Critical Essays General Analysis of Hedda Gabler


Written in 1890, Hedda Gabler is a high point in Ibsen's creative life. Although the "social dramas" of his prose period depict full-bodied and believable characters, Ibsen achieved a psychological depth in Hedda Gabler that his later works never surpassed. Having investigated the feminine character in a male-oriented society in A Doll's House, Ibsen enlarged his scrutiny to encompass the full pathology of the social female. Although Hedda Gabler is an example of perverted femininity, her situation illuminates what Ibsen considered to be a depraved society, intent on sacrificing to its own self-interest the freedom and individual expression of its most gifted members.

The problem of Hedda Gabler illuminates the universal problem of woman in a society built by men. Like Mrs. Alving and Nora Helmer, Hedda must make an independent decision about her life. Women, however, in all but the most progressive societies, are barred from participating in the world outside their households and are not equipped for independence outside their families. Thus, Hedda Gabler, despite a profound craving for independence, has no personal resources with which to realize self-responsibility.

Having the desire, but not the ability, for a constructive effort at self determination, Hedda becomes a modern Medea, expressing her frustration in destructive attempts at self-realization. Not having any positive influence in the world, Hedda Gabler can only define herself negatively: she destroys what she cannot accept. Undermining her husband with her coldness, denying her pregnancy, destroying Thea's life-work, burning Lövborg's creative product, ruining the child-manuscript, and finally, committing suicide are all perverted attempts to satisfy her "craving for life." By depicting the pathology of a frustrated woman in Hedda Gabler, Ibsen declares his most powerful protest against the double standard society.