Hedda Gabler

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

General Gabler’s Pistols Symbol Analysis

General Gabler’s Pistols Symbol Icon

Hedda inherited her pistols from her father, the great General Gabler, and her intimacy with them suggests the extent to which Hedda is so much more her father’s daughter than her husband’s wife. In this vein, we might say that the pistols are Hedda’s final material connection to her glorious aristocratic past—a lifestyle which is now unsustainable because of the state of Jörgen’s finances. The pistols mean much more than this to Hedda, however: they are weapons for warfare, and phallic artifacts from a man’s world which is inaccessible to women like Hedda in a patriarchal society. Hedda feels empowered and free when she holds these instruments of power and domination, as when she fires in Judge Brack’s direction when he comes through the garden. Moreover, Hedda herself is a loaded gun, so to speak, in waiting as long as she does to unleash her powers for destruction, and the pistols underscore this characterization. In the end, however, the pistols only empower Hedda in effecting her own self-destruction.

General Gabler’s Pistols Quotes in Hedda Gabler

The Hedda Gabler quotes below all refer to the symbol of General Gabler’s Pistols. 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: Oh, well…I’ve got one thing at least that I can pass the time with.

Tesman: Oh, thank the good Lord for that! And what might that be, Hedda? Eh?

Hedda: My pistols… Jörgen.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Jörgen Tesman
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the first act, we learn from Judge Brack that Tesman will have to compete with Lovborg for the academic position that was promised him. The new uncertainty about his employment, when coupled with their existing debt, leads Tesman to tell Hedda that she will not be immediately able to entertain guests or get the manservant and saddle-horse she wanted. Hedda's sphere of influence and power is getting smaller and smaller. Socializing is one of her primary methods of manipulation and control, and the saddle horse and manservant are objects over which she could have exerted power. Without these things available to her, Hedda says that she has only "one thing" to pass the time.

Tesman is delighted and responds with excitement. He incorrectly assumes that Hedda is speaking about their unborn child and that she is looking forward to being a mother.

In the context of Tesman's hope, Hedda's response is brutal. She has been referring to General Gabler's treasured pistols, not her unborn child. The pistols are symbols of male, phallic power and destruction, as well as of the aristocratic world in which Hedda was raised and now misses. They are the polar opposite of a baby. They take life where a baby brings life. They are power embodied, while a baby is the embodiment of vulnerability. 

Of course, the only thing one can do with pistols is shoot them, which foreshadows the violent ways in which Hedda actually will pass her time. This exchange is made more potent by Hedda's eventual suicide—she will literally pass her time with one of her father's pistols. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Hedda Gabler quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Act 2 Quotes

Hedda: Hullo again, Mr. Brack!

Brack: Good afternoon to you, Mrs. Tesman!

Hedda: I’m going to shoot you sir!

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

The second act opens with Hedda loading her father's pistols before Judge Brack arrives in her garden. This shocking moment between Hedda and Judge Brack reveals how dramatically Hedda can exert her power and influence, as well as how detached she is from the "normal" social norms of the bourgeoisie.

The first two lines are regular and even friendly. Hedda and Brack refer to one another politely, and they are operating well within their established social boundaries. Hedda's next line, "I'm going to shoot you sir!" is then a shocking satire of their earlier greeting. By calling him "sir" as she threatens to shoot him, she mocks their superficial politeness even as she reveals the brutality beneath it. Judge Brack and Hedda spend the length of the play trying to control one another, and it is telling that this darkly comic moment is the first time we have seen them alone with one another onstage.  

This is not an idle threat, either, as Hedda does go on to shoot at (and purposefully miss) Judge Brack. In doing so, she further reveals how detached she is from the society that surrounds her. To joke about shooting at people is scandalous enough—to actually do it is astonishing. Hedda is a loose gunshot in a hushed, provincial world.

Act 3 Quotes

Hedda: And what are you going to do, then?

Lövborg: Nothing. Just put an end to it all. The sooner the better.

Hedda: Ejlert Lövborg…listen to me…. Couldn’t you let it happen… beautifully?

