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Oppression in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

Oppression in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

One of the social issues dealt with in Ibsen’s problem plays is the oppression of women by conventions limiting them to a domestic life. In Hedda Gabler the heroine struggles to satisfy her ambitious and independent intellect within the narrow role society allows her. Unable to be creative in the way she desires, Hedda’s passions become destructive both to others and herself.

Raised by a general (Ibsen 1444), Hedda has the character of a leader and is wholly unsuited to the role of “suburban housewife” (1461). Since she is unable to have the authority she craves, she exercises power by manipulating her husband George. She tells Thea, “I want the power to shape a man’s destiny” (1483). Hedda’s unsuitability for her domestic role is also shown by her impatience and evasiveness at any reference to her pregnancy. She confides to Judge Brack, “I’ve no leanings in that direction” (1471). Hedda desires intellectual creativity, not just the procreative power that binds her to a limited social function. But because her only means of exercising power is through a “credulous” husband (1490), Hedda envies Thea’s rich intellectual partnership with Eilert Loevborg (1484), which produces as their creative “child” a bold treatise on the future of society (1473-74, 1494). Hedda’s rivalry with Thea for power over Eilert is a conflict between Hedda’s dominating intellect (symbolized by her pistols) and the traditionally feminine power of beauty and love (symbolized by Thea’s long hair).

Because Hedda lacks Thea’s courage to leave her husband and risk ostracism, she tries to satisfy her intellect within society’s constraints. First she seeks power through wealth and social status, marrying George on the condi…

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…da bows to Thea’s beautiful hair and, after playing a last dance on the piano, admits defeat: “Not free. Still not free! . . . From now on I’ll be quiet” (1506-07).

Hedda’s tragedy is that she is denied the freedom to realize her creative potential, and so have the self-esteem that comes from personal achievement. Her attempt to retain her independence within society prevents her, through fear of scandal, from marrying the man with whom she might have had a relationship both individually satisfying and mutually supportive. In Hedda’s suicide are seen the stifling of intellect and the emotional isolation caused by oppression, even within a commonplace bourgeois family where “People don’t do such things!” (1507).

Work Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Trans. Michael Meyer. Third Edition. New York: Norton, 1981. 1443-1507.

Comparing On the Road and Easy Rider

Parallels in On the Road and Easy Rider

Released more than a decade apart, Kerouac’s On the Road and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider are replete with parallels. Both depict characters whose beliefs are not quite uniform with those of society; in both cases these characters set out in search of “kicks” but become part of something larger along the way. More importantly, these two texts each comment insightfully on the culture of their respective times. But all these similarities become superficial in the face of the inherent differences between the two.

In pre-Beat Generation America, anyone who looked could find a whole society of people who, for the most part, were afraid to do the things they dreamed, unable to break from conformity. Kerouac saw this all around him, and with On the Road, he responds. He presents a tale of those who flee conformity successfully and without any significant negative consequences. Clearly, his audience consists of members of society who remain content with conventional societal norms, who are too squeamish to do what they want. To them he argues that they ought to assert their personal identity rather than be bound by an imposed social one, that they ought to follow their own desires rather than succumb to society’s.

This argument comes in multiple forms; criticisms by Dean are such a form. At one point he cries: “the moment it comes time to act, this paralysis, scared, hysterical, nothing frightens em more than what they want” (Kerouac 215). He also complains: “offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic- stricken” (Kerouac 209). These statements are part of Kerouac’s argument in their critique of society’s fearful attitude toward achieving desires.

Sal reiterates the argument to disregard social identity when he accuses a girl he meets of an “emptiness. . .that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done. . .’What do you want out of life?’ I wanted to take her and wring it out of her” (Kerouac 243).

But Kerouac’s strongest argument of all for individual freedom seems to come from example. In On the Road, Sal and Dean live an amazing adventure together. Sure, they get pulled over a few times, but no real harm comes to them from any of their wild escapades. Apparently they are untouchable.

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