Who is responsible for the tragedy of Hedda Gabler?
Hedda Gabler is morally responsible for her actions. Yet at the same time, the society in which she lives doesn't allow individuals—especially women—to express themselves freely. In such an environment, Hedda cannot make independent decisions about her life without defying convention and morality. In order to be responsible for herself, she has to act irresponsibly according to society's norms and standards. If she cannot construct a life of her own outside the confines of a stultifying middle-class home, then she will destroy other people's lives instead.
For Hedda, destruction, whether it's of lives or academic manuscripts, is a creative act. She, like another of Ibsen's female characters—Nora in A Doll's House—has effectively been kept in a state of permanent childhood by a society built by men. The world outside of hearth and home is a man's world, a harsh, competitive place in which the delicate sensibilities of the female species have no place. As she is actively prohibited from participating in such a world, Hedda brings its values into the home, giving her some measure of control in her life, some sense of responsibility for what goes on around her. Yet just as such values ruin the lives of many in the world outside, so too do they come to ruin Hedda and those around her. The walls of Hedda's cozy, domestic little life have come crashing down, and for that she is wholly responsible.
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Hedda Gabler has free will and is to blame as far as her actions lead to her own death, as well as to the death of her lover, Eilert Lovborg.
It is Hedda that 1) agrees to marry a man that she does not love, 2) tempts Lovborg into drinking again, 3) chooses to burn Lovborg’s manuscript and then lies to him about it, 4) gives Lovborg the pistol that he uses to accidentally kill himself, and 5) uses her other pistol to commit suicide at the end of the play.
However, if we are to blame Hedda for her actions, than the other characters have to be held accountable for theirs. It’s Lovborg that chooses to take his manuscript with him for a night of drinking, and then accidentally shoots himself with Hedda’s pistol. And it’s Judge Brack who blackmails Hedda right before she takes her own life.
But even with free will, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the role that society plays in this tragedy. Hedda can only exist in relation to the men in her life – first as the General’s daughter, and then as George Tesman’s wife. Hedda’s fear of scandal keeps her from becoming a person in her own right, and her only way out is to self-destruct, taking those around her down, as well.