Hedda Gabler

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Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove Symbol Analysis

Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove Symbol Icon

In the Tesmans’ drawing room is a dark porcelain stove which Ibsen invites us to pay attention to throughout the play. Hedda goes toward it when Tesman tries to show her his cherished old slippers, Hedda forces Mrs. Elvsted to sit next to it, and she sits next to it on several occasions herself. The fire in the stove also almost dies in Act III, only for Hedda to revive it. We learn that the stove is onstage to serve a treacherous purpose only at the end of Act III, when Hedda kneels beside it and feeds into its fire Ejlert Lövborg’s precious, irreplaceable manuscript. The seeming innocuousness of the stove parallels Hedda’s own seeming harmlessness—but of course this is an illusion of which we are disabused over the course of the play. Just as the stove conceals the fire in its belly, so too does Hedda conceal within her heart a fantastic, hateful violence. The stove and its fire, then, symbolize destruction—and how domestication can conceal but not contain destruction’s powers. It should also be pointed out that when Hedda destroys Lövborg and Thea’s manuscript, she refers to it as their “child.” The image Ibsen is evoking here is that of child sacrifice, specifically the ancient pagan practice of making children go into a furnace where they would be burned to death in honor of the god Moloch. The peoples who practiced this form of sacrifice must have been despairing indeed, to think that their god was so cruel as to require this act of them—and Hedda, it would seem, is similarly despairing.

Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove Quotes in Hedda Gabler

The Hedda Gabler quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Hedda Gabler published in 2008.
Act 1 Quotes

Hedda: Frightened? Of me?

Mrs. Elvsted: Oh, dreadfully frightened. When we met on the steps you used to pull my hair.

Hedda: No, did I really?

Mrs. Elvsted: Yes, and once you said you were going to burn it off.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Mrs. Thea Elvsted (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Elvsted and Hedda have not seen one another in years. Their romantic histories have been intertwined, however, as Mrs. Elvsted used to be Tesman's sweetheart, and Hedda had an intense friendship with Lovborg, the man that Mrs. Elvsted is currently in love with. Although these connections are largely unspoken at this point, they contextualize the play of power and sexual jealousy in this exchange between the two women.

Here, Mrs. Elvsted is recalling how she was frightened of Hedda when they were younger. Her fear recalls Berte's earlier confession of being "so scared" of her mistress. Hedda inspires fear in the women around her because she exerts power over them, which goes against provincial stereotypes of feminine delicacy and sisterhood. Hedda is, of course, aware of these stereotypes and exploits them for her own gain later in this conversation, gossiping with Mrs. Elvsted in order to gain control over her.

In her lines here, Hedda acts as if she has forgotten that she used to bully Mrs. Elvsted, although we suspect that she has not, and that she takes pleasure in hearing Mrs. Elvsted recount her earlier manipulations and cruelties. The fact that the young Hedda targeted Mrs. Elvsted's hair is telling, as her hair is widely acknowledged as beautiful, and is attractive to men. Hedda's competitive social instincts were on display when she attacked it. 

Finally, Mrs. Elvsted recalls a young Hedda's threat to burn her hair off. This foreshadows the coming moment in the play when Hedda burns Lovborg's cherished manuscript. We see that Hedda has long had an impulse to destroy, often by fire, those things that others love best. 

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Act 3 Quotes

Now I’m burning your child, Thea! With your curly hair! Your child and Ejlert Lövborg’s. I’m burning…burning your child.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg, Mrs. Thea Elvsted
Related Symbols: Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript, Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lovborg leaves, Hedda feeds his manuscript into the fire and murmurs these lines to herself. She addresses her lines to Mrs. Elvsted (and again refers to her famously beautiful hair), revealing the part that jealousy plays in this action. By referring to the manuscript as their child, Hedda confirms Mrs. Elvsted's influence and intimacy with Lovborg. The fact that Mrs. Elvsted influenced Lovborg productively (as Hedda has not been able to) enrages Hedda, and she is compelled to destroy the product of their partnership. 

Her investment in Lovborg's beautiful death also motivates her to burn the manuscript. Without the manuscript, Lovborg has nothing to live for, and Hedda wants to ensure that neither he nor anyone else has a way of discovering it. 

Finally, this moment is one of Hedda's most desperate acts of control. She destroys the manuscript for many reasons, of course, but perhaps the primary reason is a yearning to destroy as a means of control. Since she cannot create anything beautiful, she must content herself with destroying something precious. 

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Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove Symbol Timeline in Hedda Gabler

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove appears in Hedda Gabler. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Power and Influence Theme Icon
...alone. Mrs. Elvsted doesn’t understand. Hedda forces her to sit in an armchair by the stove, while she herself sits on one of the stools. Anxiously Mrs. Elvsted looks at her... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...she was frightened of Hedda, who used to pull her hair, and once threatened to burn it off. (full context)
Act 2
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...Thea is so rich—then she grips Thea in her arms and says, “I think I’ll burn your hair off after all.” (full context)
Act 3
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...3 opens on the Tesmans’ drawing room. It is early the next morning, and the fire in the stove has almost burnt itself out. Thea Elvsted is reclining in an armchair,... (full context)
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
...get drunk and stay out all night. She offers to put more kindling on the fire, but Thea says that this isn’t necessary. Berte exits. (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
...Berte to come. Berte enters, and Hedda instructs her to put more wood on the fire. Before she can do so, Berte hears someone arrive at the front door. Hedda tells... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...manuscript, looks at some of the pages, and then sits down with it by the stove. After a while she opens the stove door and begins feeding pages into the fire.... (full context)
Act 4
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...At this point, Hedda reveals to her husband that she cast the manuscript into the fire. (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...an almost imperceptible smile, Hedda tells her husband that she put the manuscript in the fire for his sake, because he was so envious of Lövborg’s work, and because she didn’t... (full context)