What is the significance of the reoccuring symbol/motif of hair in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The motif of hair in this brilliant play is used to signal the way in which Hedda is more preoccupied with the aesthetics of life rather than the messy relaities of day-to-day living. She has a picture of the world as being a romantic and beautiful poetic place and we can see that she withdraws into her image of this world to avoid having to confront the very difficult realities of life. Note how she tells George, "I don't want to look on sickness and death. I want to be free of everything ugly."

For Hedda, she makes up her own little world where everything is beautiful and good. She places Eilert very firmly in this world, and casts him as her romantic hero. One of the most important references to hair is when she pictures him with vine leaves in his hair and reading his book aloud. This picture of him is of course just like a picture out of a novel, and Hedda also carefully configures his death so that it is deeply romantic. This allows her to claim that "there is beauty" in his manner of dying and that it was "liberating" for her to see his death. Hair becomes a powerful symbol therefore of how beauty and its appearance is more important to Hedda than human life itself.

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