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg (speaker)
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols, Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mrs. Elvsted leaves in tears, Lovborg confesses to Hedda that he has in fact lost the manuscript. Here, Hedda asks him what he will do now, and Lovborg replies that he will "put an end to it" by killing himself. Hedda, whose first plan to influence Lovborg's life has failed, encourages him towards a new path—a beautiful death. She sees suicide as the ultimate sign of control over one's life, and since Lovborg could not control his drinking or the fate of his manuscript, he must make his last action purposeful and beautiful.  

Of course, this is Hedda's last chance to influence Lovborg's destiny, and she knows it. She tells him never to return to the Tesman villa, and gives him one of General Gabler's pistols before he goes, intending for it to be the instrument of his suicide. The pistol, a symbol of control and violence, is an extension of Hedda's influence. It is also a symbol for their youthful time together, where they use to meet in General Gabler's home. For all of its symbolic importance, however, the gift is poorly thought out, as it will directly link Hedda to Lovborg's death when he kills himself with it. 

Act 4 Quotes

Hedda: He was shot in the breast?

Brack: Yes…as I said.

Hedda: Not in the temple?

Brack: In the breast, Mrs. Tesman.

Hedda: Well…the breast is good, too.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Judge Brack and Mrs. Elvsted enter and Brack tells them that Lovborg is in the hospital after a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and is not expected to survive. Hedda's delight at this news is clouded by Brack's information that Lovborg was shot in the breast. 

Here, Hedda confirms that he did not shoot himself in the temple. She is surprised and upset by this fact. The temple, she feels, would be the correct, most beautiful way to commit suicide. Presumably, because it would destroy the brain and be an instantaneous death, whereas the breast would target the more sentimental organ of the heart, and be a slower, more prolonged and less dignified death. Additionally, the fact that he shot himself in the breast undermines Hedda's control over Lovborg, which would have been total had he shot himself where she wanted him to. Brack, for his part, is growing suspicious of Hedda during this exchange.

After a moment, Hedda says nearly inaudibly that "the breast is good, too." The control of suicide itself is the most important part of the beautiful death, and shooting oneself in the breast is still courageous and beautiful, she feels, if slightly less so than the temple. Hedda compromises here by accepting the breast into her plan for Lovborg, and in doing so reveals further how desperate she is to feel that she had control over Lovborg's final, fatal action. 


It’s a liberation to know that an act of spontaneous courage is yet possible in this world. An act that has something of unconditional beauty.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

To everyone's shock, Hedda says that she admires Lovborg's suicide. She describes it as an act of "spontaneous courage." Hedda's disconnect from the society around her is violently clear in this moment. Everyone else considers Lovborg's suicide to be motivated by temporary insanity. Hedda, however, sees it as the clearest sign of sanity and control, marked by "unconditional beauty." She is revealing her fiercely independent nature in this moment, and the people around her are horrified when she takes off her social mask and says what she really thinks.

Hedda is pleased with Lovborg, but also feeling her own absolute power here. If Lovborg achieved a moment of unconditional beauty, of grand tragedy, it was under her guidance. He was led by her influence, and guided by her hand. We see here how desperate Hedda has felt for beauty and tragedy up to this point in her life. Her admiration for Lovborg's act reveals just how petty and ugly everything else in her life has seemed to her. 

Everything I touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda and Judge Brack continue discussing Lovborg's suicide with one another. Hedda is surprisingly open with Brack about how Lovborg's action has impressed her. Brack, however, disabuses Hedda of this beautiful illusion. He reveals to her that Lovborg was actually shot in a brothel trying to retrieve his lost manuscript, and that the pistol went off accidentally. The final revelation is that Lovborg was shot in the stomach, not the breast. 

Here, Hedda's response reveals her horror and disgust at Brack's news about Lovborg. Lovborg's actions were far from being heroic or courageous. Instead of the beautiful suicide Hedda imagined for him, Lovborg died accidentally, scrambling with prostitutes, from a shot to the gut. Nothing could be more ugly. If one's temple is the most tragic and beautiful place to shoot oneself, then the stomach is the most disgusting, banal, and sordid.

