In order to understand why suicide is significant in Hedda Gabler , you should explore two important themes in the play: death and power. After all, suicide is the ultimate way to reclaim one's power—that is, if one considers that life is a prison of sorts. The theme of suicide...
In order to understand why suicide is significant in Hedda Gabler, you should explore two important themes in the play: death and power. After all, suicide is the ultimate way to reclaim one's power—that is, if one considers that life is a prison of sorts. The theme of suicide also gives us insight into Hedda's character and her search for meaningful connections.
Is Hedda Gabler a prisoner of her own life? In the first act, she is first introduced as "General Gabler's daughter." This sets the tone of the whole play: Hedda Gabler's identity is closely tied to her aristocratic heritage, a heritage that she has to prove herself worthy of. The stage directions indicate that "over the sofa hangs the portrait of a handsome elderly man in a General's uniform." Throughout the play, General Gabler will be observing his daughter's actions. Although dead, his presence is heavily felt and influences Hedda.
Hedda Gabler is obsessed with appearances, which is a central theme in the play. Despite being the eponymous, main character, she does not appear straightaway. Instead, the spectator's first impression of her is made through the lens of the other characters.
She constantly talks about having a "beautiful death"—for instance, when she encourages Ejlert to commit suicide in act 3. This scene depicts Hedda as a deeply unsympathetic character. However, in her mind, failure and scandal is worse than death, because her whole life is based upon appearances. The spectator becomes the unwitting instigator of Hedda's suicide; by judging her just like the characters do (the last line of the play is Brack's judgment of Hedda's suicide: "people don't do such things"), the spectator plays a part in her death.
Suicide is also a way for Ibsen to comment on women's condition of the time. Hedda calls herself a "poor creature" when Ejlert tells her that she has "no power" over him. Power and status go hand in hand. As a woman, Hedda is socially inferior to men, and she tries to compensate by manipulating them. She even admits that her deepest desire is "to have power to mould a human destiny."
However, such a wish only hides what Hedda truly lacks: a meaningful connection. Tragically, because Hedda only sees power dynamics within relationships, she is unable to form a close bond to anyone. She even tells Ejlert,
As I look back upon it all, I think there was really something beautiful, something fascinating—something daring—in—in that secret intimacy—that comradeship which no living creature so much as dreamed of.