Pages 46-48

Act III opens with the room completely enclosed; the curtains are drawn both over the door to the middle room and over the glass door leading outside. The contrast between Hedda and Thea continues: Hedda sleeps peacefully, Thea has been awake all night and is upset; Thea refuses the maid's offer of a fire, Hedda calls the servant to light a fire.

Because Berta identifies with the Tesman's interests, she is hostile to Lovborg, whom she knows as Tesman's former rival. She calls him "a certain person" and continues "we've heard enough about that gentleman before now" (p. 47).

Hedda awakens energized and happy and throws open the windows to let in the broad sunlight. Contrast her behavior in Act I: she claimed she had slept badly, and she wanted the curtain drawn so that the broad sunlight would not stream into the room. Now she feels a sense of power and aliveness because she inspired Lovborg to return to his dissipated life, which she has idealized into a courageous, free life. She expects him to return crowned with vine-leaves, symbolizing his victory over society's restraints and an assertion of the heroism lacking in her society and in herself. Furthermore, she has defeated Thea in the struggle to influence Lovborg. With total self-confidence, she brushes aside Thea's anxieties and expresses contempt for her, "You really are a little blockhead, Thea" (p. 48).

Hedda sends Thea to her bedroom to rest. Her action is natural since Thea has not slept; it is also dramatically necessary. Thea cannot be allowed to know that Tesman and Hedda have Lovborg's manuscript, yet she must be nearby when Lovborg returns. And Hedda must be present when he rejects Thea, a scene which makes the full significance of the manuscript in their relationship clear to her. Having Hedda, Thea, and Lovborg close enables Ibsen to move the action quickly and to build tension steadily; the fast-paced action rivets the audience's attention. A skillful dramatist, Ibsen naturally motivates Thea's absence, her presence, and Hedda's presence on the stage at critical moments.

Another skillful piece of stagecraft: Aunt Julia and Lovborg are never on stage at the same time. Why? Are they and/or the values they represent incompatible?

Pages 49-51

Tesman admits that he had "a horrid feeling" while listening to Eilert read his book, that he "felt jealous" of Eilert's genius (p. 49). Immediately he exclaims, "how pitiful to think that he--with all his gifts--should be irreclaimable, after all" (p. 49).  Tesman's statements and actions about the manuscript are important in evaluating Tesman. Do we take his statements and action at face value, or do they reveal a darker, less admirable side to Tesman? Herman J. Weigand believes, "...the insincerity lurking under his naive and comical guise eludes all but the keenest scrutiny." Weigand goes on to say, however, that "Tesman is every bit as honorable as the average run of commonplace people." Is Tesman an honorable man? a dishonorable man? merely an ordinary man? You might want to consider these questions in assessing Tesman:
  • He tells Hedda, about having the manuscript, "I am almost ashamed--on Eilert's account--to tell you." Is he really ashamed of his own "horrid" feelings and/or unacknowledged destructive desires?

  • Does Tesman find satisfaction in Lovborg's being irreclaimable because Lovborg cannot control himself? Tesman, of course, has no wild impulses or uncontrollable urges and can feel superior morally to Lovborg.

  • Does he subconsciously want to harm Lovborg? to destroy the manuscript? When he finds the manuscript, why doesn't he immediately return the manuscript to Lovborg? Even Hedda asks him this. Why does he tell no one he has the manuscript? Why doesn't he leave a note about the manuscript at Lovborg's residence? Is it significant that he doesn't tell a distraught Thea about the manuscript when he encounters her in the street (Act IV)?

  • Why does he leave the manuscript with Hedda rather than drop it off on his way to see his Aunt Rina?

  • Do his words and action prepare for his later complicity in Hedda's burning the manuscript?
Underneath his decent, ordinary exterior, are there darker feelings and motives operating? Is there a discrepancy between Tesman's social self and his essential self? If so, is that discrepancy "commonplace," i.e., is that the way most of us are? Is suppressing darker motives and impulses (often called the shadow) characteristic of most of us?

The exchange between Tesman and Hedda raises another question. Is Hedda thinking about the possibility of destroying the manuscript? She asks whether Lovborg could rewrite it. Tesman's reply about Thea's inspiration would be particularly offensive to Hedda. It is Hedda, not Tesman, who thinks of and hides the manuscript when Brack appears.

