What role do the deaths of Hedda and Eilert play in Hedda Gabler, and how do they affect the story? What is the "meaning" of their deaths?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, Hedda Gabler is a great stage play with a strong and suspenseful plot. The storyline itself is enough to keep the audience enthralled. Each act ends with a dramatic "cliffhanger," leaving the audience to wonder what will happen next. Ibsen's very early introduction of the general's set of pistols, now in Hedda's possession, foreshadows the violence to come. In this respect, the deaths of Eilert and Hedda finalize the plot and complete the dramatic story.

In terms of what their deaths mean and how they act to develop Ibsen's themes, much critical analysis is invited.  Eilert's death can be interpreted as evidence of Hedda's narcissism and misdirected sense of romance. It can also be viewed symbolically as the destruction of creativity and brilliance in a society that values conformity and mediocrity.

Hedda's death is perhaps more complex in interpretation. She longs for a life of freedom and personal fulfillment, yet she craves the security of wealth and social position. She resents the social forces that have controlled her, but she has never summoned the courage to confront them. (Remember that she once had lived vicariously through tales of Eilert's "low" lifestyle, but refused the opportunity for a romantic affair with him and chose instead a mundane but socially comfortable life with George.)

It is only when Hedda is trapped by Judge Brack and, it is suggested, her own pregnancy, that she kills herself. Perhaps this is her ultimate act of independence, to free herself from an unbearable life. A less charitable view of Hedda, though, may be that it was her ultimate act of cowardice--refusing to deal with the truth, face the consequences of her own behavior, and thereby take control of her life.