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Symbols, Symbolism and Feminism in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

Symbolism and Feminism in Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House painted the picture of a strong and independent woman standing up to an oppressive and dominating society; the lead character, Nora, abandons not only her husband, but her entire family, in an effort to discover herself and become a liberated woman. The play is known for its universal appeal, and the strong blow it dealt to a male-dominated society, by showing not only that a woman could break free from the restraints which society placed upon her, but that men were actually quite powerless in the face of a strong woman; Nora’s husband, Torvald, is left weeping as she leaves him at the close of the play.

The strong feminist themes which were the defining elements of A Doll’s House are equally evident in the play Hedda Gabler, though the latter seems to be lacking the directness, clarity, and strength of the former, in regards to its feminist ideals. Hedda and Thea, the two female leads, posses within them both admirable and detestable female traits, and only in combination with each other can the characters reveal the true feminist message of the play. In order to assist the reader in understanding these concepts, and to illustrate the distinct differences between the two characters, Ibsen uses symbolism. The symbolic nature of hair, Lovborg’s manuscript, and General Gabler’s pistols, often seem to strip Hedda of her feminine characteristics, and emphasize the femininity of Thea.

During the time in which this play was written, and as is very true in modern times, a mark of feminine beauty was long, abundant, flowing hair. Even today, short hair is often considered to be a mark of a more liberated female, and it has been used to charact…

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…ety.” Thesis. Brigham Young U, 1990.

Dyhouse, Carol. “Mothers and Daughters in the Middle-Class Home: c. 1870-1914.” Labor and Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940. Ed. Jane Lewis. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 27-45.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. New York: Dover, 1990.

Lewis, Jane. “Introduction: Reconstructing Women’s Experience of Home and Family.” Labor and Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940. Ed. Jane Lewis. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 1-26.

Lyons, Charles R. Hedda Gabler, Role and World. 1990. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies 62. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Salomé, Lou. Ibsen’s Heroines. Ed. and trans. Siegfried Mandel. Redding Ridge: Black Swan, 1985.

The Cherry Orchard and the Rise of Bolshevism

The Cherry Orchard and the Rise of Bolshevism

Anton Chekhov uses The Cherry Orchard, to openly present the decline of an aristocratic Russian family as a microcosm of the rapid decline of the old Russia at the end of the nineteenth century–but also provides an ominous foreshadowing of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in the disparate ideals of his characters, Trofimov and Lopakhin, however unintentionally. The Gayev family and their plight is intended as a symbolic microcosm of the fall of the aristocracy in society at large. Though the merchant Lopakhin is presented as the character who holds values of the new, post-aristocratic age, the student Trofimov espouses the political sentiments that will ultimately replace both the aristocratic class and the new commercial class. Chekhov’s presenting Lopakhin as a pioneer of the new social order is undermined by the lines and role he gives to Trofimov, and the author discounts the importance of the then-emerging revolutionaries. Yet the play reveals a major reason why Communism ultimately received very little support from the gradual-minded middle class, which lead to a bloody revolution and totalitarian regimes for a good part of a century. It is this insight which provides contemporary critiques of socialist movements with a lesson about human nature — a lesson that serves to show that Communism and other forms of ideological socialism have never been workers’ movements, even if the movements temporally address workers’ political demands.

Chekhov relies on several devices to proclaim to his audience that the changes taking place are not merely personal for the profligate Gayev family, but are part of an inevitable social evolution. Through these devices, Chekh…

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… young revolutionaries who eventually seized Russia. Though the playwright dismisses the importance of these ideas, he offers a contrast of them with those of the bourgeoisie that explains why Russian Communism arrived through a bloody revolution and without middle-class support, and why for over seventy years of this century the world had to live with the results of the revolution.

Works Cited

Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard. 1903. Jacobus 792-815.

—-. Letter to K.S. Stanislavsky. Jacobus 816.

Jacobus, Lee, ed. The Bedford Introduction To Drama. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Levite, Allan. Guilt, Blame, and Politics. San Francisco: Stanyan Press, 1998.

Pritchett, V.S. Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free. New York: Random House, 1988.

Simmons, Ernest J. Chekhov: A Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

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