Tagged: Hedda Gabler
January 8, 2018 at 1:09 am #433
In Hedda Tesman I see a rendition of the femme fatale archetype, and for that reason I do not want to dislike her, as her male creator has made so easy to do. When fictional women are afforded power only because of their (hetero)sexuality – or in Hedda’s case, loveliness – and manipulate people’s attraction to them to serve selfish desires, I believe that the patriarchy is reinforced in social consciousness. Women who are docile, ignorant, and subservient like Aunt Julle remain in favour while any other type of woman is vilified. Such narratives seem to warn men: Careful! If you were going to trust a woman as equal – don’t!. Therefore what I will now attempt is a compassionate and sympathetic analysis of Hedda Tesman in Act I.
Hedda’s refusal to express delight with either the long honeymoon or her new home, and lack of affection toward Tesman characterize her as cold and ungrateful. She lacks even the basic kindness to admire her husband’s cherished slippers, which he excitedly tries to share with her. Her apathy suggests depression to me, and I can see many reasons for her to feel this way, other than a bratty resentment of her drop in class. Tesman boasts about the desirability of his new wife and presumed jealousy of his peers, but never about their connection or any happy times that they have shared. Having left her home and family to him as her only company, she would conceivably be feeling very lonely by this point. Hedda’s depression would only be exacerbated by pregnancy if she had doubts or fears about the family life that her child would be born into.
Hedda is very particular about the state of their home. She dislikes clutter, leading her to inadvertently insult Miss Tesman, and she complains about sunlight coming in through the open door. Although her preferences seem rather specific about details that may matter little to the other characters, this behaviour should not surprise anybody who has spent time with pregnant women. It is a normal and life-sustaining instinct to feel an intense need to control the environment into which your unborn child will be brought.
When Hedda takes interest in Eljert Lövborg, and manipulates Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted so that she can get information about his life, something about her character is revealed. Why is it that Hedda thinks she cannot get what she wants by being honest? Manipulativeness suggests a real or perceived need to be scrappy. Both are possible here. As a woman there would have been many areas in which Hedda’s thoughts and desires held no weight, and she would no doubt have developed skills to compensate for this powerlessness. Perhaps she is willing to go to ethically dubious lengths to learn about this situation because the stakes are high, such as something involving the security of her baby.
The presentation of Hedda happens through the lense of Tesman’s inner life. Hedda is insensitive to his economic insecurity, self-consciousness about wealth, and great love for his aunts. However we do not have enough information about Hedda’s inner world and the ways in which Tesman may be failing her, to accurately interrogate their relationship or Hedda’s virtue.
January 8, 2018 at 4:48 am #435
What a thought-provoking approach to Hedda’s characterization you’ve taken! By consciously deciding to view her sympathetically, you are doing the complete opposite of what Ibsen was likely to have intended. I’m sure Hedda isn’t used to a kind analysis like this one.
I find the notion that Hedda may be exhibiting signs of depression particularly interesting. In the Victorian era, European women were forced to hide any sign of mental illness for fear of scandal. However, Hedda’s apathy could very well suggest depression, and what’s more, an unwillingness to cover it up with false enthusiasm. If this is the case, then she is far ahead of her time! It would have required a fair amount of bravery to have let her symptoms show, especially during an era in which women were being thrown into asylums left, right, and center for “hysteria” and the like. Hedda may be one of the rare women in literature bold enough to portray her real emotions, rather than a façade of perfect health and happiness. If we believe that she is honest about her symptoms of depression, then we, as an audience, can look into all other aspects of her character and her beliefs with a newfound respect and trust, as we know that she is likely being completely true to herself, rather than aligning herself with the expectations of her as a Victorian woman.
Your decision to analyze Hedda compassionately has opened up entirely new avenues of thought that would be excellent to explore in a full essay. Your argument could easily be applied to many of Hedda’s characteristics other than her possible depression in order to see them in a fresh, new light. It was very bold of you to immediately assume the opposite of what the playwright intended – though this is a very modernist, “make-it-new” approach to the text, it would also be worthwhile to allow yourself to see Hedda through Victorian eyes, and perhaps explore some of her more unlikeable qualities as well. All in all, you’ve written a well-supported, thought-provoking argument in Hedda’s favour – thank you for sticking up for her!
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