Hedda Gabler is one of the most interesting and intricate figures to appear on stage. Her boredom with her mariage and jealousy of her former lover set off a chain of events that result in an untimely death. Oh, but the deceased did "die beautifully"!
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Hedda: Harpy or Harbinger?
Conflicted Courageous Anti-hero
The Awakening by Kate Chopin--Both women, trapped by societal conventions, chose not to succumb to that pressure, nor to follow a moral low road, nor to suffer from financial depredations in order to direct their lives; instead, they both chose death, seeing it as the only honorable fate still within their power to shape their personal fulfillment.
Listening to this play brought it vividly to life on the stage of my mental theater.
Hedda is complicated. She saw herself as being able to direct her own life, her own choices, and was encouraged to do so by a General-father who tutored her in pistolry and made possible her wild abandon-love of horse-riding--two very masculine activities in an age when women were cloistered inside homes and tea rooms. And she drinks--with the men. She longs to hold the power to direct her life with the reigns in her hands: but marriage, a scholarly, emasculated husband; his stifling, conventional, elderly aunt; and the ultimate bit in her teeth, a judge--respected by all, yet morally compromised--who holds her in a kind of mental blackmail--all combine to corner this fiercely independent woman. As a result, she spirals. It's a kind of all-or-nothing mental claustrophobia that pressures her to act on equally reckless, amoral decisions, wreaking havoc in the lives of all around her, and ultimately destroying herself. It's like a Greek tragedy, where Medea goes wild, having had all around her deny her rights to family and children in favor of social order and the state. But here, Hedda's outrage is that she cannot decide for herself.
With 21st century eyes, it's easy to judge Hedda for not choosing a direction for her energies that were easily within her means: an academic life, or a life for social justice--but no intellectual, she desired that outdoor boldness and physicality that she's never allowed to revisit, once she's trapped like a bird inside her new prison-home. We could see her as selfish, self-centered, immoral--and certainly those views are justified. However, she does stand as a harbinger, in the 19th century, for the winds of feminist change about to unleash themselves in the next 100 years; and the assertion here is her undeniable desire to direct her own life, no matter what the moral compass or conventional direction that would be imposed on her.
The fact that she is so amoral and so self-determining seemingly echoes a faint ring of Nietsche's Superman, which was beginning to sound in the consciousness of Europe.
What a strange symbolism is created in this improbable woman. Even in this post-feminist era, we are still haunted by her fury. Her appearance on the European stage must surely have evoked waves of outrage.
She irritated me. For someone so creative, with so many talents and the economic means to channel them, she surely could have solved her own problem. Yet she's like a petulant, spoiled child, stamping her feet, and recklessly kicking all the men and women who surround her until she brings them all down. Vine leaves or no, pursuit of beauty or no-- a lover of self-determination with a powerful will, Hedda represents that uncompromising rage that informs anger, violence, and destruction when there are other decisions and actions that could contribute to a livable solution. There are options where individualism and the good of the whole can live side by side.
- Kate Grayson