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What is Aunt Juliana's role in Hedda Gabler and in establishing Tesman and Hedda's characters?

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Since Hedda Gabler was written in the late nineteenth century, one would expect the relationship between George Tesman and his new bride Hedda to be based on the social mores of a typical community in that era. Accordingly, author Henrik Ibsen (1828 –1906) introduces the character of George’s Aunt Juliana Tesman as the spark that ignites the conflict in the drama.

Protagonist Hedda is a manipulative and unpredictable woman with a background of a life of luxury. She is extremely difficult to please. Hedda marries George, who is a man of equal intelligence and a bright future, but who does not earn the kind of money sufficient to provide his new wife with the luxurious existence she is accustomed to.

From the outset of the play, Juliana exposes the built-in conflict with Hedda which stems from their social class differences:

TESMAN. [With the bonnet in his hand, looks at it from all sides.] Why, what a gorgeous bonnet you've been investing in!
MISS TESMAN. I bought it on Hedda's account.
TESMAN. On Hedda's account? Eh?
MISS TESMAN. Yes, so that Hedda needn't be ashamed of me if we happened to go out together.”

Ibsen presents a double standard between social classes. He emphasizes the societal schism between men and women of that era. Juliana raised George after the death of his parents, and tends to direct the course of his life. She favors the social conventions of her day: women were submissive to their husbands, lacked independence, and had children almost as an obligation. George is influenced greatly by his aunt, and he appears to be focused more on furthering his career than on building his relationship with his wife. As a result, Hedda is at odds with Juliana and bored with her husband. Juliana is the point of the tension between the main characters.

Hedda is ahead of her time with respect to developing a sense of self. She seeks a life of independence, but is trapped in a society where she is prevented from enjoying a fruitful life outside of the home. Juliana’s presence stokes the flames of independence burning within Hedda. The younger woman envisions a starkly different life for herself than Juliana wants for her nephew:

HEDDA. Fortunately. Of course one has always to accustom one's self to new surroundings, Miss Tesman—little by little. [Looking towards the left.] Oh, there the servant has gone and opened the veranda door, and let in a whole flood of sunshine.
MISS TESMAN. [Going towards the door.] Well, then we will shut it.
HEDDA. No no, not that! Tesman, please draw the curtains. That will give a softer light.
TESMAN. [At the door.] All right—all right.—There now, Hedda, now you have both shade and fresh air.
HEDDA. Yes, fresh air we certainly must have, with all these stacks of flowers—. But—won't you sit down, Miss Tesman?
MISS TESMAN. No, thank you. Now that I have seen that everything is all right here—thank heaven!—I must be getting home again . . .

Another example of Aunt Juliana’s attempted imposition in the lives of the newly married couple is her continual suggestion that Hedda become pregnant as is culturally expected of her. Hedda denies her pregnancy in opposition to the lifestyle Juliana favors for George.

Aunt Juliana serves as the conduit of the tension and conflict in this drama. She is unable to force Hedda to relinquish her freedom as a woman. Her constant attempts prompt Hedda to demonstrate hostility toward her husband and his family. George is urged by Juliana to live a structured life, whereas Hedda seeks creativity and freedom. The tension fueled by Juliana allows the author to carry his disdain for the gender double standard in his society to a tragic conclusion.

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To a considerable extent, Aunt Julle acts as a constant reminder of how women were expected to behave at the time the play was published. A kindly, respectable old lady, she is the epitome of traditional feminine values. It is entirely appropriate, then, that she should wish for her nephew Jörgen and his wife Hedda to have children. This would be expected for a normal, middle-class couple in those days.

Given what we know about Hedda's unconventional nature, it's not surprising that she should come to resent the presence of her husband's Aunt Julle in their lives. Hedda wants to chart her own course in life, not be held back by the kind of rigid value system that Aunt Julle represents.

At the same time, Jörgen seems perfectly happy with his life, which is not surprising given that he gets a lot more out of it than his permanently dissatisfied wife. Though a fully-grown man, he lacks a certain something in the way of maturity. His immaturity is exemplified in the somewhat cloyingly sentimental, mollycoddling relationship he has with his aunt.

Whereas Hedda is very much a woman of the world, Jörgen is bumbling and child-like. Whether she means to or not, Aunt Julle keeps him in this condition through her kindness and indulgence. In doing so, she inadvertently widens the already growing emotional gap between husband and wife.

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The relationship between George Tesman and his Aunt Juliana serves as a parallel to that between Hedda Gabler and her father. As they deviate somewhat from normal social conventions, both relationships emphasize the unusual gender associations of both partners in the marriage. Aunt Julia also serves as a catalyst to the dissolution of the Tesmans’s marriage and furthers Hedda’s self-destructive behavior.

George is feminized by his close relationship to an older, female relative. His distancing from normal society is accentuated by the fact that she is his aunt, not his mother. Aunt Juliana’s preoccupations for her nephew focuses on children, and she expects self-sacrifice and nurturing behavior from his wife. Tesman has not grown into his full manhood because he lacked an older male role model who could have helped him with his professional development or career aspirations.

Hedda, in turn, is masculinized by her identification with her father. She learned such manly pursuits as shooting from him. Not having a strong maternal influence, she herself did not develop any motherly feelings and is abhorred by the idea of pregnancy. Unfortunately, this is the goal that Juliana promotes. As Hedda lacks appropriate outlets for her own ambitions, owing to the social constraints against independence for women, she is drawn to the creative genius of Ellert Lövborg. She also despises both him and herself for signs of weakness.

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Very interesting question. What I like about it is that it seeks to explore the role and purpose of minor characters in relation to the whole work - something that we often forget. Juliana Tesman is George Tesman's aunt, who has never married. The two share a deep affection for each other. In fact, for George Tesman, his aunt assumes a parental role, as he calls her "father and mother in one" for him.

We also know that Juliana is devoted to her sister, Rina, who is an invalid. She cares for her and obviously finds meaning in her work of nursing invalids. When Rina dies, for example, she immediately wants to bring in another invalid border who she might look after. She is a wonderful nurse and part of her identity is caring selflessly for others. This willingness to sacrifice herself and find meaning in duty and responsibility means that in the play she acts as a foil for Hedda, who we know detests her and can't understand how anyone can find meaning in service to others and fulfilling their familial duty. Aunt Juliana is also constantly hinting that Tesman and Hedda should have a baby. She is well meaning, and tries to get on with Hedda, but their friendship is hindered by their different class backgrounds and Hedda's hatred of Juliana.

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