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Hedda Gabler is a four-act play by Henrik Ibsen. The main character, Hedda, has just returned from her honeymoon with her new husband George. While George and his family seem very nice, we find that Hedda is rude, manipulative and unnecessarily unkind to those in George's household.
Hedda is selfish, proud, and cold, cruelly heedless of the pain she inflicts on others in her efforts to satisfy the inner desires...
As the play moves along, Hedda gathers information from Thea Elvsted about Eilert Lovborg, a man Thea loves who will not enter into a relationship with her because his heart belongs to an old love who drove him away at the point of a gun. When Hedda mentions her own guns, we realize that she is Lovborg's former sweetheart.
Even while Hedda "desires the power to shape one person's destiny," it seems she is bent upon destroying any hopes for happiness those around her might have: she betrays Thea's confidence to Lovborg, robs Lovborg of his sense of hope for personal redemption, and reveals that she cares nothing for her new husband—only for his potential to be successful.
While Judge Brack tries to manipulate Hedda into a sexual relationship, Hedda drives Lovborg away, providing him with a pistol so that he might end his life in a "beautiful" way. Lovborg does shoot himself, but it is an ugly end. When Brack sees Hedda's other pistol, he realizes that Lovborg took his life with her gun, a scandalous turn of events that he believes he can use to force Hedda to give in to his sexual advances.
Hedda goes into another room, shooting herself "beautifully" in the temple.
While this is a very brief overview of the story, it contains enough information to provide one with a one-sentence summary that addresses the play's major action. Here is one sentence:
Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, is a play about a self-serving and willful woman, Hedda, who cares little for others, particularly her new husband and her old flame; she is unkind and self-serving to the point that she thinks nothing of crushing the hopes of others, drives a former sweetheart to take his own life, and then shoots herself rather than face the unpleasantness of scandal over what she has done.
Hedda Gabler is one of several women in Ibsen's plays caught within a social system which gives them relatively little scope for action or creativity. The heroines of both "Hedda Gabler" and "Doll's House" feel trapped by situations in which they are desparately unhappy. Both Nora ("Doll's House") and Hedda are driven to take extreme measures to escape their positions, Nora abandoning her children and Hedda committing suicide. In neither case does Ibsen intend us to read this works simply as stories of "bad" or "self-serving" women, but rather as condemnations of social circumstances which trap the protagonists in situations in which all choices are bad.
In some ways the distinction between enduring classics and much popular fiction is that in popular fiction, you can often make easy judgements to separate the "good guys" from the "bad guys". In Ibsen, instead, you are intended to see dilemmas which cannot be resolved. This is the essential tragic experience.
As you read Ibsen's plays, try to understand the points of view of all the characters and the forces which motivate their actions. How do certain choices in their lives, often made in youthful ignorance, drive the characters inexorably to a unhappy ending?
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