Human thoughts and perceptions are structured in a unique way through an individual’s pattern of thinking. The supreme way of living is not created through pure reasoning and rational methods, but rather by ideal beliefs. Henrick Ibsen presents the audience with the ultimate act of sacrifice in “Hedda Gabler”. Displaying that no matter how foolish or irrational a person’s ideals are “the supreme test for all human greatness” is defending their ideals to the extent of destructing their lives and in readiness to sacrifice themselves for their ideals. Ibsen displays that integrity is not wisdom, knowledge or attaining power, but it is readiness to die for ones ideals. Through the characters Hedda Gabler, Eilert Lovborg and Mrs.Elvested Ibsen’s play illustrates the role of society in the Victorian era and the social limits it places upon individual’s ideals. “Hedda Gabler” further displays the result of contradicting ideals abandoning the character in conflict with their own mind. Additionally, the play illustrates to a great extent the ultimate act of self-sacrifice each character must make in order to defend their ideals and behold the unobtainable ideal.
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Ibsen’s reflection of the Victorian era in “Hedda Gabler” emphasizes on the social standards imposed upon men and women. The play questions the power dynamics distributed between the two genders, the concept that a woman’s proper role in her marriage is to tend her husband, while the man’s role is to provide for the family and uphold its reputation. Ibsen presents three characters who are victims of this drastic social code and the measures each character has to take in order to structure their ideals around such a strict society. When each characters ideals conflict with the social mores of society the result is often tragic or unsatisfying. For instance, Hedda’s lust for power in the play is a trait not often found in women during the Victorian era. The role of power is reserved for the men in society. However, in order to behold power, Hedda sacrifices her “image” as a woman. She doesn’t display the typical loving housewife role, but rather adopts a manipulating and vicious female character trait. “HEDDA. Indeed. I remember you often spoke of them while we were abroad. TESMANâ€¦Now you shall see them, Hedda! HEDDA. Thanks, I really don’t care about it.” (229 Act I) Hedda’s character doesn’t present the typical affectionate trait a woman would towards her husband; this is because she is so consumed in the thought of attaining power that the rest of her life is oblivious to her. Hedda’s willfulness in her ideal of achieving power results not only in sacrificing her image as a woman, but also sacrificing the lives of others in order to satisfy her inner desire which she cannot do through a career as a woman. Through Hedda’s sacrifices in attaining her ideals, Ibsen portrays the effect it has on her character and others involved in her schemes as it interferes with the stereotypical social conducts of society. Yet Hedda held firmly held on to her ideals until the moment of her death. She never restructures her character to fit the typical Victorian era women; instead, she readapts her environment to better fit her ideals. Similarly, Eilert Lovborg is trapped between sacrificing himself for his ideals along with maintaining the typical responsibilities of a man in the Victorian era. Lovborg sacrifices himself for the thought of “destroying” his reputation as a man by letting down Thea after he loses the manuscript. “HEDDAâ€¦You’re not going to take her home, then, Mr.Lovborg? LOVBORG. I? Through the streets? So people could see that she’s been with me?” (286 Act III) Eilert ultimately believes he has no right to be with Thea because he destroys her life, and can no longer support them; therefore, he sacrifices himself. Eilert death is an element that emphasizes on the social code drastically. He has to sacrifice everything in his life as it interferes with the “roles” of society. As a man it is his responsibility to support and provide for the family and the pressure made him sacrifice himself. After he lost his manuscript he is not able to “fulfill” his responsibilities. Another character who must sacrifice for their ideals due to the social limits placed upon society is Thea. By running away from her husband and two step children she sacrifices her duty as a woman to her husband. “MRS.ELVESTEDâ€¦Oh I couldn’t bear it any longer, Hedda. It was impossible! I would have been so alone their now.” (pg 240 Act I). This is a sacrifice that wouldn’t have to be made if the Victorian era is more flexible. Mrs. Elvested wouldn’t dread about being alone all the time if she were allowed to have a career. Through each character, the drastic measures of protecting and fighting for ones ideals at any cost is illustrated. Furthermore, Ibsen illustrates the obstacles each character must overcome due to social restrictions in society.
