Hedda Gabler’s Freedom and Repression as Understood through the Analysis of a Key Passage
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This passage from the denouement Henrik Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabler, before Hedda’s suicide, is an illustration of the vulnerability and defeat of the impetuous and manipulative titular character. Ibsen develops Hedda’s character by uncovering details about the conflicts between Hedda and the other characters, Judge Brack, Mrs Elvsted, and George Tesman which highlight Hedda’s transformation from an individualistic to despairing individual, conveying the theme of freedom and repression in society.
Ibsen uses the relationship and conflict between Hedda and Brack to illustrate Hedda’s struggle to assert her free will and power in a male-dominated society. The two characters are united as social equals who are members of the aristocracy as well as fellow manipulators who seem dominance and control. Brack and Hedda engage in a flirtatious verbal duel symbolizing power relations between men and women in which Brack proposes and Hedda rejects a sexual relationship. Hedda continues to flirt with Brack throughout the drama despite his devious motives, believing that she is in control. In this passage Ibsen confirms that she is ultimately mistaken about the extent of her power as she sinks her head in defeat , suggesting that the powerful male domination within society is overarching yet understated because it is a social norm and deemed acceptable. Although Hedda, unlike her oblivious husband George, is capable of identifying Brack’s subtle sexual insinuations and dangerous personality, she underestimates his power. This is evident as Hedda’s previous statement that she is grateful that Brack has no kind of hold over her is negated in this passage through her fearful admission in this passage using the same words that Brack has his “hold ...
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... and Lovborg, in working to recreate his manuscript. Yet even in her subjugated position, Mrs Elvsted has more freedom than Hedda, who will resort to suicide in order to gain her freedom.
In this passage, Ibsen illustrates Hedda’s transformation from an apparently dominant character to a vulnerable character bound by societal conventions. Hedda highly values individual freedom, yet Ibsen reinforces in this passage that she is ultimately controlled by her role as a wife in her marriage and her role as a woman in her relationship with Judge Brack. Ibsen’s portrayal of the desperation of Hedda’s situation foreshadows her suicide, an action that is forced upon her yet paradoxically is her only means of freedom from a repressive society.
Ibsen, Henrik. “Hedda Gabler”. Trans. Rold Fjelde. IBSEN Four Major Plays: Volume I. New York: Signet Classic, 1992.