Hedda's vision of Lovborg's dissipation as heroic and noble prompts her reference to vine-leaves and her question, "I suppose you mean that he has more courage than the rest?" (p. 49). Hedda idealizes Lovborg's weaknesses but is unmoved by his genius. Hedda never reads any of Lovborg's book; when Tesman praises its brilliance, she curtly replies, "Yes, yes; I don't care about that--" (p. 49). What do these facts reveal about Hedda morally, spiritually, or intellectually? Ibsen often used the individual to make revelations about society; do Hedda's behavior and values reveal anything about her class or her society?

Pages 52-55

Brack visits at the earliest acceptable time; aware of the threat Lovborg poses to his triangle, he is eager to disparage Lovborg to Hedda. He presents the concrete reality, the sordidness of Lovborg's behavior. Why does his portrayal of reality affect Hedda so profoundly? Why does it cause her to lose faith in her idealization of Lovborg's wild lifestyle? What fear does his description of Lovborg's scandalous behavior stir in Hedda?

Hedda also becomes aware that Brack, with his desire for control, can be dangerous, "I am exceedingly glad to think--that you have no sort of hold over me" (p. 55). Does her statement prepare for the ending?

Pages 56-59

Hedda, who is quick at picking up sexual implications and fears scandal, makes Lovborg aware ("suddenly understanding," p. 56) that he is ruining Thea's reputation.

When Lovborg announces he and Thea must part, why does Hedda involuntarily say, "I knew it!" (p. 56)? Is she feeling triumphant? Does she see herself as controlling or having power over Lovborg's life?

What does this scene reveal about Thea and her relationship to Lovborg? Why does she cry, despairingly, "Then what am I to do with my life?" (p. 56). She leaves saying, "I see nothing but darkness before me" (p. 58). Is Thea concerned with Lovborg, the book, herself, or some combination of them? Think about her statements after you finish the play; do they relate to the ending?

Creativity/sterility/destructiveness is a major theme. Hedda is pregnant or physically creative, and Thea is physically barren. However, Ibsen implies visually that Thea is a creative force with her abundant hair and that Hedda is not with her skimpy hair. In what way(s) is Thea creative? In what way(s) is Hedda not creative?

The manuscript is symbolically the child that Thea and Lovborg created. What is Thea's contribution to the book, which is the product of Lovborg's genius? With Lovborg, the theme of creativity is extended to include the artist or writer. Lovborg, the artist, needs Thea to create. Why? Why doesn't he rewrite the book without her or go on to write other books? Does he need the order and discipline she provides to use his genius productively? On his own, he wastes his life in riotous living. Lovborg is a typical Ibsen artist--a man who has unlimited energy and genius but lacks self-control; he needs a woman for inspiration and control. However, in civilizing the artist, she ultimately inhibits his lust for life and so his ability to create. This is what we would call a catch-22 situation.

The theme of creativity extends to Lovborg and Tesman. Contrast the kinds of topics which they write about and the fact that Lovborg produces books and Tesman collects notes which he has yet to arrange. There is a minor parallel between them; Tesman has a suitcase full of notes from his honeymoon, and Thea has the notes Lovborg used in writing the lost manuscript.

In Act II, Hedda realizes she will not be able to live out her ambitions through George; Brack squelches the possibility of a political career, and she has no interest in academic matters. So she turns her energies to Lovborg. In trying to control Lovborg, Hedda wants to give meaning and beauty to life; she wants to rise above the narrow conventionality of her own class and the smothering domesticity of the Tesmans and to experience freedom-- vicariously. A coward herself, she wants to experience courage through Lovborg. Lovborg too associates wild living with courage when he considers returning to his Dionysian lifestyle, "And the thing is that now I have no taste for that sort of life either. I won't begin it anew. She has broken my courage and my power of braving life out" (p. 58).

Hedda wants to have the kind of power over Lovborg that Thea had, "So that pretty little fool has had her fingers in a man's destiny" (p. 58). Hedda looks for power and freedom through another, rather than in herself. But can the individual achieve a sense of power or freedom in this way? James W. McFarlane calls her efforts "interference in other people's lives"; ironically, such interference poses a threat to the essential self by making the individual dependent on others and places the individual in an "essentially humiliating reliance" on others to provide what the essential self should supply but can't. Does his analysis apply to Hedda? Why is she unable to achieve power? Why is she unable to actualize her ideal? These two questions may be easier to answer after you have read Act IV.

