On a larger scale, this essentially conveys her desire to defy the constraints of her patriarchal society and the confines of her gender. As in A Doll’s House, her increasing despair is emphasised through her restlessness; she is seen at various points in the play gravitating between the french windows and the stove, which offers her the warmth and security she utilises to retreat into a fantasy where she can control the actions of others, offering her a form of self-liberation. Hedda’s craving for control is exemplified particularly well in her preoccupation with the nature of Lovborg’s death; she orders him to commit suicide ‘beautifully’ and offers him the pistol to complete the action.
However, Hedda’s liberated control is eventually shattered towards the end of the play when her actions and movements are shaped by others. For example, when Tesman and Mrs Elvsted move into Hedda’s room to piece together Lovborg’s burnt manuscript, Hedda’s is forced out of her private sanctuary, and is forced to confront the reality of her situation. As with A Doll’s House, Hedda’s gradual realisation of her situation is influenced through character mirrors. For example, Lovborg is depicted as a foil to Hedda, offering her the prospect of a life free from conventions as an iconoclast. However, Hedda is rejected this emancipation through society’s denial of self-expression which eventually resorts in negative behaviour.
Hedda’s confinement is further conveyed through her dialogue with Judge Brack in Act two. As with A Doll’s House, the subtext of this conversation emphasises Hedda’s confinement within her marriage and her gender. This dialogue not only exemplifies a means by which Hedda keeps in touch with her past social standing – as Brack epitomises upper-class conventions – but also reveals Hedda’s true emotions regarding her oppressive marriage and offers the opportunity of self-expression.
For example, Hedda immediately takes to mocking her husband when in private conversation with Brack through her comment that Tesman ‘ran off to his aunties’, depicting him as a somewhat immature character. The dialogue in this scene possesses sexual overtones, hinting at a secret fling between the two characters, when Brack overtly suggests an affair: ‘this kind of triangle is a delightful arrangement for all parties’. This fling offers Hedda the opportunity to defy the restrictions of marriage and to express a sexual ‘self’. Unfortunately for Hedda, she feels the weight of social condemnation far more than men so she does not dare to venture out into the world for fear of a ‘scandal’, as much as she craves the freedom.
The least elusive symbol in the play is undoubtedly Hedda Gabler’s pistols. As a representation of Hedda’s ties to her past affluent lifestyle as General Gabler’s daughter, the emphatically male symbol is very effective in conveying Hedda’s rebellion against her constrained gender role; women would not stereotypically be associated with such obtrusive suggestions of violence or masculinity.
This symbol could also take weight to phallic significance when she threatens to shoot Brack in the course of the play, – and Lovborg before the actions of the play – as a representation of Hedda attempting to exert her authority over men and defy patriarchy, still on the trail for self-liberation. Hedda’s determination to defy conventions is further emphasised through her ‘frenzied dance melody’ on the piano before her suicide. This can be perceived as a representation of Hedda trying desperately to express herself creatively. She is immediately silenced by her husband, offering a clear representation of patriarchal authority and the inhibitions this idealist society imposes on the self-expression of women.
As with A Doll’s House, Ibsen makes effective use of denouement in order to emphasise the moral significance of Hedda Gabler. Hedda eventually shoots herself in response to the confines of bourgeois society conventions: ‘Nevertheless, I’m in your power. Dependent on your will and your demands. Not free. Still not free! (Rises passionately) No. I couldn’t bear that’. Alienated by reality, she retreats into a fantasy world in which she can preserve her creative and idealistic ‘self’ and essentially commits suicide in order to exist within a fantasy, free from the confines of patriarchy and social conventions. The patriarchal society in which she existed offered no positive outlet for personal expression, and repressed the sexual and emotional desires of women, and to a lesser extent, men.