english literature

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Feminism in the works of Medea

In the Scandinavian play Hedda Gabbler by Henrik Ibsen and the Greek Tragedy Medea by Euripides, the two protagonists have an independent-mind on not following the common standards imposed by society regarding the rights of women. Even though Medea took place in ancient Greece and Hedda Gabbler in Norway in the 1900’s and did not share the same setting, society’s treatment of women was very similar. At that time it was surprising to see women rejecting their role and being stronger than their male counterparts. The two characters are used to illustrate that stereotypes and sexist ideas add to society’s treatment and perception of women.

Feminism changed a lot of things for women in modern society, bringing more equality between genders. In the past, women would not provoke anything about not following society’s view on how they should be, therefore they were afraid to be dishonored and offended for being an “inappropriate woman”. In these two stories we can see the liberation of feminist women who are ahead in time by showing us courage, intelligence and power. However, in Hedda Gabbler and Medea the female characters astound the readers due to their unpredictability regarding women’s right at that time. This is the beginning of evolution for women’s right, which with time started gaining the right to vote, receive more equal wages compared to men, right to start a divorce procedure, freedom of speech, right to attend universities, safe abortion, within many others. Hedda and Medea are characters that show the initiative for the will of equality between genders.

Ibsen emphasizes the story with Hedda Gabler although she might portray the story as a perverted woman. Ibsen illuminates her character as an example of the depraved society, who would sacrifice for her own self, and freedom. In those times women had almost no freedom; they were limited to remain in their homes and would not be able to handle the outside world away from the family. In the book Hedda Gabler wants independence but she has no measures of being responsible of herself. At this point Hedda can be compared as being a new version of Medea since Hedda urged for independence but was not able to have it, so she conveys her anger by ruining her attempts for fulfillment. She turns out to be very negative as we can see she wipes out what she does not accept. She refuted her pregnancy, teared down Thea’s life-work, burned Lovborg’s book, spoiled the manuscript he considered to be his child, and committed suicide, are all examples that show her desire for life. Since Hedda has such deception regarding the desire for life that she is not emotionally able to relate with others. Hedda does not carry a role like most of 19th century women; she is neither a maid like George’s aunt nor housekeeper like Mrs. Elvsted. As a product of the nineteenth century, when women were destined to become either respectable old maids like George's aunts or humble housekeepers like Mrs. Elvsted, Hedda is an anomaly. Instead of preparing his daughter for wifehood or motherhood, General Gabler, Hedda’s father, taught her to ride and shoot, skills of the military, which became her roots for the attraction to violence and romance. She has somewhat masculine qualities and are seen as a contrast in the play. Hedda told Tesman she had found something to pass time with, and it came out to be pistols. This quote is Tesman’s reaction. “No, for the love of God, my darling Hedda…don’t touch those dangerous contraptions! For my sake, Hedda! Eh?” A pistol portrays masculinity, and she thinks it’s fun to have a pistol in her hand, while male characters are scared to see her with it. This is how the author shows the ambition Hedda has on power and on controlling people, and this concluded Hedda’s analysis to compare it to Medea.

Medea ignores the feminist stereotypes that were present in Greek Society, for the sake of her desire. She doubts and challenges that women are weak and inert, goes against Jason’s sexist beliefs, and ignores the role of being a mother, all of this for questioning women’s inequalities in a patriarchal society, meaning, government ruled by men, and household controlled by men or the eldest. Women in those times were to be at home with parents until someone chose a husband for her to marry. Once the woman was taken to her husband’s home, she had to carry out the children’s education and behavior. Medea is infuriated by Jason’s betrayal and marriage to another woman. And as she portrays inequality in women at those times, she questions what role and position should woman have in a patriarchal society. We can see at the beginning of the story when she posses some questions. “Are we women not the wretchedness? We scratch and save a dowry to buy a man…Our lives depends on how his lordship feels. For better for worse we can’t divorce him. On the other side “husband tired of domesticity, Goes out sees friends and enjoys himself…” These two quotes clearly demonstrate the injustice between genders, and the importance it had especially on women. It’s like comparing women to slaves and men to the freedom the slaves want.

Women seem to be pathetic and submissive in the Greek society in Medea’s point of view. It makes her question about and eventually act on what she does not seek for her desire. For example she wants revenge on Jason and she wants to take over the affair. This kind of behavior once again points out to be masculine. Still she is not as strong as a man and is she is not able to acquire the same position. So she opts by using a man’s willpower, so she says. "I’ll kill the children…” “…when all Jason’s hopes…” “…are gone I’ll leave this land". This reaction is extreme, she puts her children’s life at the same level as having control over the situation. By showing her determination it makes it clear that it is another way of provoking feminist ideals and roles. “This course must run. No weakness. No…memories”. This quote from Medea apparently seems she has really given up on motherhood modals rather than her independence. Medea’s feminist aim says she has to seek for her independence and desire and since she is very strong willed she follows what she has to do. An example is when Medea kills her kids. The fate Medea has is so intense it appears to be she has no control over actions. She portrays to be the opposite of submissive and week woman in Greek society.

Medea is seen as an important character of feminism, although she disrespected society. She talks about “nurturing” and “mothering” children that still now a day’s people argue and complain about. On the other hand, Hedda Gabler, talks about issues that were more common in those times. Either story we can see the rejection their role in society and appearing to be stronger than their male counterparts. Even though today, men resemble to be more powerful and controllable than women, but it is only perceived like this because women still seem to be submitted being weaker just like in Medea and Hedda Gabler’s time. Regarding freedom and rights, women are almost, not to say exactly the same as men’s.


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