Hedda Gabler


Henrik Ibsen

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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.
Provincialism and Patriarchy Theme Icon

Despite being well-educated and well-traveled, Hedda Gabler lives in a very small, small-minded world—that is, a provincial world. The streets she rode down as a young woman, accompanied by her father General Gabler, are the same streets she rides down now as a married woman. One of her early admirers, the academic Jörgen Tesman, is now her husband, a man who during the couple’s honeymoon abroad revealingly neglects the cultural riches of Italy in favor of toiling away in libraries. When financial strain curtails Hedda’s social life, her days become monotonous and stale. Consequently, she feels imprisoned: she has “not a single intellectual interest or moral enthusiasm,” as one critic describes it. She spends her long, dull, oppressive days planning to make purchases she and her husband can’t afford and gossiping somewhat deviously with Judge Brack—all the while fantasizing about freedom.

What’s more, Hedda is especially limited in exercising her considerable intelligence and fiery lust for life because she is a woman living in a society dominated by men: a patriarchy. The men in her social circle have war, politics, and wild drinking parties to give scope to their action, thought, and feeling. In contrast, the women in the play mostly care for and serve the men, as Tesman’s Aunt Julle cares for her rather dependent nephew, or as Mrs. Elvsted serves to inspire the self-centered Ejlert Lövborg (revealingly, Mrs. Elvsted thinks her own husband treats her like cheap and useful property). Tesman sees Hedda as a prize and as the mother of his child, while Lövborg sees her as a fascinating maze, and Judge Brack sees her as a charming pet and toy. No one sees Hedda for the great and destructive soul she really is. In response, Hedda attempts to downplay her womanhood—by repressing her pregnancy as best she can, among other things—and to influence and even participate in the sphere of action traditionally dominated by men. She seems to have established her early comradeship with Lövborg, for example, both to subtly challenge her father’s authority and also to live vicariously through her male comrade’s confessions. As Hedda explains, it’s understandable that a young girl should want to find out about a world that is supposed to be forbidden to her. The central symbol for her fascination with this male world, then, is General Gabler’s pistols, the phallic objects of authority and power which Hedda takes delight in brandishing.

While it would be an oversimplification to say that Hedda’s nihilism and cruelty are a product of patriarchal oppression, it is not too much to say that provincialism and patriarchy characterize the social world Hedda wages quiet war against.

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Provincialism and Patriarchy ThemeTracker

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Provincialism and Patriarchy Quotes in Hedda Gabler

Below you will find the important quotes in Hedda Gabler related to the theme of Provincialism and Patriarchy.
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:

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:

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

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:

Hedda: I’ve often thought there’s only one thing in the world I’m any good at.

Brack: And what might that be, may I venture to ask?

Hedda: Boring myself to death.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

I don’t want to look at sickness and death. I must be free of everything that’s ugly.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Related Symbols: Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
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: