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Hedda Gabler is a fascinating woman, and the flaws in her character are obvious and dramatic. She is narcissistic, willful, and manipulative, acting beyond the bounds of ethical behavior. Cold and destructive in her relationships, Hedda ultimately destroys herself, as well. As her character is developed in the play, Hedda victimizes others, while seeming to be a victim herself of social forces beyond her control.
Hedda Gabler's behavior is more masculine than feminine, as femininity is generally defined. She is aggressive and domineering, although by necessity she masks these traits through deception and deliberate role-playing. Growing up under the influence of her father, a stern general, Hedda pursued masculine activities, riding and shooting. She did not have a nurturing female presence in her life and did not identify with the feminine role or develop womanly traits or values. There is nothing soft or maternal in Hedda; she rejects her identity as wife and despises the idea of being a mother, viewing both of these roles as impediments to her personal freedom, violations of her sense of self.
Hedda is a prisoner of her time, hemmed in by strict social mores and rendered powerless by a society that limits her growth. As a young woman, she was sexually repressed, afraid to express or experience this part of her nature for fear of social repercussions. A psychiatrist would no doubt attribute at least some of Hedda's later hostility to the anger and frustration that resulted when her sexual and emotional needs were thwarted in her early relationship with Eilert.
As a woman in her society, she is dependent upon men and has no means to make her own way in the world. For a woman with an independent mind and spirit, this would be an especially stifling condition. Hedda marries George only for financial security and social respectability, then hates him for being her husband. When George experiences financial difficulty, Hedda feels bitter and betrayed, trapped in yet another way.
Hedda Gabler's youthful personality and upbringing do not prepare her in any way for the life she will be expected to lead in her society. The terrible conflict between who she is and who she is expected to be causes her selfish and destructive behavior. Her anger and frustration are directed at those closest to her. When she is finally trapped by Judge Brack in circumstances she can no longer manipulate, she takes her own life.
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