Hedda Gabler is a play in which Ibsen showcases the persistence of feminine independence. The naming of the play is in itself a testament to Hedda’s uncontrollable nature as well as her contempt for societal norms. By naming the play what he did, Ibsen reinforces one of the play’s themes: no matter what the social institution the human spirit can be impossible to confine.
In the opening scenes of the play and from then onward the audience is made to sense Hedda’s commanding nature. Even when Hedda is offstage Miss Tesman comments that she bought a new hat “so Hedda wouldn’t feel ashamed of [her]” (Ibsen, 224). Even when married, as the play’s title shows, Ibsen makes it clear that Hedda remains as independent as ever. Indeed, George purchased their home and extended an expensive honeymoon all in the hopes of pleasing her. In another instance Hedda proclaims that she will “try to call her ‘˜aunt.’ That should be enough” (Ibsen, 223), pertaining to Miss Tesman and George quickly agrees with her. By writing lines such as this Ibsen suggests that even in her confining title of “wife,” Hedda may still act how she wishes and call anyone by any name she desires.
Stage direction is also directed towards reinforcing Hedda’s controlling nature and stubborn independence. To garner information from Thea she forces her “down into the armchair by the stove and sits on one of the taborets” (Ibsen, 237). This simple arrangement displays complete dominance as Hedda not only literally overpowers Thea, but she is also symbolically higher than Thea as denoted by the seating arrangement. Ibsen later demonstrates Hedda’s dominance again when Thea “goes around the table and sits on the sofa to Hedda’s right,” (Ibsen, 267) with Lovborg to the left. With Hedda between the two she is both literally and metaphorically the center of that “triangular arrangement” (Ibsen, 252) and Ibsen further uses dialogue to prove that she hold power over both of them.
General Gabler’s pistols are an interesting, possibly phallic symbol that also seems to reinforce Hedda’s namesake. For one thing, the pistols are her father’s and Gabler is the family name so whenever she brandishes the pistols, Hedda is brandishing a family legacy. At the beginning of Act 2 Hedda is described as “dressed to receive callers” while “leading her revolver” (Ibsen, 248). When she fires a shot in Judge Brack’s presence, that demonstration alone asserts her uncontrollable nature. With this in mind it should be no surprise then that one of the pistols is the very tool that Hedda uses to kill herself and that she gives the other to Lovborg in order to carry out her romantic ideal of the perfect man. With the guns, not only is Hedda’s independence flaunted, but Ibsen proves her potential masculinity and provides evidence for a woman who will not live with someone else’s name.
Hedda Gabler is a play largely about control and the title of the play exemplifies Hedda’s unwillingness to be controlled or in a position of confinement by anyone else. Despite marriage, despite being confined in a monotonous household, despite the advances of a conniving judge, Hedda manages to turn the tables and assert her own being.
Ibsen, Henrik, and Rolf Fjelde. Hedda Gabler . Four Major Plays . New York: Signet Classic, 2006. 221-304. Print.