Eliert – as examples) are what inevitably lead Hedda Gabler to have a drastic change in mindset. During one of her outbursts she manages to admit, to both herself and George Tesman, that she is having a baby. She does this through the conversation she has with Judge Brack: “I have no talent for such things! I won’t have responsibilities”. She also expresses how she no longer believes in “vine-leaves” as she once did, as a result of Eliert’s death. “…with a crown of vine leaves in my hair? The way you used to dream of me – in the good old day?”. This symbol acts as an allusion. It comes from the Greek mythology of the god wine, revelry, and bacchantic elation, Dionysus. Dionysus was a god who was praised for being one with a life fuelled by the simple act of seeking pleasure. This is how Hedda sees Eliert, a man free from order and discipline. This admiration or god-like narrative she has giving Eliert soon fades as she realises that his death was inevitable. “No. I don’t believe in that crown anymore”. The pistol used to accidently shoot Eliert was a phallic symbol of authority and power, it acts as a constant reflection of General Gabler’s presence throughout the play as the pistol makes numerous appearances.

Hedda finally is forced to recognise her role in society, as someone who lacks control and independence. She commits suicide as one of the few ways she is able take control over her life, as Judge Brack is the one who has control over her at last through his knowledge of Eliert’s death and Hedda Gabler’s role in providing the gun. The themes of drama and tragedy are what lead us to believe that Hedda considered her suicide a beautiful noble death with a shot to the temple. 

16 December 2021
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