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Hedda Gabler Book Summary Review

by Suleman

‘Confusion, disorder, and clamour’ are the three ingredients that characterise the exact flavour of Henrik Ibsen’s contentious play, ‘Hedda Gabler.’ A multi-layer, multi-faceted woman, Hedda is the quintessential suppressor and the suppressor at the same time. The play ‘Hedda Gabler’ was put down by the maverick playwright Henrik Ibsen in the middle of the last decade of the 19th century (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’). The appeal of modernism, the opinions of a grotesque iconoclast, and the grievance of a chaotic woman’s mind behaving behind the power structures of gender, became the epicentre of this critically criticised literary work.

Neorealism & inconclusiveness were the components upon which Ibsen framed the character of the nihilistic Hedda.  Hedda Gabler enters the viewer’s world in a haphazard dressing gown & leaves albeit an ultimate showmanship of lunacy. Each of her decisions & dialogues confronts the audience with utmost confusion & contradiction. Her multi-dimensional character reflects wittiness, cruelty, hypocrisy, & selfishness at different junctures. With every single sentence, the reader feels that he has made an understanding of Hedda’s convoluted character, but the very adjacent line takes him to a topsy-turvy ride far away from this mysterious woman. Hedda is a newly wedded person, but for a bride of her age, she is extremely cold. She resides in a majestic house with a caring & doting husband, but seems to be disinterested in everything around her (Ibsen, 1-6). While she opts to remain aloof from people or elements intertwining her life, she invokes special interest to dominate the characters surrounding her. An aloof but a dominating character, Hedda remains as a bone of contention for everyone. She does not want to become a wife, nor does she have an inclination for extramarital affairs. Her missions to dominate others fail more than often, making her a prey of her own idiosyncrasies. She is, in essence, a woman who in the midst of her own relentless power struggle cannot conclude what she wants (Ibsen, 1-6). 

Hedda Gabler Book Summary Review

Hedda is the modern woman of the 19th century looking to break the shackles of male domination. But her past never leaves her alone. She fails to overcome the influence of a strong male character in her life, in this case, her late father. Hedda’s father has been confined to his coffin for a while. Still her father, General Gabler looms over her existence from a gigantic portrait. Hedda subconsciously strives to imitate her father but often fails miserably, as the characters around her do not seem to be excessively bothered about her commanding attitude. Yet she marries a mild-mannered simpleton named George Tesman, who devotes the bulk of his time on research work. Hedda disorientates herself from George, & tries revamping herself as an avatar of her dead father. She begins to hover around with a gun & discovers masochism while aiming the weapon towards oblivious individuals (Ibsen, 35-45).

Her level of extreme eccentricity is precisely depicted in the sequence when she points the gun towards Judge Brack with the desire to shoot him.  The sequence unfolds in following fashion:

“HEDDA: (Raises the pistol & aims) Now, Judge Brack, I am going to shoot you.

BRACK:  (Shouting from below) No, no, no. do not stand there aiming at me like that. 

HEDDA: That is what you get for coming up the back way (she shoots).

BRACK: Are you out of your mind?

HEDDA: Oh, good lord, did I hit you?” (Ibsen, 43)

A psychoanalytical analyst would make the judgment that Judge Brack represents Hedda’s father to her,   because he too is an influential character, who has flexed his muscles in assisting Hedda & her husband to acquire their new home. This act has made Hedda indebted towards Brack, & now she wants to blast that jinx. A state arrives in play when Hedda discovers that she does not have the power or the will force to escape Brack’s influence. This turns out to be an intolerable phase in her already messed up life. Finally she arrives to the saturation point from where she decides to annihilate herself. Hedda blossoms as a character that always needs well-wishers around her, but she never allows those people to get any hold over her life. Her devious mind makes a point to revolt against everything, but restrains her from taking a single decision marked by courage & humanity. The mischievous & self destructive Hedda leads herself to a dead-end where she keeps alive a single option – suicide. Her indomitable character looks for ‘freedom’, in a very weird & silhouetted sense. In the climax, the world witnesses the fall of Hedda Gabler. She exemplifies, “I am in your power none the less. Subject to your will and your demands. A slave, a slave then! [Rises impetuously] No, I cannot endure the thought of that! Never!” (Ibsen, 107) She leaves the room & shoots herself with her father’s revolver (Ibsen, 1-6). Hence even in her death, she fails to escape the agony of male domination. Hedda thus remains as a rebellious character who fails to revolt in a proper & channelized way. Her sporadic outbursts prove that rebellious nature intertwined without a goal or purpose is indeed a destructive phenomenon (Ibsen, 60-70). Hedda Gabler has been evaluated since she was created by Ibsen. In 1962, F.L. Lucas wrote: Hedda is an idle, emancipated woman—and the devil only knows what she has to do with her emancipation (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’). James Huneker certified her as the, ‘loveless woman’. Freudian theorists interpreted Hedda as sexually oppressed or frigid, while the Marxian critics highlighted on the brutal repression of the bourgeois social structure (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’).

Ibsen himself talked of Hedda once. He said,’ It wasn’t my desire to deal with so-called issues in this play. What I primarily tried to do was to represent human beings, human feelings, & human destinies, upon a context of some of the social circumstances & values of the present day’ (Lyons, 25-40). In Hedda’s character, there is nothing “usual.” Her peculiar features are a product of negative motivation. Audiences & readers would feel that Hedda is motivated by an internal struggle, but the essence of her conflict would certainly disagree with them.

Another major debate arises over the categorization of Hedda Gabler as a tragedy. She is unquestionably a byproduct of class conflicts & interests, but it remains unclear whether her morbid existence crashes as a result of direct social bombardment. Quite astonishingly, the relatively non artistic Americans found Hedda Gabler as the perfect entertainment weapon (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’). They simply loved the unpredictability & the sudden twists & turns of the play. Justin McCarthy however hailed the play as one of the greatest creations of Ibsen. He said, ‘Hedda Gabler is the name to my mind, of Ibsen’s greatest play, & of the most interesting woman that Ibsen has created’ (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’).

Ibsen contrived Hedda Gabler as an international play, & the scenes to be really the “west end” of any European city. It seems that Hedda is the most detached & objective character created by Ibsen (Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’). Thus in some ways, Hedda is pure & simple (i.e. pure perversion), while Thea is the subtle complex character amidst proceedings. Logicists even find the play to be a satirical take on the issue of gender dichotomy.

For the realists, Hedda is a woman trapped in a time-space between contemporary womanhood & Victorian ideals (Ibsen, 1-5). Thus she marries out of social pressure (& not love), yet remains disinclined to have extramarital affairs. She is vindictive towards her husband, & jealous towards the other woman, Thea Elvsted. It appears that Hedda is not a feminist, but remains anti masculine throughout her life. This puzzles the viewer. Maybe she was distinctively created for categorizing ‘confusion’- a trait which has tormented mankind throughout the mists of time.

  • Ibsen, Henrik, Hedda Gabler, London: Echo Library, 2006
  • Lyons, Charles R, Hedda Gabler: Gender, role & world, California: Twayne Publisher, 1990
  • Henrik Ibsen ‘Hedda Gabler’, 2000, August 18, 2011 from: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/ibsen.html

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