44 pages 1 hour read

Henrik Ibsen

Hedda Gabler

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1890

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The Constraints of Social Convention

Content Warning: This section discusses suicide and substance abuse.

Hedda Gabler is a tragedy that unfolds in part because the characters are forced to behave according to rigid social expectations. As a married woman in 19th-century Norway, Hedda has very little access to personal freedom. She (and other women like her, including Mrs. Elvsted) cannot walk alone at night. She cannot easily spend time alone with a man who is not her husband. She cannot choose whether to become a mother. Academic success does not interest her, and it is not accessible to her in any case. Now that she is married, she does not get to keep her name; Ejlert likens this name change to a loss of self, and Hedda does not contradict him. She has married Tesman out of a sense of obligation, not out of love.

The gender dynamics of her world keep Hedda feeling like a prisoner. Her only escape is shooting her father’s pistols, which is a distinctly masculine activity usually associated with soldiers. She is profoundly disinterested in motherhood, and she is similarly uninterested in bonding with other women. Her interactions with Juliane and with Mrs. Elvsted are characterized by casual cruelty rather than friendship or solidarity.