Hedda Gabler

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Themes and Colors
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Provincialism and Patriarchy Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hedda Gabler, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Power and Influence Theme Icon

Every character in Hedda Gabler seeks power and influence of some kind. As one critic describes it, the play “is most convincingly read as the record of a series of personal campaigns for control and domination: over oneself, over others, and over one’s world.” Most of the power struggles are petty: Jörgen Tesman wants to know more than anyone else about medieval domestic crafts, of all things, so that he might gain the professional and social power that would come with a prestigious professorship. Judge Brack wants a hold over Hedda, his verbal sparring partner, presumably so that he can have sexual access to her (Hedda, for her part, cannot endure the idea of being “subject to [his] will and [his] demands”). More grandly, Ejlert Lövborg wants to intellectually control the world by seeing into its future, even though, ironically enough, he can’t control himself when under the influence of alcohol. Mrs. Elvsted, for her part, comes to the “terrible town” where the Tesmans live so that she can exert a counter-influence over Lövborg and save him from his self-destructiveness.

While most of the characters in the play want power and influence for practical reasons, Hedda seeks to control and dominate others on a whim—seemingly she wants only to alleviate the excruciating boredom of her life, and so makes others suffer for no better reason than because she can. As Ibsen wrote in one of his notebooks, “The demonic thing about Hedda is that she wants to exert influence over another person.” She has an insatiable will and burns to accumulate things, but finds no satisfaction in what she has. As such, she has exhausted her wishes—but her will itself still requires exercise, and she exercises it precisely by hurting others, which lessens her own suffering and pleases her as an expression of her power. Performing power, then, becomes an end in itself for Hedda, from insisting that her maid Berte refer to Tesman not as mister but as doctor, to something so monstrous as encouraging Lövborg to suicide. In this sense, Hedda is the most extreme example of her society’s lust for power. Whereas her father, General Gabler, led men to death on the battlefield, Hedda leads men to death from the comfort of her drawing room.

Power and Influence ThemeTracker

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Power and Influence Quotes in Hedda Gabler

Below you will find the important quotes in Hedda Gabler related to the theme of Power and Influence.
Act 1 Quotes

Berte: I’m really so scared I’ll never give satisfaction to the young mistress.

Miss Tesman: Oh, Heavens…just to begin with of course there might be this and that…

Berte: Because she’s ever so particular.

Related Characters: Miss Juliane Tesman (Aunt Julle) (speaker), Berte (speaker), Hedda Gabler
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Tesman and Berte are close friends from Berte's years of service in Miss Tesman's house, which came to an end recently when Miss Tesman sent Berte to work in her nephew Jorgen's house. They are discussing Hedda, Jorgen's new wife (and therefore Berte's new mistress), in a spare moment while Hedda is sleeping. Their voices are hushed. The scene has a sense of secrecy and haste, implying Hedda's power and ability to intimidate others even when she is not present. Additionally, Hedda's power and influence are felt in the portrait of her father, General Gabler, which looks out over the scene. 

The quote also suggests the various concerns and motivations of the characters. Both Berte and Miss Tesman are invested in the happiness of Jorgen Tesman, which means maintaining the domestic sphere in a way that will please Hedda. But the fact that Hedda is "ever so particular" suggests a few things. First, Hedda has higher standards than both Tesman and his Aunt Julle, both of whom are more provincial in their tastes. But Berte's fearfulness and dismay also gives a hint of something that will become more evident as the play continues: the fact that Hedda despises the domestic sphere entirely, and that Hedda's capriciousness—her being "ever so particular"—is in fact a way for her to wield power over other people. Meanwhile, the fact that Hedda wields such domestic power over her servants while under the dead gaze of her general father's portrait also emphasizes the way that women are marginalized in this society. Hedda wields power, but she is nonetheless stuck in the domestic sphere she hates. She will never be a general.


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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. 

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. 

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.

Brack: But my dearest lady, how could you do such a thing! To that harmless old soul!

Hedda: Oh, you know how it is…these things just suddenly come over me. And then I can’t resist them. Oh, I don’t know myself how to explain it.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda and Judge Brack have been speaking privately, and Hedda has told Brack that she was bored on her honeymoon and that she is not in love with Tesman. Brack propositions Hedda to begin an affair with him, but she turns him down, feeling that an affair would be sordid, unbeautiful, and limiting.

Here, she has just confessed that she mocked Miss Tesman's hat on purpose in Act One, and Brack is admonishing her for it. In this exchange, we see the tension between modern society and the individual, with Brack on the side of society, and Hedda expressing herself in radically individual terms. 

Brack's surprise is dependent on social norms—Miss Tesman is "harmless" and "old," and therefore cruelty towards her is unwarranted. For Hedda, however, these considerations are not important. She is capriciously cruel and decided to hurt Miss Tesman simply because the opportunity presented itself. 

In her lines, Hedda reveals her lack of motivation for the act. "These things just suddenly come over" her, she says. Hedda is desperately stifled by her life and the people surrounding her, and because of this, she takes every chance of exercising power, regardless of how petty or arbitrary it may be.  

For once in my life I want to feel that I control a human destiny.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda says this to Mrs. Elvsted after Lovborg has left the villa to join Brack and Tesman at the bachelor party. Originally, Lovborg had not been planning to go to the party, because he didn't want to be tempted by alcohol. However, Hedda induces him to drink some alcoholic punch by breaking Mrs. Elvsted's confidence and revealing that Mrs. Elvsted had been nervous about whether Lovborg would drink or not. Mrs. Elvsted's lack of faith in him shocks and upsets Lovborg, and he leaves for the party in defiance. 

Alone with Hedda, Mrs. Elvsted accuses her of having ulterior motives for manipulating Lovborg into going to the party. Hedda admits that's she right—Hedda does want to "control a human destiny"—Lovborg's. This line is Hedda at her most clear and revealing. She wants power and influence over others above all else. She wants to orchestrate a beautiful and courageous act. The act she has in mind at this point is Lovborg's mastery of his own spirit in the face of great temptation (which will reflect her own mastery over him), but the particulars are not as important to her as the essence of beauty, courage, and manipulation. 

It is also interesting that Hedda must look outside herself for a human destiny to control, which suggests that she feels she cannot control her own destiny in a way that would be rewarding. 

Act 3 Quotes

Hedda: You’re quite a formidable person…when it comes to the point.

Brack: You think so?

Hedda: Yes, I’m beginning to think so, now. And I’m content…so long as you don’t have any sort of hold over me.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

Judge Brack has been telling Hedda the details of Lovborg's drinking spree the night before. In addition to drinking too much, Lovborg went to a brothel, started a fight, and was arrested. Hedda asks why Brack has been tracking Lovborg's movements so closely, and Brack responds that he wanted to ensure that Lovborg will not be invited to the Tesman villa again. He wants to the be the only other man in Hedda's life, and he will fight for the privilege.

Hedda and Judge Brack are the characters in the play with the most visible desire to exercise power and influence over other people, and in these lines we see them grappling with one another, trying to assert dominance.

In her lines, Hedda says that Brack is "formidable," and in this moment she realizes that he will not be satisfied until he has exercised his power over her by compelling her to have an affair with him. Brack is not a worthy opponent for Hedda, as the very way in which he wants to break social norms—an extramarital affair—is common and sordid to Hedda. Hedda responds defensively by reminding him that he doesn't have power over her, and that she could never live with herself if he did.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.