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Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen

Study Questions

Analysis

Review Quiz

How do we know that Hedda is a dishonest character? How does she control others?

Hedda often tells two characters two very different things. For example, she tells Tesman* that he ought to go write Ejlert Lövborg a long letter but then immediately reveals to Mrs. Elvsted that she only did this to get rid of him. When talking to Judge Brack, Hedda says that she really does not care for the house Tesman has bought for her, yet she lets Tesman go on believing that the house is precious to her, even while it is a great financial burden for him. These examples not only illustrate Hedda's tendency toward untruthfulness but also that she enjoys having people in her power. She likes Tesman to think that he is pleasing her, and she likes the fact that he goes to great lengths to do so. Such demonstrations prove her power over him. She controls him in other ways as well: after Tesman has learned that he might not get the position at the university, he says that he will not be able to buy Hedda everything that she wants. She quickly asks if this means she will not be able to have a pony. That is, she quickly invents an even bigger expense, so that Tesman can deny her that, feel as if he has controlled her, and, thus, having felt he has put her in her place, proceed to give her everything else she wants. Such verbal interactions in this play are never trivial; because plays contain only dialogue, one must be very careful to notice the ways in which characters are manipulating one another with words.

What is the importance of the character of Aunt Julle?

Aunt Julle serves to highlight the difficulties of Tesman's marriage. When she arrives, she immediately begins to hint at the possibility of babies, but the audience soon realizes that babies are the least of Tesman's worries. Aunt Julle represents Tesman's innocent past, and the extent to which her expectations differ from the realities of his marriage illustrates the extent to which he has had to forego happiness for the sake of prestige. Tesman does not realize that Hedda does not love him, and he does not seem to perceive many of his marriage's problems. In fact, he seems to be only interested in pleasing Hedda. But when Aunt Julle buys a special hat to please Hedda only to have Hedda scoff at it, we see how wide apart Tesman and Hedda's backgrounds are. Knowing how fond he is of his slippers, it makes Aunt Julle happy to bring them to her nephew; Hedda, on the other hand, is entirely unconcerned with this source of her husband's delight. These contrasting behaviors suggest that Aunt Julle truly loves Tesman and that Hedda does not. The figure of Aunt Julle is consistently used to illustrate the degree of dysfunction in Tesman's marriage.

Do any of the characters grow over the course of the novel?

Not really. Tesman remains eager to please Hedda and is taken completely by surprise when she kills herself. Just as at the beginning of the play, he remains unable to predict Hedda's actions or to gain control over her. While Ejlert's suicide deeply affects Mrs. Elvsted, she immediately dedicates herself to helping Tesman make sense of his papers, thus adopting much the same role that she had with Ejlert. She never gains any insight into why Ejlert had a drinking problem, nor does she realize that he was using her. Ejlert begins the play as a changed man, then regresses. Hedda complains throughout the play that she is bored by a tedious, monotonous life in which nothing new ever happens; further, she denies having been changed at all by her six-month-old marriage. The one moment in which she appears to take interest in the events around her is the moment in which she learns of Ejlert Lövborg's suicide. However, once she realizes that she may be implicated in his death, she again feels hopeless and lacks the imagination to do anything but kill herself in response. If no one grows in this play, it is because the play illustrates the way people can self-destruct. In many ways, Hedda has control of most people in the play, and because she does not venture to open up or explore her own desires and fears, stagnation is the only possibility. Thus, everyone disintegrates.

Is there any symbolism in Hedda Gabler?

This is primarily a play of human relations, and because the entire play takes place in the same room of a house and all the action takes place verbally or offstage, there is little physical symbolism. Hedda's pistols are one of the few symbols. A gift from her father, the aristocratic General Gabler, they are a relic of her former aristocratic lifestyle. Thus, when she turns to the pistols to kill herself at the end, she demonstrates her frustration with the bourgeois life into which Tesman has brought her and her desire to escape back to the high-society lifestyle she left.

Is Ejlert Lövborg a hero?

This is an important question because many of the characters in the novel seem nothing more than pawns controlled by Hedda, while Ejlert seems to have a grain of independence due to Hedda's respect for him. Hedda herself cannot of course be anything but an anti-hero. She self-destructs and does not grow. Ejlert, on the other hand, is presented as an intelligent, brave man. We know he is intelligent because of his revered books, and we know that he is brave because he has given up drinking, reformed himself, and earned back a good reputation. Why does he bend to Hedda's suggestion that he seems insecure; why does he begin to drink again? Perhaps he feels that he must uphold his reputation. Perhaps he is angry at those who doubt him. Either way, the most important thing to note is that Hedda has a romanticized idea of him. She repeatedly tells Mrs. Elvsted that he will have vine leaves in his hair, when in reality he simply becomes very drunk. All the same, he can be thought of as a brave, intelligent hero who nonetheless falls victim to Hedda's manipulations.

What are Judge Brack's motives in overseeing Tesman's finances?

What clashes between aristocracy and the bourgeoisie does this play reveal?

How does Hedda view her marriage? What were her motives for marrying Tesman?

Of all the characters in the play, who seems to be closest to Tesman? Whom can Tesman most trust?

Could this play take place in contemporary society or is its situation unique to turn-of-the-century Norway?

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Tesman and Lovberg

by justlisten234, August 28, 2012

Hey guys! I wanted to add that I think Tesman doesn't necessarily want to destroy Lovberg's manuscript in some capacity, or even is reluctant to give it back. I feel like while Tesman may harbor some jealousy toward Lovberg's success, he doesn't resent Lovberg enough to even want to do anything bad to the manuscript to harm Lovberg. I think Tesman genuinely wanted to give the manuscript back to Lovberg after the party, and he was genuinely horrified that Hedda didn't give the manuscript back to Lovberg--and he said it might have ended up bei... Read more

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