Hedda Gabler

By Henrik Ibsen


Welcome to the fascinating world of Hedda Gabler, a classic play by the renowned Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen 📚✨. First published in 1890, this work is a brilliant exploration of society, power, and the struggle for freedom within the confines of societal expectations. Henrik Ibsen, often referred to as “the father of realism,” was a pioneer in bringing to light the complexities of human emotions and societal pressures through his plays. Hedda Gabler falls into the genre of realistic drama, a genre Ibsen mastered, shaping the course of modern theater.

Set in the late 19th century, Hedda Gabler delves into the life of its titular character, a woman trapped in a world where her desires and ambitions are constantly thwarted by the societal norms of the time. The play is a sharp critique of the societal norms and roles imposed on individuals, particularly women, and their internal and external conflicts in seeking identity and fulfillment. Through Ibsen’s intricate character development and plot construction, Hedda Gabler remains a powerful and relevant work of literature that continues to resonate with audiences today. So, let’s dive into the intriguing and complex world Ibsen has painted for us in Hedda Gabler! 🎭👀

Plot Summary

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen unfolds through a tightly constructed plot that navigates through the complexities of social conventions, personal freedom, and the pursuit of power within the domestic sphere. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Exposition — The play opens with Hedda Gabler and her husband, Jørgen Tesman, returning from a six-month honeymoon. Tesman, an academic, is hopeful about securing a professorship, while Hedda is discontent with her marriage and the prospect of her future life.

Rising Action — The arrival of Eilert Løvborg, a former lover of Hedda’s and Tesman’s academic rival, introduces tension. Løvborg has written a new manuscript that is considered revolutionary, further complicating Tesman’s chances for the professorship. Hedda, bored and manipulative, begins to meddle in the lives of those around her, particularly influencing Løvborg’s actions.

Climax — The climax occurs when Hedda, in a manipulative move, gives Løvborg a pistol and suggests he use it to take his life “beautifully.” Her action sets off a series of events that lead to Løvborg’s accidental death, which deviates from Hedda’s intended “beautiful” suicide.

Falling Action — Following Løvborg’s death, Judge Brack, who holds power over Hedda through his knowledge of her giving Løvborg the pistol, attempts to use this information to control her. Hedda realizes that her actions have trapped her in a situation far worse than the boredom she sought to escape.

Resolution — In the final act, unable to face the loss of her personal freedom and under the threat of social scandal and blackmail by Judge Brack, Hedda takes her own life. Her suicide is a final act of defiance against the societal constraints that have caged her.

Throughout the play, Ibsen masterfully weaves themes of power, social expectations, and the quest for identity, culminating in a poignant exploration of the human condition. Hedda Gabler’s journey from disillusionment to her ultimate tragic end showcases Ibsen’s critical take on society and the roles it imposes, especially on women.

Character Analysis

In Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen presents a cast of complex characters, each contributing to the thematic fabric of the play. Here’s an in-depth look at the main characters:

  • Hedda Gabler — Hedda is an enigmatic and complex character, often considered one of the great dramatic roles in theatre. Married to Jørgen Tesman, she is a woman of high social standing, intelligence, and beauty, but she is fundamentally dissatisfied with her life. Hedda’s motivations stem from her desire for freedom and power, which she finds lacking in her constrained social role. Throughout the play, her actions reveal a mix of manipulation, cruelty, courage, and desperation.
  • Jørgen Tesman — Tesman is Hedda’s husband, an academic whose life revolves around his research and the hope of securing a university professorship. He is kind, considerate, but somewhat oblivious to Hedda’s complexities and needs. Tesman’s primary motivation is his career and pleasing Hedda, though he often fails to understand her true desires.
  • Eilert Løvborg — Løvborg is Tesman’s academic rival and Hedda’s former lover. A brilliant but troubled man, he has written a groundbreaking work that threatens Tesman’s career prospects. Løvborg seeks redemption and a new life but falls victim to his weaknesses and Hedda’s manipulations.
  • Thea Elvsted — Thea is a gentle, caring woman who leaves her husband to follow and support Løvborg, with whom she shares a deep, intellectual connection. Her character contrasts with Hedda’s, showcasing themes of sacrifice, loyalty, and the nurturing of talent.
  • Judge Brack — Brack is a friend of the Tesman family and represents the societal constraints and moral corruption Hedda despises. He seeks to control Hedda, using his knowledge of her involvement in Løvborg’s death as leverage. Brack’s character embodies the patriarchal society that Ibsen critiques.

