In Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, why did Hedda kill herself?

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Hedda Gabler is arguably the most unsympathetic heroine in all of Ibsen’s plays. She seems to have everything a person would need. This beautiful young woman is recently married to a very nice husband, lives in a nice home, enjoys playing the piano, and genuinely appreciates the arts. But nothing is good enough for Hedda, and she cannot appreciate or even tolerate anyone else’s success or happiness. Not content to criticize, she has to spoil things. Finding no satisfaction in life, she must confront both her own hypocrisy in her loveless marriage and her complicity in another man’s death. To make things worse, that complicity will probably become public. She has had enough. Offstage, Hedda shoots herself in the head.

Hedda’s unpopularity dates to the play’s early reception. Ibsen’s contemporary George Bernard Shaw roundly condemned her as “mean, envious, insolent, cruel, fiendish . . . a bully in reaction from her own cowardice” (cited in Jones 1977). Cowardice is the...

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