What is the status of women in reference to Hedda Gabler?  Explain.

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mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As reflected in the play, the status of women in Hedda's society is secondary to that of men in all respects, with the exception that they have the ability to bear children--their "natural role." The female characters in the play are presented as dependent daughters (Hedda's father plays a role even though he is long dead), wives, selfless nurturers (such as Thea and Juliana), or the prostitutes among whom Eilert dies.

The women in Hedda Gabler lack the means to support themselves financially. Although she lived a privileged life in her father's house, Hedda has no money of her own. She marries George because he offers her respectability and seems to offer her  financial security; his prospects look bright, at least, at the time of their marriage. Thea is supported by her husband, and therefore risks all in her dedication to Eilert's success--his success, not her own. She can find fulfillment only through the work he produces, seeing his new book as her own "baby." Juliana, George's maiden aunt, lives on a small inheritance. When she mortgages her income so that George can buy the fine house for Hedda, she is risking her financial security. She has no means to produce income of her own if it is lost. In this play, only prostitutes, it seems, earn their own money.

The women in the play have status only in terms of serving others, especially men. Hedda acts as daughter and then wife. Thea "saves" Eilert temporarily from his alcoholism and degrading life and inspires his best work. Juliana risks her own financial security for George's happiness and spends her days taking care of her dying sister, Rina. When Rina does die, Juliana envisions no life for herself except to find another sick person to care for.

rtandon's profile pic

rtandon | Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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First of all, it is imperative to understand Hedda's character in the play and to reflect upon issues related to women's rights in Norway in the post-Victorian era. Did Hedda have any choices, apart from being Tesman's wife? If you notice the exchange of dialogues between Hedda and Judge Brack in Act 2, Hedda constantly refers to her state of being bored. Why is she bored? Did she have the right to any meaningful profession apart from being confined to her home and playing the role of a wife? Unlike The Doll's House, in Hedda Gabler, Ibsen subtly explores the issues of women's rights. Perhaps, Hedda's character would not have ended in tragedy or prone to hysterical outbursts if she was meaningfully engaged in a profession.     

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