The Character Of Hedda Gabler In Ibsen's Hedda Gabler

1443 words - 6 pages

The Character of  Hedda Gabler

    Hedda Gabler is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Ibsen.  She has been the object of psychological analysis since her creation.  She is an interesting case indeed, for to "explain" Hedda one must rely on the hints Ibsen gives us from her past and the lines of dialogue that reveal the type of person she is.  The reader never views Hedda directly.  We never get a soliloquy in which she bares her heart and motives to the audience.  Hedda is as indifferent to our analysis as she is to Tesman's excitement over his slippers when she says "I really don't care about it" (Ibsen  8).  But a good psychologist knows that even this indifference is telling.  Underneath the ennui and indifference lies a character rich for psychological investigation:  "The Character of Hedda Gabler remains a product of our speculation.  That is, as we process the surface details we perceive in the various postures she assumes, we hypothesize an idea of the figure underneath the mask." (Lyons  83).  This paper will try to "explain" Hedda with the aid of critical analysis.


            The first aspect of the play that strikes the reader is the title.  Before we even read a line of this play we notice the incongruity between the name of the title character and her name in the play.  In the play Hedda is Tesman's wife, but the title suggests that she is the independent daughter of the late General Gabler.  Thus, Ibsen introduces the reader to this complex character before the curtain is drawn.  We immediately ask the question:  why is the title "Hedda Gabler" and not "Hedda Tesman"?  Perhaps Ibsen is suggesting Hedda's independence from her present situation, the situation in which she is introduced.  We are drawn into speculation over Hedda's past life, the life of Hedda Gabler.


            All psychologists must agree that the past is prelude to the present and Ibsen's play is rich in sporadic glimpses into Hedda's past.  Hedda is the product of aristocratic birth.  She is, as I mentioned earlier, the daughter of General Gabler, whose portrait hangs over this play not unlike the portrait of the absent father in Williams' The Glass Menagerie.  And in case we have missed the significance of the portrait in the stage directions or have overlooked it as an audience member, Miss Tesman rivets our attention to it and the reality of Hedda's aristocratic life:  "Well, you cant's wonder at that--General Gabler's daughter!  Think of the sort of life she was accustomed to in her father's time.  Don't you remember how we used to see her riding down the road along with the General? In that long black habit--with feathers in her hat?"  (Ibsen  2).  Her aristocratic birth and her past is contrasted by her choice of a husband who has neither noble blood nor bourgeois money.  We are told that this motherless child of an aristocratic general often gave in to fits of cruelty as a child:  "At the finishing school the...

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