Hedda has led Lovborg to a grimy, farcical death. In this line, she suggests that what has happened to Lovborg is symptomatic—"everything" she touches rots and becomes ugly. For a woman who wants nothing more than for her touch, her influence, to inspire tragedy, beauty, and courage, this is the most horrifying realization possible. She feels now that there is no chance for her to create or influence something beautiful in the world (as Mrs. Elvsted managed to do with Lovborg's manuscript). Hedda has lost her hope of controlling others or creating beauty, and with it she has lost her primary motivation to live. 

Hedda: And so I am in your power, Mr. Brack. From now on I am at your mercy.

Brack: Dearest Hedda…believe me…I shall not abuse the position.

Hedda: In your power, all the same. Subject to your will and your demands. No longer free! No! That’s a thought that I’ll never endure! Never.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack (speaker)
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

General Gabler's pistol links Hedda to Lovborg's death. If it is discovered that the pistol was hers, she will be forced to testify in court that he either stole it, or that she gave it to him. In either case, it will be a terrible scandal. Judge Brack says, however, that no one need know that the pistol was hers—that he will not tell anyone. 

Here, Hedda sees at what cost Brack's silence will come. She will have to subordinate her will to his. He has been attempting to gain control over her for the length of the play, and now, finally, he has found a way to trap her. Brack's falsely benevolent response that he will "not abuse the position" is disgusting to Hedda. It is a reminder that the position is his to abuse or not—he has complete control over her.

Hedda responds accordingly. The situation is unlivable. She cannot endure even the "thought" of being controlled by another person, much less the act of being in their power. This is the deciding moment for Hedda. She can either go along with Brack, and be "no longer free," or she can make a last free choice—to kill herself. Hedda's will is much stronger than that of Lovborg's, and her death will be as beautiful and courageous, as she can make it. She then excuses herself and shoots herself in the temple. Rather than spend a moment under the thumb of another human being, Hedda exercises her last, spectacular display of power. The question for us, then, is whether to view this suicide as Hedda intended—a beautiful tragedy—or as the cliched ending to a farcical attempt at manipulation and creation—or as both.

Get the entire Hedda Gabler LitChart as a printable PDF.
Hedda gabler.pdf.medium

General Gabler’s Pistols Symbol Timeline in Hedda Gabler

The timeline below shows where the symbol General Gabler’s Pistols appears in Hedda Gabler. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...woman might be—but Thea only knows that the woman threatened to shoot Ejlert with a pistol when they parted. She thinks it must be a red-haired singer here in town (later... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Provincialism and Patriarchy Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
...one thing to pass the time with. Tesman ecstatically asks what it is. General Gabler’s pistols, Hedda responds coldly, and exits. Tesman rushes to the doorway and, shouting, begs her not... (full context)
Act 2
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
...dressed to receive visitors, stands alone in the room by the glass door, loading a pistol. (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
...approaching the Tesmans’ villa from the back, through the garden. She greets him, raises her pistol, takes aim, and playfully announces that she is going to shoot him. Judge Brack shouts... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...become a reality. Lövborg reminds her that she threatened to shoot him with her father’s pistols then—she didn’t do so only because she was afraid of a scandal. “You’re a coward,”... (full context)
Act 3
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...around through the back way. Hedda reminds him that she conducts target practice with her pistols in the back, but Brack retorts, laughing, that nobody would shoot their own tame rooster.... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...come back—but before he does, she has a memento for him: one of General Gabler’s pistols. She tells him to use it, beautifully. Lövborg thanks her and exits. (full context)
Act 4
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...into something…farcical,” she says. Brack has one final piece of news: he says that the pistol Lövborg died by must have been stolen. (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...whole pile to the left of the inner room (this object is presumably Hedda’s remaining pistol). Tesman and Thea then sit and resume their work. (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
Hedda and Judge Brack whisperingly resume their conversation about the pistol that Lövborg died by. Brack knows the pistol to be one of Hedda’s, which means... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
No one will know who owns the pistol, Judge Brack goes on to say, if he himself holds his tongue. Hedda understands at... (full context)
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
...then heard from the inner room. Everyone jumps to their feet—Hedda is playing with those pistols again, says Tesman. He pulls the curtain aside and runs in, followed by Thea. They... (full context)