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Symbols, Symbolism and Feminism in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler

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Symbolism and Feminism in Hedda Gabler  


    Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House painted the picture of a strong and independent woman standing up to an oppressive and dominating society; the lead character, Nora, abandons not only her husband, but her entire family, in an effort to discover herself and become a liberated woman.  The play is known for its universal appeal, and the strong blow it dealt to a male-dominated society, by showing not only that a woman could break free from the restraints which society placed upon her, but that men were actually quite powerless in the face of a strong woman; Nora's husband, Torvald, is left weeping as she leaves him at the close of the play.
    The strong feminist themes which were the defining elements of A Doll's House are equally evident in the play Hedda Gabler, though the latter seems to be lacking the directness, clarity, and strength of the former, in regards to its feminist ideals.  Hedda and Thea, the two female leads, posses within them both admirable and detestable female traits, and only in combination with each other can the characters reveal the true feminist message of the play.  In order to assist the reader in understanding these concepts, and to illustrate the distinct differences between the two characters, Ibsen uses symbolism.  The symbolic nature of hair, Lovborg's manuscript, and General Gabler's pistols, often seem to strip Hedda of her feminine characteristics, and emphasize the femininity of Thea.
    During the time in which this play was written, and as is very true in modern times, a mark of feminine beauty was long, abundant, flowing hair.  Even today, short hair is often considered to be a mark of a more liberated female, and it has been used to charact...


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...ety." Thesis. Brigham Young U, 1990.

Dyhouse, Carol. "Mothers and Daughters in the Middle-Class Home: c. 1870-1914." Labor and Love: Women's Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940. Ed. Jane Lewis. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 27-45.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Ibsen, Henrik.  Hedda Gabler.  New York:  Dover, 1990.

Lewis, Jane. "Introduction: Reconstructing Women's Experience of Home and Family." Labor and Love: Women's Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940. Ed. Jane Lewis. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 1-26.

Lyons, Charles R. Hedda Gabler, Role and World. 1990. Twayne's Masterwork Studies 62. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Salomé, Lou. Ibsen's Heroines. Ed. and trans. Siegfried Mandel. Redding Ridge: Black Swan, 1985.

 

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