Here’s a summary table of their character analysis:

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsDevelopment
Hedda GablerIntelligent, manipulative, discontentDesire for freedom and powerMoves from manipulation to despair, ending in her suicide
Jørgen TesmanKind, oblivious, dedicatedCareer success, pleasing HeddaRemains largely static, focused on academic ambitions
Eilert LøvborgBrilliant, troubled, passionateRedemption, intellectual achievementFalls from grace due to his weaknesses and external manipulations
Thea ElvstedGentle, loyal, nurturingSupporting Løvborg, seeking independenceGrows in strength, showing resilience and independence
Judge BrackCunning, corrupt, controllingGaining power over HeddaExerts control, revealing the oppressive societal structures

Ibsen’s characters are not merely individuals; they are representations of the societal dynamics and themes he explores. Their interactions, desires, and conflicts drive the narrative forward, providing a rich tapestry for analysis.

Themes and Symbols

Hedda Gabler is a play rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and the complexities of its characters. Here’s an exploration of the major themes and symbols present in the play:


  • Freedom and Confinement — Hedda’s struggle against the societal and personal confines she finds herself in is central to the play. Her desire for freedom and control over her own life contrasts sharply with the realities of her situation, leading to her tragic end.
  • Manipulation and Control — The theme of manipulation is evident in Hedda’s interactions with other characters, particularly Eilert Løvborg and Judge Brack. The power dynamics within these relationships reflect the broader societal manipulations and the struggle for autonomy.
  • Social Expectations and Identity — Ibsen explores the conflict between societal expectations and personal identity through Hedda and other characters. Hedda’s refusal to conform to the expected role of a wife and her inability to forge her own identity underscore the play’s critique of societal norms.
  • The Illusion of Idealism — The contrast between idealism and reality is portrayed through the characters’ aspirations and the harsh truths they face. Løvborg’s manuscript, representing idealism and intellectual freedom, is lost, symbolizing the destruction of ideals in the face of societal constraints.


  • Hedda’s Pistols — The pistols, a gift from her father, symbolize Hedda’s desire for power and control, as well as her connection to a past where she felt more autonomous. They are also instruments of destruction, both for herself and others.
  • Løvborg’s Manuscript — The manuscript represents hope, innovation, and the possibility of change. Its destruction by Hedda symbolizes the suppression of new ideas by societal norms and personal vendettas.
  • The Portrait of General Gabler — Hanging prominently in the Tesman home, the portrait represents Hedda’s heritage and the expectations placed upon her. It symbolizes the pressure of legacy and societal expectations.
  • Thea’s Hair — Often admired and touched by other characters, Thea’s hair symbolizes her femininity, purity, and the influence she has on Løvborg and his work. It contrasts with Hedda’s manipulation and destructive tendencies.

Ibsen masterfully weaves these themes and symbols throughout Hedda Gabler, creating a complex narrative that critiques societal norms and explores the human condition. The play remains a powerful study of the choices individuals make within the constraints imposed upon them and the consequences of those choices.

Style and Tone

Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is distinguished by its writing style and tone, which play crucial roles in conveying the themes and emotional depth of the play. Let’s delve into these aspects:

Writing Style

  • Realism — Ibsen is renowned for his contributions to Realism in theater, and Hedda Gabler is a prime example. His writing meticulously portrays the societal and psychological complexities of the late 19th century, focusing on character development and realistic dialogue.
  • Economy of Language — Ibsen’s dialogue is precise and impactful. Every word serves a purpose, whether advancing the plot, deepening character understanding, or enhancing thematic resonance. This conciseness adds to the intensity and depth of the narrative.
  • Symbolism — While Ibsen’s style is grounded in realism, he skillfully incorporates symbols (like Hedda’s pistols and Løvborg’s manuscript) to add layers of meaning. These symbols enrich the narrative, offering insights into characters and themes without explicit exposition.


  • Psychological Intensity — The tone of Hedda Gabler is marked by an undercurrent of psychological tension. Ibsen delves deep into the psyche of his characters, particularly Hedda, exposing their desires, fears, and motivations. The tone fluctuates between moments of quiet desperation and intense confrontations, mirroring Hedda’s internal turmoil.
  • Societal Critique — There’s a critical, sometimes cynical, tone toward society and its constraints. Ibsen uses the interactions and fates of his characters to critique societal norms, especially regarding gender roles and the pursuit of personal freedom.
  • Tragic Undertones — From the outset, the play is imbued with a sense of impending tragedy. The tone reflects the inevitability of Hedda’s downfall, shaped by her own actions and societal pressures. This tragic tone underscores the play’s exploration of fate, freedom, and the human condition.

Ibsen’s style and tone in Hedda Gabler are integral to its impact, making it a timeless piece that resonates with audiences through its exploration of universal themes. His meticulous craftsmanship in dialogue and character development, coupled with a nuanced tone that captures the complexities of life and society, makes the play a masterpiece of literature.