Though Hedda no longer believes in vine-leaves, she still believes in the possibility of beauty, heroism, and freedom. What irony is there in her giving Lovborg a gun to commit suicide "beautifully" (p. 59)? How "beautiful" is a shot through the temple in reality? Is Hedda interested in Lovborg as a person, or is she merely using him?

The guns are symbolically complex and can be interpreted in a number of ways:

  • They are her defense.
  • They represent freedom and release.
  • They are cold and hard outside, violent and deadly in action, like Hedda.
  • They are modern and contrast with the classical symbol of the vine-leaves. One is a symbol of war and aggression, the other of peace and pleasure.
  • They suggest the fulility and purposelessness of her life. Guns have a deadly function, and presumably a general would be able to use them effectively. But for Hedda the guns are a toy, a diversion in her boredom.
  • General Gabler's guns represent a military and an aristocratic tradition. How much relevance does military tradition have for women in general or for Hedda in particular? What does her inheriting this gun and this tradition suggest about the values of her class? Raised by her father, the general, what values might she have learned from him? Might any of them be inappropriate for a woman of her class and time? If so, what would be the effect on her? The nineteenth century Danish critic George Brandes suggests that General Gabler's guns are ironic; he claims "that a Norwegian general is a cavalry officer, who as a rule, has never smelt powder,and whose pistols are innocent of bloodshed." If he is correct, the aristocratic class represented by the general appears even more futile and useless.

Is Hedda a woman who lacks purpose in life? Is she distorted by the demands of a society that offers limited roles to women? All the other women in the play either serve others (Thea, Miss Tesman, Diana, and Berta) or are taken care of (the invalid Aunt Rina). And even the incapacitated Rina embroiders slippers and willingly risks her income for George. Except for Diana and Hedda, the women are self-sacrificing. Hedda, who wants to live her life for herself, refuses the conventional woman's lot of service and/or sacrifice.

What opportunities are there for a woman with larger aspirations, like Hedda? Ibsen noted of Hedda: "Hedda's desperation is a conviction that life must offer so many possibilities of happiness, but that she can't catch sight of them. It is the want of a goal in life that torments her." Do you think this is true of Hedda? As a woman, is Hedda denied the identity and purpose the men have in their professions? They express themselves through their work and receive recognition through their professions. Brack is referred to and addressed as "judge." Lovborg has achieved acclaim and success with his book, and Tesman is waiting for the reward of a professorship. In contrast, Thea loses her sense of purpose and identity when she believes Lovborg destroyed their book. Aunt Julia has purpose and identity as long as she has someone to care for.

Despite her refusal to accept a traditional role assigned women, Hedda does accept society's values of proper and improper behavior. Propriety (rigid rules of what is proper) is a potent force in her life; it is also a destructive force, as John Northam explains:

The propriety cuts her off, but it breeds the depraved interest. Hedda is not a woman disinterested in life; her interest in life is vivid but depraved by the constraints that forbade her to engage directly in it. Depraved is not too strong a word for Hedda's behaviour; it is justified not merely by reference to her love of the unsavoury, but even more by the strangely vicarious way in which she has chosen to indulge it. She has used Lovborg to do her living for her while she sheltered behind a curtain, peered at the world outside.
Hedda is fully aware of how much the manuscript means to Lovborg and Thea, that it is brilliant, and that it is irreplaceable. Then why does Hedda burn the manuscript? Why does she call it their child while she does this? Why does she call Thea "curly-locks" at this time (p. 50)? Is it only their child that she wants to destroy? Does Hedda experience triumph and a sense of power as she burns the manuscript?

For the first time in this play, Hedda takes direct action; she burns the manuscript and gives Lovborg a gun to commit suicide beautifully. Hitherto she has been an observer, has acted indirectly through manipulation and innuendo, or has lived vicariously through the lives of others. What kind of action does she finally take--e.g., positive, negative, mixed, creative, heroic, destructive, compassionate, self-centered, self-sacrificing, violent?

Ibsen Syllabus

F, March 30, Online class
Ibsen, Online overview
Hedda Gabler, Act I
Caucus: To read and to send postings
**Supplemental Reading**
      The Problem Play
      The New Woman
      Hedda Gabler as Tragedy
M, April 2 Hedda Gabler, Act II
W, April 4 Hedda Gabler, Act III
F, April 6 Online class
Hedda Gabler, Act IV
The Other
Caucus: To read and to send postings

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