In Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, why did Hedda burn the manuscript?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler tells the story of a woman whose character traits alone can create a story of their very own. Hedda embodies every negative characteristic that a woman could possess. She is ill-mannered, cold-hearted, easily-annoyed, and ungrateful. She is also jealous, cunning, and dishonest. This reveals the real nature of a woman so empty inside, and so shallow at the same time, that her own inner misery is consistently in search of company.

All these descriptors easily lead us to conclude that Hedda may or may have not had a real good reason to burn Lovborg's manuscript: She may have simply done it as yet another manifestation of how worthless and cruel her behavior can be.

We do know, from the story, that Hedda confesses to her husband how the reason why she burned the manuscript was supposedly  to help him in his competition against Loveborg for an academic position. According to her, if Lovborg's manuscript is out of the way, then the competition will be more favorable for her husband.

Yet, having described Hedda, we find that it is hard to believe that she would sacrifice anything for anyone. She is first, second, and third in her view. Therefore, the best assumption is that Hedda burned Lovborg's manuscript because her own state of miserable and eternal frustration always leads her to wish the worst on anyone who would desire a better life. After all,

a) She is jealous that Lovborg befriended Thea

b) She is indeed jealous of Lovborg's talent over her boring husband's

c) She demonstrates a psychologically unfit apathy for bonding with people.

d) She is just plain mean.

All this being said, Hedda shows us that her destructive tendencies leave desolation, sadness, and even death, across her path. Hedda is not a woman to meddle with. She is indeed capable of anything.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The foreword tells us that the inspiration for Hedda's character is likely the wife of a Norwegian composer in Ibsen's day. Accordingly, the woman burned her husband's latest completed symphony because his long absences from home upset her.

In Ibsen's story, Hedda is a jealous, conniving, and disloyal woman. Hedda betrays her friend Thea Elvsted, her husband George Tesman, and the writer Eilert Lövborg. A close reading of the text reveals that Hedda's view of others is predicated on her pride, obsessions, and illusions. Her feelings of grandiosity are actuated by the suffering of others.

Hedda loves neither Tesman nor Thea, despite her pretensions otherwise. She revels in Lovborg's torment when he confesses that he has lost his manuscript. In fact, when Lovborg divulges his intent to end his life, Hedda actually invites him to make his death a beautiful one. She never tells him that she and Tesman actually have the manuscript. Later, Hedda burns Lovborg's manuscript and rejoices that she has destroyed Thea and Lovborg's lifelong work.

Hedda's intent appears to be to sabotage Thea and Lovborg's future together. When Tesman confronts Hedda about burning Lovborg's manuscript, Hedda simply hedges. She tells the naive Tesman that she burned the manuscript for his sake. Thrilled that his wife is finally warming up to him, Tesman fails to recognize her duplicity. Hedda is merely using her supposed solicitude for her husband as an excuse to cover up her crime of destroying someone else's property.

Essentially, Hedda's deep unhappiness with life and her jealous nature lead her to burn the manuscript.