Literary Devices used in Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler employs a range of literary devices that enhance its narrative depth, character complexity, and thematic richness. Here are the top 10 devices Ibsen uses masterfully:

  1. Foreshadowing — Ibsen subtly hints at future events, particularly Hedda’s tragic end, through dialogue and symbols, creating a sense of inevitability and tension.
  2. Symbolism — Objects and actions in the play, such as Hedda’s pistols and Løvborg’s manuscript, serve as symbols that deepen the thematic layers and highlight the characters’ inner conflicts and desires.
  3. Irony — There are instances of dramatic irony where the audience is aware of the true motivations or outcomes of actions that the characters are blind to, enhancing the tragic dimensions of the play.
  4. Characterization — Through detailed and nuanced dialogue, Ibsen reveals the complexities of his characters, allowing their personalities, desires, and fears to unfold naturally over the course of the play.
  5. Conflict — The internal and external conflicts faced by characters, especially Hedda, drive the narrative forward and underscore the play’s thematic concerns with freedom, identity, and societal pressures.
  6. Motif — Recurring motifs, such as references to beauty and control, weave through the dialogue and actions, reinforcing key themes and character dynamics.
  7. Allusion — Ibsen includes allusions to classical literature and mythology, enriching the text’s layers and drawing parallels between his characters and historical or mythical figures.
  8. Imagery — Descriptive language, though used sparingly in Ibsen’s realistic style, evokes strong visual images that underscore the play’s mood and themes, particularly in the depiction of settings and symbols.
  9. Dialogue — The play’s dialogue is not only a vehicle for character development but also a complex literary device that Ibsen uses to reveal hidden motives, build tension, and advance the plot.
  10. Pathos — Ibsen generates a deep sense of pathos, or emotional appeal, particularly in relation to Hedda’s plight and Løvborg’s downfall, engaging the audience’s sympathies and moral judgments.

Each of these literary devices contributes to the rich tapestry of Hedda Gabler, making it a profound study of human nature, societal constraints, and the search for meaning within prescribed roles.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler to see how they function within the play.


  1. Example: Hedda’s fascination with her father’s pistols.
  • Explanation: This early mention hints at the pivotal role these pistols will play in the climax and resolution, foretelling the tragic outcomes.
  1. Example: Hedda’s comments on beauty and death.
  • Explanation: These remarks foreshadow both Eilert Løvborg’s death and her own, suggesting a desire for control over the manner of one’s death.
  1. Example: Thea’s worry about Løvborg’s well-being when he goes to Brack’s party.
  • Explanation: This concern anticipates the pivotal events that lead to Løvborg’s downfall, emphasizing the play’s exploration of fate and character flaws.


  1. Example: Hedda’s pistols.
  • Explanation: They symbolize Hedda’s desire for control and her connection to a past where she felt more powerful, highlighting her current feelings of entrapment.
  1. Example: Løvborg’s manuscript.
  • Explanation: Represents intellectual and creative freedom, its destruction by Hedda symbolizing the demise of ideals under societal and personal pressures.
  1. Example: The portrait of General Gabler.
  • Explanation: Reflects Hedda’s struggle with her identity and the societal expectations placed upon her, rooted in her heritage.


  1. Example: Hedda’s manipulation of Løvborg under the guise of friendship.
  • Explanation: The audience knows her true intentions, creating dramatic irony and heightening the tragedy of Løvborg’s fall.
  1. Example: Tesman’s obliviousness to Hedda’s discontent.
  • Explanation: The irony of his misunderstanding adds depth to their relationship and underscores the themes of communication and isolation.
  1. Example: Hedda’s death by her own hand.
  • Explanation: It’s ironic that Hedda, who seeks to control others’ fates, ends up trapped by her actions, leading to her suicide.


  1. Example: Hedda’s interactions with others.
  • Explanation: Through her manipulative, bored, yet occasionally vulnerable behavior, Ibsen develops Hedda as a complex character torn between societal expectations and her desires.
  1. Example: The contrast between Hedda and Thea.
  • Explanation: Their differing personalities, motivations, and actions offer insight into their characters and the play’s thematic concerns.
  1. Example: Løvborg’s relapse into alcoholism.
  • Explanation: This event, spurred by Hedda’s manipulation, reveals his weaknesses and the societal pressures he faces, deepening his characterization.

These examples showcase how Henrik Ibsen skillfully uses literary devices to enhance the thematic complexity and emotional depth of Hedda Gabler, making it a rich and enduring piece of literature.

Hedda Gabler – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of Hedda Gabler?
A: The main theme of Hedda Gabler is the struggle for freedom within societal constraints, particularly focusing on individual desires versus social expectations. The play explores this through Hedda’s character, her manipulation of those around her, and her ultimate desire for control over her own life.

