What is the role of women in Henrick Ibsen's plays, especially in "Hedda Gabler"?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ibsen wrote many plays that challenged Victorian (19thC) notions of women, sometimes creating characters in the form of the “New Woman,” a term used in the press of the day to describe the woman who dared to challenge traditional behavior of women by becoming authoritative, unhappy with their conventional live, and conflicted between wanting to be “womanly” and yet live outside the boundaries of that definition of the time.  Like many “New Woman” characters, Hedda commits suicide at the end because there is no place for her in society: if she conforms she is unhappy, and if she rebels she gives up love and respect of others.  She was a misfit for her time,.  Unlike Nora in Doll’s House, however, she cannot leave quietly because there is nothing quiet or gentle about this character from beginning to end.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is so good a question that it is too large for this arena, really. This is because a) Ibsen wrote many plays over a long span, and b) the role of women both changed and was complicated. That said, one can say that women in Ibsen are complex, conflicted, and often emblematic or symbolic. What they symbolize or represent changes from play to play, and even in some cases within a given play.


That said, Hedda is a conflicted character. She's torn between multiple motivations and drives. She has the energy to be a social power or a poetic symbol, but she lacks an outlet and so is destructive in the end.