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
Power and Influence Quotes in Hedda Gabler
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.
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.
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.
Hedda: Hullo again, Mr. Brack!
Brack: Good afternoon to you, Mrs. Tesman!
Hedda: I’m going to shoot you sir!
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.
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.
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?
Now I’m burning your child, Thea! With your curly hair! Your child and Ejlert Lövborg’s. I’m burning…burning your child.
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.
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.