Critical Essays Characterization of Secondary Characters


As usual in Ibsen's tightly constructed dramas, each character provides, by comparison, insight into every other character. The characterizations of Thea Elvsted and Miss Juliana Tesman, unlike Hedda, depict women who submit to their socially imposed feminine roles and derive satisfaction from their lives: they devote themselves to the unselfish tasks of raising children and serving to inspire masculine creativity. Julia, for instance, has raised George Tesman, who became a promising academician, and now that the nephew has grown up, she takes care of her invalid sister. Thea, after having married an unloving elderly man in order to care for his household, has found a satisfying life assisting and inspiring the work of a creative and brilliant writer. Through her devotion, Lövborg has been able to channel his undisciplined energies to produce according to his potential. His masterpiece, the product of their mutual inspiration, is the natural child, which, through love, Thea and Eilert have conceived.

Compared to Aunt Julia and Mrs. Elvsted, Hedda seems an unnatural woman. Refusing to relinquish her freedom, she regards childbearing as loathsome and destroys the manuscript conceived by Thea and Lövborg as if she were murdering her own child. Degrading Aunt Julia by insulting her new bonnet, Hedda expresses hostility toward her husband as well as his relatives.

Hedda's emotional sterility is countered by Judge Brack's lack of compassion. Unlike Hedda, Brack has a profession and is free to amuse himself without overstepping the masculine social conventions. This parallel between them illustrates the double standards of society, which denies rights of self-expression to women.

The emptiness of Brack's emotional life is underscored by his attributes of vulgarity and lechery. Willing to first compromise Hedda's respectability as a married woman, he has no compunctions about using blackmail as a weapon guaranteeing his selfish ends. Like Hedda, Brack wishes to substitute power over someone for love which he is unable to give.

George's bumbling ordinariness contrasts vividly and humorously with Lövborg's flamboyant and creative brilliance. Where George writes about the "domestic industries of Brabant in the middle ages," Eilert works on a book dealing with the "civilizing forces" of humanity in the future. George delights in researching among old manuscripts; Lövborg considers the problems of the future.

Seeing only an inexperienced bride, the husband admires Hedda for her qualities of beauty and poise and expects that she will learn to love him at some future time. Hedda's former lover, on the other hand, is fascinated by her "craving for life" and has insight into her cowardly retreat to convention. George is eager for his professional appointment, which will guarantee his ability to support his household, while Lövborg looks forward to the "moral victory" he will achieve from delivering his scheduled lectures. Solicitous to his aunts, George cherishes sentimental reminders of the love and care he received as a child (as shown by his delight at receiving an old pair of slippers Rina embroidered for him); Lövborg, recognizing that the past is irreclaimable, breaks with Thea when he loses the manuscript they have written together.

Ibsen sets the brilliant writer as an exact counterpart to the medieval scholar in many ways. Where one is erratic, the other is steady; one deals with abstract and philosophical problems, the other concerns himself with concrete and detailed minutiae. Because of these qualities, however, Lövborg, a representation of the discontinuity in living a free life, cannot carry on his work. George, on the other hand, representing the continuity of living a structured life, is able to take up Lövborg's work and eventually fulfill the writer's promise of greatness. With this situation, Ibsen seems to imply a balance of human forces: the erratic genius is necessary to provide the impelling idea, but the character who is gifted with less imagination and an ability to work hard at concrete details is the one able to realize the idea.