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Hedda Gabler: A Character Analysis
Hedda Gabler: a Character Analysis
There are two main types of characters in most writing, the static and the dynamic character. Static characters never change throughout the story, like Hedda’s husband Jorgen, who remains a blissfully unaware scholar through the entire play. Hedda is a dynamic character, meaning she changes throughout the play. To see how she changes it is important to look at how her emotions shift during the play, her strengths and weaknesses, and why she finally breaks down and kills herself in the final act.
When we first meet Hedda, she is a very cool character, in complete control of her emotions and actions. She has chosen to marry Jorgen Tesman, a loveably oblivious scholar, and marriage is a game she is playing, pretending to be the perfect wife. She wants turn her home into the showcase of a perfect life, entertaining every night. Hedda married Jorgen because he was going to be wealthy and she would have plenty of money, which means security for her and plenty of funds to throw parties for the elite. This dream starts to fade, though, as she discovers that Tesman is not only a boring scholar, talking only of ancient history, but a family man. Hedda keeps her unhappiness mostly to herself, only revealing it to her friend, Judge Brack. The only thing she seems to enjoy is her bit of power over Tesman, and shooting her father’s old pistols. It quickly becomes apparent that Hedda is restless, bored by her new husband and his family. The restlessness starts to build into a feeling of entrapment. As Hedda realizes the degree to which she has given up control of her life and others, she continues to break down inwardly until she ultimately kills herself.
Hedda’s ability to be calm outwardly, even as she is falling apart inside, can be seen as a definite strength. Though she feels she is losing control, this shows that she does actually have quite a bit of control over herself. She can talk her way into the trust of others, giving her the ability to play with their lives. However, in that strength there is also weakness. Hedda has to have control. Shortly after she first meets Jorgen’s aunt in the first act, Hedda exclaims that they “shall never be able to manage with this maid [Berte]” She has noticed Miss Tesman’s hat on the couch and acts as though she believes it is the servant’s. Hedda is perfectly aware that the hat belongs to Jorgen’s aunt, but she knew that claiming otherwise would make her flustered and cause her to leave. Hedda cannot handle having extended family showing up just because they can. Domesticity does not appeal to Hedda, who still wants to be going to or hosting parties. She is also power hungry. She has to have power over someone’s life. This is why she is attracted to Ejlert Lovborg, one of her husband’s colleagues, and an old flame. When they were young, she had power of Ejlert and was able to get him to divulge to her all his terrible secrets about his life. It is for this reason that she is unhappy when she learns that Ejlert has cleaned up his life and is attempting to live honestly. She sets about to sabotage all his hard work just so she can feel that she still has some control over his life. It is also for this reason that she burns the manuscript he had written with Mrs. Elvsted, the woman who had taken control of Ejlert from Hedda. The burning of the manuscript is a very childish act, almost a temper tantrum. To Hedda, Ejlert is everything she wishes her life was and because she loses that she destroys the one thing Ejlert held dear, ruining his hopes for a good life.
At the very end of the play, Hedda kills herself. This is an extremely drastic act, but when one considers Hedda’s character, it is not a suprising one. Hedda needs to have control over herself and others, but the play is made up of a string of situations in which Hedda loses control a little more and is placed a little more securely in a cage. She first loses power over her own life through her marriage to Tesman and, based on Tesman’s many comments about how well Hedda has filled out, her apparent pregnancy. Domesticity is the last thing Hedda wants. She has also lost Eljert Lovborg figuratively to Mrs. Elvsted. She also loses him literally when her pistol, which she had given him so that he could commit suicide, discharges in his pocket. As a result of her giving him this pistol, which is recognized by her friend Brack, she is subsequently blackmailed. Brack is the only one who recognized the pistol and will not tell on the condition that she turns over her last bit of control over her own life to him. With this final locking of the cage door, Hedda loses her self control and kills herself with her remaining pistol.
If one looks at how Hedda’s emotions shift, examines her strengths and weaknesses, and sees why she finally loses all control, one will see that Hedda is a dynamic character. Hedda Gabler is a beautiful portrait tracing the gradual degrading of a strong character. The moving end of Hedda’s suicide gives the play a certain amount of shock value that will help to make this play continue to be widely read for years to come.