Social Issues And Themes In Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen’s realistic drama, Hedda Gabler, depicts an unhappy newlywed as both a manipulative villainess and a victim of societal ideals. Through his writing, Ibsen examines the differences between the aristocracy and bourgeois, their many moral faults, and the position of women and femininity in the society. Hedda’s schemes allows the audience to paint a picture of the physiological impacts societal pressure puts upon a woman and accept her actions rather than reject her character as purely evil. Hedda Gabler, while appearing as a manipulative, dominant character in the play, is a misunderstood tragic victim who represents a proto-feminist critique on Victorian society and values.

It has been suggested that Hedda Gabler is aa drama about the individual psyche, a mere study of the character. It has even been written that Hedda Gabler ‘presents no social theme’.

On the contrary, I have found social issues and themes abundant in this work. The character of Hedda Gabler centres around society and social issues. Her high social rank is indicated from the beginning, as Miss Tesman says of Hedda, “General Gabler’s daughter. What a life she had in the general’s day!” Upon Hedda’s first appearance, she makes many snobbish remarks. First, she turns up her nose at George’s special handmade slippers, later, she insults Aunt Julie’s new hat, pretending to mistake it for the maids. Hedda seems to abhor everything about George Tesman and his bourgeoisie existence. She demands much more class than he has been able to provide her, for she was so beautiful, charming daughter of General Gabler and deserved nothing but the finest.

As the character of Hedda Gabler develops, the reader learns that she has only married George Tesman because her father’s passing away left her no significant financial resources, nothing but a respectable heritage. She tells Brack of her decision to marry Tesman: “I really had danced myself out, Judge. My time was up. And George Tesman, he is after all a thoroughly acceptable choice. Theres every chance that in time he could still make a name for himself. It was certainly more than my other admirers were wi ling to do for me, Judge.”

Hedda needed someone to support her financially, and George Tesman was the only decent man to propose to her. She was forced to cross beneath her social class and marry this commoner in the hops that he would make a name for himself as a professor. As for love everlasting, Hedda disgustedly comment to Judge Brack, “Ugh, don’t use that syrupy word!” Rather than having become a happy newlywed who has found true love, ‘Hedda is trapped in a marriage of convenience.’

Even in death, Hedda cherishes beauty. In discussing the suicide with Eilert, she instructs him to carry out the suicide beautifully. Still, upon his death he is shot in the stomach at a brothel, not at all as beautifully as Hedda had intended. In the final lines of the play, Hedda finally gets the beautiful ending she romanticizes. She takes her own life, shooting herself in the head.

Further evidence of Hedda’s social class is found in her conversation with Mrs. Elvsted. After Mrs. Elvsted reluctantly admits that she had left her husband in search of Eilert Lovborg, the astonished Hedda replies, “My dear, Thea—I wouldn’t have guessed you’d ever dare.” Hedda continues, “But what will people say, Thea?” For Hedda, this act is unimaginable. The entire town will be gossiping about Thea Elvsted, the sherrif’s wife, and her affair with Eilert Lovborg. Mrs. Elvsted’s reputation will be permanently tarnished. For Hedda, this would be a nightmare. She has been highly regarded by everyone and showered with attention from all men. In fact, as General Gabler’s lovely daughter, Hedda has been a major object of interest for the townspeople for quite some time. “Hedda fears scandal above all.” She could not fathom how Thea could risk losing her honor. “Brought up as a ‘Lady’, she was required at all times to conduct herself correctly”. Thea on the other hand, is of a lower social ranking and hasn’t much of a name to lose. She is able to follow her heart, and she explains, “They may say what they like, for all I care.”

Additional proof that Hedda fears scandal can be found in her private conversation with Judge Brack after Lovborg’s suicide. He warns Hedda that if the counsel were to discover that the pistol was hers, there would be a scandal. “A scandal… of which you are so terrified. Of course you’ll have to appear in court….. You’ll have to answer the question: Why did you give Eilert Lovborg the pistol? And what conclusions will people draw from the fact that you did give it to him?” Her heart sinks, as Hedda realises that Judge Brack is right. She understands that she is helpless against his blackmailing and no longer free and takes her own life.

Despite the clear distinctions between the social classes of the three women of the play, Hedda Gabler, thea Elvsted and Mademoiselle Diana, their sexual situations are remarkably similar. As women, they must all flaunt their sexuality to survive in a male dominated society. Hedda is, of course, an upper-class lady. She does not strive towards her individual morality for any reason other than to maintain an impeccable reputation. Scandals and rumours are her worst enemy. Rather than allowing herself to fall from her high social standing, she accepts the proposal of her only prospect, George Tesman. She marries him and thus must sleep with him, not out of love, but merely out of necessity. Hedda uses her sexuality to attract Tesman who will provide an adequate means of support for her. She remains faithful to him only in order to maintain her reputation, for she feels no moral obligation to be loyal to him.

Similarly, Thea Elvsted, a middle-class girl, accepted a job as a governess to Mr. Elvsted, and when his wife died, he married her. There was a large age difference, and she says of him, “I just can’t stand him! We don’t have one thought in common- not a single point of sympathy.” Thea did not love Mr. Elvsted any more than Hedda loved Tesman. She too married for financial support. Since Thea did not have such a great reputation to uphold around town, she did have the freedom to have a sexual affair. That is exactly hat she did with Eilert Lovborg. Eventually, she left Mr. Elvsted in hopes of using her sexuality to secure a loving marriage with a better prospect, Mr. Lovborg.

Finally, there is the character Diana, a singer and a prostitute. Just as Thea and Hedda, Diana must offer her sexuality as aa means of support in a male dominated world. Rather than finding a husband to support her, Diana has found the most freedom in becoming a prostitute, she sells her body to men without being trapped in a marriage full of regret. While Diana has her freedom, she has attained it in a socially unacceptable manner and is thus at the bottom of the social order.

Lastly, the title itself represents the social theme of the drama. In using the name Hedda Gabler, despite her marriage to George Tesman, Ibsen has conveyed the importance of social class. Hedda prefers to identify herself as the daughter of General Gabler, not the wife of George Tesman. Throughout the play she rejects Tesman and his middle-class lifestyles, clinging to the honourable past with which her father provided her. This identity as the daughter of the noble General Gabler is strongly implied in the title, Hedda Gabler. In considering the man implications of the social issues as explained above, it cannot be denied that the very theme of Hedda Gabler centres on social issues. “Hedda Gabler is …indirectly a social parable”

16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now