Hedda Gabler Manipulation

1727 words (7 pages) Essay in English Literature

12/07/17 English Literature Reference this

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August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, bring out the same themes but with completely different motives. The dominating theme of manipulation is brought out by the characterization and the speech and dialogue of the important characters. Along with the underlying motive of power, in the former it’s observed for class revenge while in the latter for perverse pleasure out of sheer boredom. The speech, dialogue and stage directions perceived through the course of these plays reiterate this theme of manipulation.

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Ambition, power, and the thirst to avenge his fate, leads Jean to tamper with Miss Julie. But a mere valet, he dreams of luxuries beyond his reach. With dreams of “climb up, climb up to the top, and look around over the bright landscape where the sun is shining…” [1] , he fulfils his ambition by making Julie his “first branch” [2] . He ensnares Julie in the trap of flattery, lust, guilt, dominance, hatred and obedience by his actions, therefore taking advantage of her confused state of mind especially at a time where she dreamed of climbing down the pillar.

Miss Julie, influenced by her childhood, her personality, and her broken engagement makes her an easy prey to Jean’s scheming. Her vulnerability becomes greater by the absence of her father, the fact that she in that time of the month, the aphrodisiacs present in the form of dancing, flowers and supported by the festive atmosphere of Midsummer’s night. Jean takes advantage of her by his carefully planned flattery, exaggerated politeness and hesitation, manners and charm which makes her lower her defences to an inferior person. Her submission to his tactics is suggested by “[MISS JULIE exists rapidly stage right. JEAN quickly after her]” [3] 

Hedda Gabler on the other hand opens on a note of decline, not only as portrayed by the “autumn foliage” [4] but also by her matrimony with Jorgen Tesman. She faces disaster by becoming Hedda Tesman, as her spare time leads her into a state of constant boredom that transforms everyone present around her into her puppets for her sadistic pleasure derived from demeaning them. This can be observed when she says “something happened with Miss Tesman this morning. She put her hat down there on the chair… And I pretended I thought it was the servant’s.” [5] 

Hedda’s sense of manipulation is also expressed by her desire for power. Like Jean, she desires control of the people around her by faking friendship and lending a sympathetic ear to them. Her motives are observed with Thea Elvsted where Mrs. Elvsted confesses in her “my husband had no idea I was coming.” when she is lured into it by Hedda’s persuasion and charm. This is further reiterated by Lovborg’s confession in Act 2 when he says “I used to make [confessions] – telling you things about myself that no one else knew.” [6] These confessions bring her closer to her desire and make her even more wretched. She also portrays the ability to hide her emotions rather well, thus strengthening her facade.

Jean continues to lure Julie with a heart rendering tale of his childhood, when he used to secretly admire her and had also decided to die when he couldn’t have her but his cruel fate saved him. He goes to the extent of kissing her feet on her demand though his bold advances are halted by her despite her leading him on. In this sado-masochistic relationship of lust, a constant swing of power is seen and the differentiation between the master and servant becomes very vague and is only observed by the reference to money. Jean here changes colours like chameleon and becomes harsh and dominating from when he tells her “Fall down to me, and I’ll lift you up again.” [7] 

Ejlert Lovborg always has had to make a choice between courage and cowardice, drinking and not drinking, scholarly fame and disrespect. He even compares Hedda and Thea by their effect on him – Hedda persuaded him away while Thea motivated and inspired him. This distinction can be supported by their outward appearances too. Hedda looked well bred with an even complexion and steel gray eyes with thin light brown hair, while contrasting to her stood Thea with a slight slender figure, large light blue eyes and fair hair, exceptionally thick. Despite Hedda’s manipulative nature, her fear of scandals prevents her from doing what she wished. She however fulfils her ambition of controlling ‘someone’ by manipulating Lovborg, leading him back to alcohol and making him break Thea’s trust.

Jean’s character portrays it all: from humbleness and obedience to domination and wrath and back to his position as the valet, when it dawns upon him that she is penniless. Despite his wrath, when he says “Have you ever seen a girl of my class offer herself like that? I’ve only seen the like among animals and prostitutes” [8] , Julie holds her ground and spills out her ‘intimate secrets’. She puts light on her childhood, on her mother and her ideas of the role reversals on the basis of gender and the tragedy faced by the family by the case of arson, thus indirectly characterising herself. Jean continues to dominate her and exhibits his wrath by the cold blooded annexation of her siskin and becomes a valet again at the arrival of the count. Gone is his domination and arrogance, leaving behind a suppressed and punctured servant obeying his master’s command.

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Hedda, married to Tesman and interested in Lovborg, she dominates them both for personal pleasure. Like a faithful companion, Tesman feels “I think it’s so jolly waiting on you, Hedda.” [9] In contrast to this, Lovborg defies Hedda on her offer of punch. This appeals to Hedda more than being waited upon. Lovborg’s drunk and outcast nature makes Hedda feel connected to a world denied to her because of her class and gender. She thus takes a perverse pleasure in luring him back to the path he walked on before becoming “reformed”. She subtly starts taking charge of his life by doubting his intention of living a “clean life”. She does so from the point of view of Judge Brack when she says, “The contemptuous smile of his when you were afraid to go in there with them” [10] . She then unravels Thea’s doubt in his character to remain free of the dirty path, breaking his confidence as a reformed man and thus taking him back to his old life.

Hedda uses her control over Lovborg’s life and lures towards his death. She sees Lovborg as her romantic hero who shall face a death with an “element of beauty in this.” [11] She lays out the path for him by manipulating him. She initially brings out Thea’s distrust, leading him to the bottle again and then gaining a grip on him by getting hold of his manuscript. She then leads him into callously treating Thea by persuading the topic of the lost manuscript despite his wishes. Swayed by this, his lie to Thea about the manuscript and confession in Hedda puts her at an upper hand. Having burnt his manuscript, she subtly leads him to her dream of a beautiful death by handing him a pistol, she was sure would be used. Tesman on the other hand adores Hedda so much that he rejoices at the loss of the manuscript mistaking her intentions for it. He’s presented as a puppet in her hands, present there to hold up her name in society without any passion or desire.

In contrast to this, the constant role reversal which takes places between the two main characters in Miss Julie bring out their personalities by the way they communicate. This brings out the differing shades of their characters. Miss Julie’s aspiration of descend is complemented by Jean’s ascend. The distinction between the master and the servant is seen by a very fine line here which is constantly put under pressure. This distinction can only be made on the basis of their class. Their actions reveal their class differences. For instance Julie prefers beer while Jean the finest wine, and Julie leads Jean out. This ambiguity of the power remains till the end, as on one hand Jean does obey the count’s orders but on the other hand Julie obeys him and leaves with a blade.

In Hedda Gabler, Thea’s courage to stand up to what she believed in, her deep passion and love for Lovborg and her control over him, is seen as a source of constant irritation to Hedda and is brought out her jealousy and is reinforced by her statement: “That girl with the tiresome hair, that she was always showing off.” [12] Thea’s feminity along with the fact that she had taken away the one thing that Hedda loved the most – Lovborg, causes Hedda to manipulate them both.

Underlying motives of power, through perverse pleasure and out of ambition leads to the decline of the characters portrayed in both these books as has been observed by their speech and dialogue and stage directions.

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