Symbolism and Feminism in Hedda Gabler
Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House painted the picture of a strong and independent woman standing up to an oppressive and dominating society; the lead character, Nora, abandons not only her husband, but her entire family, in an effort to discover herself and become a liberated woman. The play is known for its universal appeal, and the strong blow it dealt to a male-dominated society, by showing not only that a woman could break free from the restraints which society placed upon her, but that men were actually quite powerless in the face of a strong woman; Nora's husband, Torvald, is left weeping as she leaves him at the close of the play.
The strong feminist themes which were the defining elements of A Doll's House are equally evident in the play Hedda Gabler, though the latter seems to be lacking the directness, clarity, and strength of the former, in regards to its feminist ideals. Hedda and Thea, the two female leads, posses within them both admirable and detestable female traits, and only in combination with each other can the characters reveal the true feminist message of the play. In order to assist the reader in understanding these concepts, and to illustrate the distinct differences between the two characters, Ibsen uses symbolism. The symbolic nature of hair, Lovborg's manuscript, and General Gabler's pistols, often seem to strip Hedda of her feminine characteristics, and emphasize the femininity of Thea.
During the time in which this play was written, and as is very true in modern times, a mark of feminine beauty was long, abundant, flowing hair. Even today, short hair is often considered to be a mark of a more liberated female, and it has been used to characterize the feminist revolution from the time of the "flappers." When Hedda is introduced in the play, the short description of her character makes note of the fact that her hair is, "of an agreeable medium brown, but not particularly abundant" (Ibsen 7). This would seem to suggest that she is a character who will not mold to what society would expect of her, and that she is quite a strong and independent woman. From the start of the play, one can see from the way in which she talks to George that she is most certainly not the quiet and submissive wife expected in that era, but rather a controlling and dominant figure. Hedda refers to her husband by his last name, rather than his Christian name George, and will not pay his mother any great degree of respect; she makes it clear that she is bored by both his obsession with his studies, and those things in his life which he considers as precious momentos (his old slippers). She is unwilling to bow to his authority, though perhaps there is really no authority to bow to.
The shortness of her hair is almost unmistakably a sign of her dominance, or her more masculine nature; too many circumstances arise that clarify and emphasize her unwillingness to conform. Just as...