Ibsen not only illustrates the tragic results when one’s ideals interfere with society’s stereotypical roles, but also portrays the results when one is in conflict with his or her own ideals. “Hedda Gabler” displays the immensity of settling conflicts between ideals created by the same person. Ibsen accentuates that there are no rational standards between different ideals, but if not driven to its logical conclusion, the result is tragedy; since, reason alone cannot satisfy the conflict. For instance, in the play Hedda’s ideal of attaining power and not being tied down collide with one another. By marrying Tesman she automatically becomes part of a commitment that clashes with her ideal of not being tied down. Hedda states that the reason she marries George in the first place is because she is getting older and no one else had asked. As General Gabler’s daughter, she couldn’t maintain a lifestyle she enjoys. In other words, she sells herself. Hedda attains her power over Lovborg’s life after sacrificing his relationship with Thea, burning his manuscript, and manipulating him to kill himself. Before she can embrace this feeling, she is immediately brought down by judge Brack. Once again she is tied down. Hedda’s supreme ideal of being in power is restricted by Brack which essentially clashes her ideal for freedom and power. Hedda is a woman who can only have her freedom within the walls of her home. Both Hedda’s ideals, which she sacrifices her life and image for, contradict one another in the end. “HEDDA. All the same, I’m in your power. Tied to your will and desire. Not free, then! (Rises angrily). No – I can’t bear the thought of it. Never!”(302 Act IV) Hedda’s ideal of power and freedom can only be achieved through other characters rather than in herself. Therefore, once both ideals clash, reason cannot satisfy her ideals; sacrificing her life to achieve them can. Being trapped between to valued ideals is also displayed through the character Eilert Lovborg, a tortured soul. He begins by sacrificing his friendship with Tesman in order to achieve the ideal of having a good reputation and a successful life; but later on, he loses the manuscript which he sacrifices his friendship for because of his old habits which he had sacrificed for Thea. Eilert’s contradicting behavior between his ideals is emphasized upon from every aspect of the play. He opposes everything he does. Eilert is the obstacle to achieving his own idea. “LOVBORG. Thea’s pure soul was in that book.”(281 Act III) In the end all his ideals conflict with one another and conclude with a tragic result. He leaves the world idealess because he is always shifting. Additionally, Thea is a character who clashes her two most valued ideals. “Mrs.Elvestedâ€¦I just can’t stand him! We haven’t a single thing in common. Nothing at all – he and I.” (236 Act I) Thea sacrifices herself by constantly being considerate of others before her. She wants the see others happy even if she is not fond of them. Despite her boring life with her husband, she spent five years bearing him. But this ideal clashes into sacrificing her marriage to pursue her own happiness with Eilert Lovborg.
Regardless of struggling with society to fulfill ones ideals or perhaps struggling with one’s own mind, Ibsen portrays the final outcome through any obstacle as the ultimate sacrifice. Ibsen displays that the “perfect life” is not a puzzle that can eventually be figured out after an endless series of trials, but its reaching out for the unobtainable ideal and through the ultimate sacrifice. Hedda’s character, despite everything she sacrifices and all the people she sacrifices with her, in the end she is never able to sense the power and freedom she yearns for. She encourages Lovborg to “die beautifully”. She provides him with a pistol and essentially directs him towards suicide. Yet, when he does, it does not satisfy her ideal of a “beautiful death”. Hedda illustrates her readiness for this illusion of dying beautifully throughout her entire life. Eilert mentions this before he takes the pistol from Hedda. Hedda’s character was always ready to sacrifice herself for that unobtainable ideal. “LOVBORG. Beautifully? With vine leaves in my hair, as you use to dream in the old days -HEDDA. No. I don’t believe in vine leaves anymore. But beautifully. All the same. For this once! (288 Act IV) Death being the only thing she can control and have power over must be done “beautifully”. Therefore, Hedda’s ultimate sacrifice is for the ideal of dying beautifully. She left the world “demonstrating” how it must be done. Similarly, Lovborg achieves his unobtainable ideal through death. His character dies as an idealess man in the sense that he contradicts everything he ever works for. His ultimate sacrifice is in the name of being a failure. “LOVBORG. Well, then you can understand that for her and me there’s not future possible anymore” (286 Act IV). Lovborg’s readiness to sacrifice himself after the loss of the manuscript is due to not wanting to live a life where he couldn’t take care of himself or Thea. After the death of Lovborg, Thea is ready to sacrifice her life for as long as she needed to in order to put back together his manuscript. “TESMAN. But just think, if we could help each other – MRS. ELVESTED. Oh yes! At least we could tryâ€¦TESMAN. We can do it! We must! I’ll give my whole life to this.” (297 Act IV) Thea’s ideal of placing others before her is essentially what causes her to recess her life in order to fulfill Eilert’s dream. Her ultimate sacrifice is done in the name of Eilert Lovborg.
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To express ones true and perfect nature is an endless struggle. A person’s perception and creative personality is indescribable and beyond the control of reason to understand. Ibsen portrays this process as the “supreme test of all human greatness”. For an individual to express their absolute true nature regardless of the obstacles they must overcome. In conclusion, “Hedda Gabler” establishes each character through their ultimate self-sacrifice. Whether it’s how to die beautifully, escape a horrific reputation, or place the lives of others before oneself, Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” emphasizes on the fact that regardless of what gender a person is or what time period they live in, belief is something that can’t be shattered with the simplicity of a person’s sex or conflict. Human greatness goes beyond and above the stereotypes of society or simple obstacles.
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