Q: Who is the protagonist in Hedda Gabler?
A: Hedda Gabler herself is the protagonist of the play. Her complex character, motivations, and actions drive the plot and thematic exploration.

Q: What is the significance of Hedda’s pistols?
A: Hedda’s pistols symbolize her desire for control and power, as well as her link to a past where she felt more autonomous. They also foreshadow the tragic events that unfold, including her own suicide.

Q: How does Henrik Ibsen use symbolism in Hedda Gabler?
A: Ibsen uses symbolism to enrich the narrative and deepen the thematic content. Examples include Hedda’s pistols, Løvborg’s manuscript, and the portrait of General Gabler. These symbols reflect themes of power, freedom, creativity, and societal expectations.

Q: What literary movement is Hedda Gabler associated with?
A: Hedda Gabler is associated with Realism, a literary movement that focuses on depicting everyday life and society with truth and accuracy. Ibsen’s play reflects this through its detailed character study, societal critique, and focus on psychological realism.

Q: Can Hedda Gabler be seen as a feminist play?
A: While not explicitly feminist, Hedda Gabler can be interpreted through a feminist lens due to its exploration of gender roles, female autonomy, and the societal constraints placed on women. Hedda’s struggle for freedom and identity resonates with feminist themes.

Q: What role does Judge Brack play in Hedda Gabler?
A: Judge Brack serves as an antagonist, representing the societal pressures and moral corruption Hedda despises. He attempts to manipulate and control Hedda, ultimately contributing to her feeling of entrapment.

Q: Why does Hedda Gabler end in tragedy?
A: The tragedy of Hedda Gabler stems from the protagonist’s internal and external conflicts. Hedda’s desire for freedom and control clashes with the societal expectations and limitations placed upon her, leading to her ultimate act of defiance—her suicide.


What motivates Hedda’s actions throughout the play?Her desire for social standingHer desire for freedom and controlHer love for TesmanHer ambition to be a writer
Which symbol in the play represents hope and intellectual freedom?The portrait of General GablerHedda’s pistolsLøvborg’s manuscriptThea’s hair
How does Hedda view her marriage to Tesman?As a fulfilling partnershipAs a temporary arrangementAs a trap and source of boredomAs a means to gain wealth
What ultimately leads to Hedda’s demise?Her betrayal by TheaHer manipulation of events and people around herLøvborg’s rejectionBrack’s indifference
What does the portrait of General Gabler symbolize?Hedda’s future ambitionsHedda’s struggle with her identity and societal expectationsTesman’s admiration for HeddaThea’s envy of Hedda
Why does Hedda give Løvborg one of her pistols?She fears for her own safetyShe manipulates him into considering suicideShe wants to scare TesmanShe believes in Løvborg’s innocence
What is Judge Brack’s role in the play?The moral compassThe comic reliefThe manipulative antagonistHedda’s confidant
How does the play explore themes of freedom and confinement?Through the setting of the Tesman homeThrough Hedda’s desires and actions against societal normsVia the academic rivalry between Tesman and LøvborgThrough the celebration of marriage

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of the book Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, focusing on its characters, themes, and significant symbols.


In this exercise, you’ll analyze a paragraph from Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen to identify the literary devices used. Read the paragraph carefully and then list the devices you find, explaining how they are used in the context.

Paragraph to Analyze:
“In the drawing-room, the curtains are drawn across the large glass door, and the autumn leaves are faintly visible outside. Hedda, alone, walks to the door, her movements slow and deliberate. She pauses, a silhouette against the dim light, contemplating the pistol in her hand. The air is heavy with expectation, as if the room itself holds its breath, waiting for what comes next.”

Your task:
Identify the literary devices in the paragraph and explain their use.


  1. Imagery — Descriptive language that evokes sensory perceptions, particularly visual. The details about the drawing-room, the autumn leaves, and Hedda’s movements paint a vivid picture for the reader, setting a mood of contemplation and tension.
  2. Symbolism — The pistol in Hedda’s hand symbolizes her desire for control and her contemplation of power over life and death, reflecting the play’s themes of freedom and confinement.
  3. Personification — The room is described as holding its breath, attributing human qualities to an inanimate object. This enhances the atmosphere of suspense and anticipation for the reader, personifying the space around Hedda as a participant in the scene.
  4. Foreshadowing — The heavy air and anticipation set a tone that something significant is about to happen, hinting at future events. This device prepares the reader for the impactful decisions and actions that will follow.

This exercise encourages you to delve deeper into Ibsen’s text, appreciating the complexity of his writing and the subtlety of his literary techniques.