During I am burning your child, Thea—! Burning it,
During Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century life, nurturing qualities was what defined a woman’s value; however, Ibsen— the writer of Hedda Gabler— disagreed. Ibsen states that women “aren’t all created to be mothers.” Ibsen used his writing abilities to reveal the stark contrast between a man and woman’s power in the Victorian society. Ibsen criticizes the overwhelming limitation of opportunities for women in a rigid, male-dominated society by employing one’s hair— the abundance or lack of it— to symbolize femininity and fertility.Hedda Gabler focuses on women centered around a society of men. Although the main characters of evaluation are Hedda and Mrs. Elvsted, the more minor characters go through the same situation. For instance, Aunt Julia gave “all that she and Aunt Rina have to live upon” for a man— George (Ibsen, 6). In short, all of the women in Hedda Gabler are faced with the same problem: pleasing the society they live in, finding someone other than themselves to care for, and living in a man’s world. The way each woman responds to the issue differs them from others.Ibsen characterizes Hedda as a rather masculine woman. “Hedda’s hair is of an agreeable medium brown, but not particularly abundant” (7). This lack of both fullness and light coloring of hair suggests that Hedda, ironically— based on the fact that she’s “filled out on the journey—,” is unable to reproduce and, therefore, control an aspect of life (9). Hedda is indeed fertile— she is even pregnant, but she wants something more. She wants so badly to make something of herself, but under the restrictions of the bourgeois society, Hedda turns to manipulation and passivity to satisfy her hunger for this control. The result: a disastrous mess for her and those around her. She tries to combat this weakness, but all she ends up doing is unsuccessfully deceiving people in an attempt to keep her own weaknesses hidden. This flaw is displayed in a scene in which Hedda burns Lovborg’s manuscript. “Now I am burning your child, Thea—! Burning it, curley locks! Your child and Eilert Lovborg’s. I am burning— I am burning your child” (59). Ibsen does this to further develop the idea of Hedda’s inability to create. Hedda yearns for this ability of creation and control— “I want for once in my life to mould a human destiny—” but all she is able to do is destroy, both her and Lovborg’s life. Hedda is cursed with the touch of infertility, for “everything she touches turns ludicrous and mean” (68).Mrs. Elvsted— a woman of “unusually abundant hair—” is the opposite of Hedda in more ways than one. Although Mrs. Elvsted is not pregnant, nor has had any children of her own, she— and her hair— symbolize fertility and creation to the fullest extent. Mrs. Elvsted has this ability to inspire and create, a trait Hedda fails to possess. Ironically, Mrs. Elvsted was the woman that “had her fingers in a man’s destiny” (58). Her “moulding a human destiny” by collaborating with Lovborg to create a masterpiece manuscript juxtaposes Hedda’s abilities. And Hedda acknowledges this fact. Hedda understands that she, in comparison to Mrs. Elsted, lacks in achievement and her response is not to better herself, but to ruin the individual better than her: Mrs. Elvsted. Hedda confronts Mrs. Elvsted about Mrs. Elvsted’s enriching nature: “Do you think that is worth the trouble? Oh, if you could only understand how poor I am. And fate has made you so rich! Clasps her passionately in her arms. I think I must burn your hair off after all” (45). In this quote, Hedda wholeheartedly believes that her only chance of being successful comes with the obliterating defeat of her competition so that she herself, in turn, would look better in comparison. Even as Hedda tries to destroy the manuscript, Mrs. Elvsted is able to recreate and reproduce another with Tesman. Unlike Hedda, Mrs. Elvsted takes action. For example, Mrs. Elvsted values her feelings stands up for them, leaving her husband and stepchildren for Eilert and her happiness. Mrs. Elvsted creates opportunities and betters herself in the face of hardship. Even the extent in which Hedda is good at her job (destroying) still is unmatched to that of Mrs. Elvsted’s (creating). Eilert was a drunkard, the bottom of society, but Mrs. Elvsted still chose to leave the comfort of her own home and decent status to be with him. In turn, Mrs. Elvsted’s presence, her influence, her redemption, changed his ways and inspired creation— so much so that Lovborg’s failures turned into success.Mrs. Elvsted is everything that Hedda isn’t— a woman of life, inspiration, and courage. Hedda cannot bear the fact that she has lost her control over Eilert Lovborg to the “irritating” Mrs. Elvsted (11). A conversation between Hedda and Tesman reveals this fact: “Had he vine-leaves in his hair?…Vine-leaves? No, I saw nothing of the sort. But he made a long, rambling speech in honour of the woman who had inspired him in his work— that was the phrase he used” (49). The vine-leaves in Eilert’s hair serve as a Greek allusion to Dionysus, highlighting that he is a drunkard, incapable of changing his ways; however, Eilert has reformed with the help of Mrs. Elvsted. Eilert, absent of vine-leaves and addiction, and his fixation on Mrs. Elvsted suggest that Mrs. Elvsted inspired Eilert to fix his faults and even figuratively produce a child: the manuscript. Hedda is jealous of Mrs. Elvsted’s influence over Lovborg and— more importantly— Mrs. Elvsted’s sense of self. Mrs. Elvsted recognizes her own well-being, whereas Hedda is a product of the society around her. Her surroundings’ impression overshadows Hedda’s influence on it. She is stuck within the limits of herself. She wants to break free from domesticity, but does not want to meet the consequences that come with it. Instead of creating and seizing opportunities for herself, as Mrs. Elvsted does, Hedda destroys her chances of happiness in fear of falling into “genteel poverty” (32). Because of this fear, Hedda becomes ends up in an unhealthy marriage— stripped of love and happiness— all because she didn’t have the courage to stand up for herself and what she wanted. On the other hand, Mrs. Elvsted does. Mrs. Elvsted— with determination and no fear of scandal— leaves her husband for Eilert Lovborg. In the end, it is the timid Mrs. Elvsted who serves as the quintessential modern woman in the traditional setting of Hedda Gabler. Since it is perceived that a woman’s societal obligation is to produce and to breed, Hedda’s value is placed solely on her fertility, symbolized by an abundance of hair which she lacks. In contrast, the fullness of Mrs. Elvsted’s hair symbolizes her ability to inspire and create, whereas the thin-haired Hedda is thought to only destroy. It is Hedda that destroys the manuscript, destroys Eilert Lovborg, and— ultimately— destroys herself. Hedda is pressured by the weighty expectations placed on women in the society of the 19th century. The symbol of hair weakens Hedda’s of her feminine traits, and emphasizes that of Mrs. Elvsted’s. Hedda’s passive interests in her own life and her preoccupation in the lives of others leads to a lack of self-fulfillment. The continuation of her passive behavior and lack of control leads to self-destruction. Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler serves as a reminder of the importance of repelling the scrutiny of others, bettering yourself, and taking action.