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Ibsen’s use of the title “Hedda Gabler” is significant in that it says a great deal about how the protagonist sees herself, her class identity, and her relationship with Tesman. Hedda is the daughter of General Gabler who is an aristocrat. She has married down in class to the bourgeois George Tesman. She still thinks of herself primarily as an aristocrat and the daughter of the General rather than as a member of the bourgeois class, and assumes that she will continue to have rights to a life of luxury and deference from the lower classes as a matter of her birthright, rather than accepting her own situation as Tesman’s wife, which she finds stifling and uncomfortable.
In many ways, Hedda is “Hedda Tesman” in name only and never really accepts this identity; Ibsen titles the play “Hedda Gabler” instead to reflect this and to call attention to not only how she sees herself but also who she was when Lovborg knew her; his reminders of who she was needle her profoundly. Hedda is hugely conflicted about marrying Tesman; his bourgeois, suburban aspirations and manners make her almost physically ill. She’s not prepared, though, when Lovborg re-enters her life; she’s deeply conflicted about him too. Ibsen’s title reflects the fact that the central conflict lies in the destructive forces swirling in Hedda herself, forces that have been inside her all her life, long before she was married. The play is not about a married woman, the play is in many ways about a woman isolated and alone: simply Hedda Gabler.
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