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Symbolic Objects And Characters Of Hedda Gabler English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1482 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The two great playwrights of the 19th century, August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen played a significant role in the fruition of modern day naturalism/ realism. Both the playwrights were opponents so much so that Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen as a comeback to Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Even though both plays finish with the suicide of the principal character, the conditions because of which they take place are poles apart.

The unchanged setting of “Hedda Gabler,” is symbolic of the household cage into which Hedda, as a woman and wife, had been limited to.

The struggle of Hedda as a obedient wife and affectionate mother can be made clear by her manly childhood and the physically powerful father figure that dictates her unconscious being even though there is no mention of him by her even once.

The pistols, which her father gives her, are symbols of masculine supremacy and antagonism, giving Hedda immense power, so much so that she uses it to harm people around her in the self-centred desire to make some sense of her life. They fear in Judge Brack when he initially visits Hedda, his nasty intentions signified by his using the back way. More significantly they are the tool through which Hedda can be in command of another “human being’s fate,” Lovborg’s. Paradoxically the pistol also leads to her downfall when Brack uses it to bring her under his control.

disturbed by Lovborg’s accidental death, her world of illusion is completely shattered and she reached out to the ultimate vision wherein she perpetrates an act, which she consider s brave, is that of shooting herself through the temple with the pistol for it was essential for her to achieve freedom .

The easy chair representing the throne, the seat of power is possessed by Hedda who sits in it, suggesting that she is powerful though in the domestic sphere. In her realtion with Tesman she is stronger for he is at her beck and call like a faithful appreciative husband –

“It’s so jolly waiting on you, Hedda.” [1] 

Moreover, when Brack first comes to call in Act 1, her behaviour

“[lying back and reaching out her hand]” [2] 

seem to suggest her majestic air.

One can see a shift in power as the play develops further when Brack’s later visits, Hedda she is again sitting on the chair but Brack through calculating means seizes the throne and gains control over Hedda. Overthrown and feeble Hedda is motivated to commit suicide.

The stove, being symbol of damage, a feature related to Hedda , comes to the forefront in the scene where Hedda selfishly burns the manuscript in the stove .The reader is left thinking that Hedda destroys Lovborg’s.

“vision of the future,” [3] 

His hope of spiritual salvation and realization of his ideals. The ruthless murder of a child is unpardonable despite the independence of her bringing everything under control which leads her to commit such a crime.

Such a portrayal of a woman, her monstrous desires and her somewhat complicated psychological state cannot be effectively developed without these symbols.

Miss Julie appears like a power game controlled by Jean and Julie, in which the male without doubt wins. Strindberg describes the character of Julie as a ‘half-woman’- for she is unaware of her position in society and makes every attempt to overpower a male.

Belonging to an aristocratic family, she is socially superior to Jean who was her father’s servant. Right from the onset of the play .She tries to assert positively in her social status over Jean .It is through the animal imagery in Miss Julie that a glimpse is given of the society which believes in the lack of equality among people belonging to different social statures. At the same time it is also reflective of those belonging to the lower strata always vying to succeed and become a person of a higher status.

It is through the description given by Jean to Kristen that we are made aware as to the treatment meted out to ex-fiancé by miss Julie before the break-up.

“Why, she was making him jump over her riding whip the way you teach a dog to jump.” [4] 

A dogs unflinching loyalty is what makes it a man’s best friend . it is this comparison of the treating ones ex-fiancé as someone would do to a dog shows Miss Julies constrain to be the governing one or the master. Strindberg again reinforces Miss Julies pride in the superiority of her social status when Miss Julie says,

“dog who wears my collar” [5] 

to Jean equating their relationship to be that of a master and his dog.

However the turning point occurs when later in the play Julie expresses her desires to be dominated break and that gives a platform to Jean to rise.

Both the pairs share with each other a dream which is almost prophetic. Julie in her dream perceives herself at the top, but and is unable to come down and she truly wishes to be on the ground. She reveals that she would “Want to sink lower, lower.” [6] when she would reach the ground.

At the same time, Jean dreams of the image when he is resting in harmony with nature and his desire to be up in the air and be able to see the view. However the only difficulty being that the first branch is too far above the ground, but he says “I know if I can only reach it, I could shin up the rest like a ladder” [7] .

By “First branch” Jean is of course hinting at Miss Julie. He sees Julie as a way of gaining his position into a higher social class. The dreams turn into reality, as Julie longs to be subjugated.

By the last part of the play, Jean has complete control over Julie and this relates to the dream he has had before which was corresponding with Miss Julie dream. The progression from a lackey to wine drinker parallels the progression in his life and heightens the power which is new to him. Furthermore the power that he has achieved is brought out by an event in the play when he has mental control over Julie to such an extent that she tries to convince him into having a physical relationship with her.

“Help me. Give me orders; I’ll obey like a dog. One last service: Save my name, my honour. You know what I want to do, and can’t. Make me, will me to do it, order me.” [8] .

This phrase reveals the opposition of the power which miss Julie had in the beginning but now it has been passed on to jean. Julie wants to save the respect of her name by slaughtering herself, but Julie is indecisive. She is forcibly made to realise that she is lower to Jean, which is a straight outcome of the author’s own attitude. Again the power which Jean has achieved had been augmented as Julie expresses her need for him to allow her to kill herself and it is to the level that she is grateful to him for having allowed her.

Strindberg’s Miss Julie is a straight demonstration of his own idea. It exhibits the spectacular rise of Jean, a servant, and its parallel effects on “Her Ladyship” Miss Julie, a powerful lady in terms of her belonging to the higher strata of society, but reduced because of her femininity.

There are clearly implied similarities between Miss Julie and the female protagonist in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Throughout the plays the protagonists, Hedda and Julie have constantly being suffering through many hindrances and oppression. Although the major difference is that Hedda does not allow herself to be manoeuvred by anyone and maintains it till the end with the belief that she is equal to the man. It could also be said that Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler as a reaction to Strindberg’s portrayal of a sex war and hatred towards women in Miss Julie.


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