Summary and Analysis
It is 7:00 the next morning. The ladies have been fitfully dozing during their night watch, and Hedda now sends Thea off for a good nap, promising to wake her when Lövborg arrives. When George appears, Hedda is wide awake and listens eagerly as he tells her of Lövborg's extravagant behavior at the party. He was so drunk that he even dropped his manuscript without noticing, and George picked it up. George praises his friend's book, admitting he feels envious for being himself unable to accomplish such brilliant work. Hedda demands the packet of papers, saying she would like to keep it awhile and read the manuscript.
At this moment, George receives a telegram that his Aunt Rina is close to death. He rushes out, barely greeting Brack, who has just arrived. The judge describes the rest of Eilert's activities. After the party, Lövborg landed at another soiree given by the red-haired singer, Mlle. Diana. Accusing her of robbing him, he caused such a disturbance that the police were called; to make matters worse, Lövborg resisted arrest by assaulting one of the officers.
Expecting Lövborg to seek Hedda's home as a refuge where he can meet with Mrs. Elvsted, Brack warns Hedda that he will resist any intrusion into the triangle; he wants nothing to threaten his free passage in and out of the Tesman residence. Hedda smiles mockingly at the implied threat. In other words, she calls to him as he goes, "you want to be the one cock in the basket."
When left alone, she takes the manuscript from the desk but replaces it hastily at Lövborg's approach. Thea Elvsted emerges to greet the disheveled writer. He has come, he sorrowfully says, to say their ways must part; from now on she must live her life without him. Thea implores him to allow her to experience her crowning satisfaction: to be with him when the book appears. There will be no book, he answers, for he destroyed the manuscript. It is as if he "killed a little child," she says in despair, and because the "child" belonged to her too, he had no right to destroy it. Thea can do nothing but return home, facing a life without any future, without any further meaning.
Alone with Hedda, Lövborg declares he is unable to try to rebuild his life. Worse than destroying the manuscript, which he had in his keeping like his own child, he just lost it during this night of "debauchery and riotness," he tells Hedda. Having so deeply failed Mrs. Elvsted, he has no future and will "only try and make an end of it all — the sooner the better." "Eilert Lövborg — listen to me," Hedda commands. She takes one of her pistols from its case and hands it to him. "Will you not try to — to do it beautifully?" she whispers. Thrusting the gun into his breast pocket, Lövborg leaves her.
Hedda, once more alone, takes the packet of papers from her desk. Sitting by the stove, she thrusts some pages into the fire. "Now I am burning your child, Thea!" she breathes. Peeling off papers, she hands them, one by one, into the flames until the entire manuscript is consumed. "Your child and Eilert Lövborg's," says Hedda with satisfaction. "I am burning — I am burning your child!"
In this act, Hedda has confronted another frustration. Instead of seeing the awaited Lövborg rise to his full stature as a liberated artist victoriously imbued with life's joy, she views a demoralized reveler who ruined the evening in a drunken orgy, facing, in addition, a possible jail sentence for assaulting a police officer.
Now that Thea has left the scene, however, she has one further chance of retaining her influence over Lövborg so that he will provide her with an act of "courage and freedom." Offering him the pistol, Hedda imagines that he will end his life bravely and romantically to accord with her favorite images of beauty enhanced by violence and death. Furthermore, the packet of papers she possesses represents a material hold she still has on Lövborg's destiny. By destroying the manuscript she had no share in creating or realizing, Hedda also kills the child she was unable to bear for Lövborg. By destroying that work of others which she should have accomplished herself, Hedda also destroys those constant reminders of her own inadequacies. Symbolically denying the life works of others, Hedda affirms her own unsatisfied sense of worth.