It is fitting that the title of the play is Hedda's maiden name, Hedda Gabler, for the play is to a large extent about the formerly aristocratic Hedda's inability to adjust to the bourgeois life into which she has married. Her tragedy lies not only in her own suicide but in her desire that Ejlert should have a "beautiful" suicide: she hopes that life can be beautiful, can measure up to a certain standard, regardless of practicalities like professional success or failure. She is amused by how much Tesman* worries about making a living.

This aristocratic privileging of "aesthetic" matters causes Hedda to feel very unsympathetic to Tesman. She doesn't allow him to use the word "we" to describe the two of them. It also allows her to feel little guilt when "cheating on" him, if only on an emotional level, with Ejlert and Judge Brack. Her values, based on an aesthetic standard rather than the moral standard to which her husband conforms, are beyond Tesman's control or even his understanding; as a result, he cannot predict her actions. At the same time, however, Hedda's apparent pregnancy draws attention to the tragic nature of her quest. She continually denies the inevitable.

The rest of the male characters are more or less in love with Hedda, perhaps because of her almost decadent sense of beauty. Brack wants to establish a private relationship with her, parallel to her relationship with Tesman, and Ejlert dearly hopes that she shares his "passion for life." She finds both of these ideas silly, openly rejecting Ejlert's notion and teasing Brack by saying that he wants to be "the cock of the walk." Even Mrs. Elvsted feels intimidated by Hedda. Because of this popularity, she is the most powerful character. She toys with others because she can find no solace or entertainment in life. Indeed, Hedda's power is so far-reaching that her own self-destruction leads almost inevitably to the destruction of the other characters' lives.