Hedda Gabler


Henrik Ibsen

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Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Analysis

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.
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon

Lӧvborg accuses Hedda of fearing scandal because she is a coward, and Hedda concedes that she is. But it is perhaps her marriage to the mediocre Tesman that represents the far greater concession to her cowardice. Hedda chose Tesman for his socioeconomic solidity and respectability, and also because her own “marriageability” was ebbing. She does not love him—she finds the very word “love” to be “glutinous” and “sickening”—nor is she even amused by him. It is with a sense of wry deprivation that she now anticipates being in his company at all times, in all seasons, consoled only by the fact that he stands to attain to the highest social distinction. For Hedda, then, marriage is a wretched compromise one has to make with one’s body and one’s society in order to live respectably and without scandal.

Hedda wants nothing to do with other men—at least sexually—either. Judge Brack repeatedly insinuates that he would like to be more than a trusted friend in the Tesman household, and he obliquely propositions Hedda. The passengers aboard the train of marriage jump out and move about a little, he suggests—meaning that people often and casually indulge in extramarital affairs. “I never jump out,” Hedda responds. Her fidelity to Tesman may be motivated by her aversion to scandal, but it may also be motivated, as many critics have suggested, by sexual frigidity and repression on Hedda’s part. She does tend to disengage from her male companions as soon as their relationship threatens to “develop into something more serious,” in her words, just as she did with Lӧvborg when the two were adolescents. Furthermore, she is ashamed when Tesman announces to Aunt Julle that she, Hedda, is pregnant—and she is perhaps also disgusted that anyone should have a reason to imagine her engaging in intercourse. Ibsen, however, leaves us few clues as to the cause and significance of Hedda’s sexuality. Perhaps she is disturbed by the fact that her destructive spirit is housed in a body capable of sexual reproduction, or perhaps she is merely unable to muster much more than egotism and hatred in relation to others.

While Hedda is evasive of her sexuality, she is readily and openly prone to jealousy. Her social world, after all, is fraught with love triangles: Judge Brack tries to get between Hedda and Tesman, Lӧvborg succeeds in getting between Mrs. Thea Elvsted and her husband, Hedda tries to get between Lӧvborg and Mrs. Elvsted, and so on. Hedda’s jealousy of Mrs. Elvsted, however, is not so much motivated by love as by a lust for power and influence over the fates of others. Indeed, Hedda seems to confuse the products of love and the products of power. For example, she thinks of Lӧvborg’s manuscript about the future as being his child, conceived by his helpmate and muse Mrs. Elvsted—and she burns this manuscript, murmuring as she does so, “Now I’m burning your child, Thea.” If the manuscript is Lӧvborg and Thea Elvsted’s labor of love, which Hedda’s jealousy destroys, Hedda in contrast conceives with Lӧvborg the idea of his courageous, beautiful suicide. It would seem that she is keen to produce only destruction, despite being literally pregnant herself.

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Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy appears in each act of Hedda Gabler. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Quotes in Hedda Gabler

Below you will find the important quotes in Hedda Gabler related to the theme of Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy.
Act 1 Quotes

Tesman: Oh, Auntie…you’ll never stop sacrificing yourself for me!

Miss Tesman: Isn’t it the only joy I have in the world, to help you along your road, my darling boy?

Related Characters: Jörgen Tesman (speaker), Miss Juliane Tesman (Aunt Julle) (speaker)
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Tesman: What are you looking at, Hedda?

Hedda: I’m just looking at the leaves on the trees. They’re so yellowed. And so withered.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Jörgen Tesman (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:
Act 2 Quotes

When I think back to that time, wasn’t there something beautiful, something attractive…something courageous too, it seems to me…about this…this secret intimacy, this companionship that no one even dreamed of.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

I want you to know, Lövborg, what you’ve done to the book…. For the rest of my life it’ll be for me as though you killed a little child.

Related Characters: Mrs. Thea Elvsted (speaker)
Related Symbols: Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Act 4 Quotes

Hedda: Oh, it’ll kill me…it’ll kill me, all this!

Tesman: All what, Hedda? Eh?

Hedda: All this…this farce…Jörgen.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Jörgen Tesman (speaker)
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

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: