Symbols in Hedda Gabler
Repeated images and symbols are frequently used in dramas to contribute to the development of the themes. “Hedda Gabler”, a play written by Henrik Ibsen contains many such elements, all of which further the critical analysis of the constraint exerted by a patriarchal, bourgeois society of nineteenth century Norway on a woman who “thirsts for life”.
Repeated images and symbols are frequently used in dramas to contribute to the development of the themes. The repetition of a certain image in the context of the play attaches metaphorical significance to a physical object. “Hedda Gabler,” a play written by Henrik Ibsen contains many such elements, all of which further the critical analysis of the constraint exerted by a patriarchal, bourgeois society of nineteenth century Norway on a woman who “thirsts for life.” The resulting struggle between her inner desires for freedom and her own conformist attitudes has corrupted her perception of the meaning of life.
The setting of “Hedda Gabler,” which remains unchanged through the play, is significant symbolically as it demonstrates the domestic cage into which Hedda, as a woman and wife, had been cast. The dark, sombre colours of the drawing room presents the “monotonous landscape” that constitutes her prison, relieved by a glass door that looks out onto “autumn foliage.” Through the entire play, the audience is visually reminded of the symbolic representation of the spiritual barrenness of the house, which opens out to deteriorating life – “all yellow and withered,” nearing the season of death. This casts ominous overtones on the actions of the characters in this setting.
In addition to this effect is the origins of the house itself, revealed through dialogue that it had once belonged to the late Mr Falk, a cabinet minister. This draws the concept of class stratification into the society of the time and the class-consciousness that is ingrained into every member. That the house “reminds one of the departed” symbolises the decline of the power of the aristocracy in the 1890’s, taken over by the stoical bourgeoisie. Hedda, once a former member of the higher classes, has been forced to marry down into a lower class, which she speaks contemptibly of. She finds her life to be one without purpose besides “boring herself to death” and that middle class morality has effectively eliminated whatever social power she once had as General Gabler’s daughter – in effect, a “lady.”
Her frustration at her powerlessness and dependence on an obtuse scholar is best represented by the repeated image of her “looking out the glass door.” The glass door, in itself, presents only a tenuous, easily breakable barrier between her entrapment and the outside world. She longs for freedom, to catch a “glimpse of a world that one wasn’t allowed to know about” but this transparent barrier confines Hedda. The image of her “walking nervously” across the enclosed, claustrophobic space of the drawing room to look out or “tap nervously” on the glass door stresses that the society in general has imprisoned her due to its restrictive definition of femininity.