Themes relating to motherhood are developed in the drama through the characters of Hedda Gabler and Thea Elvsted. Hedda is depicted as a strong and selfish woman, capable of cruelty and absent any nurturing impulses. She lacks feminine traits; her beauty is cold and sharply defined. Thea, in contrast, is soft and womanly, an unselfish nurturer by nature whose sensitivity is apparent in her words and deeds. The difference between the two women is symbolized by their hair; Hedda's is not attractive, while Thea's hair is luxuriant and quite beautiful, a crown of femininity.
Hedda rejects her role as wife, and the idea of motherhood is abhorrent to her. When she and George return from their honeymoon, George's aunt, Juliana, hopes that Hedda might be pregnant. George wants a baby, and later in the play, suggests that Hedda's figure has filled out a bit. Hedda rebuffs any such talk. Juliana brings up the subject again in the play. When Hedda implies to George later that she is expecting their child, he is filled with joy. She is not. Having a child would only imprison her more. It is possible that Hedda lied about being pregnant to gain his cooperation in covering up the fact that she had burned Lovborg's manuscript. In terms of thematic development, a pregnancy would have served as another motivation for Hedda, feeling completely trapped, to take her own life.
For Thea, the theme of motherhood is developed in relation to her feelings for Lovborg. She attempts to "save" him, dedicating her life to his restored well being and his work. She considers his book to be their "child" together, and when she believes it has been destroyed, she mourns its loss and dedicates her life to helping George recreate it. Thea loved Lovborg with a romantic intensity that drove her to leave her own husband, but she accepted that he would never love her in return. She assumed the role of mothering him and settled for the one thing she could create with him, a book.