Women representation in literary texts seems to vary in different ways. Some female characters appear as “commodities” of men’s urges and desires, victims of marginalized oppression, and even as the “uneducated and regressive members of society”. This is not always the case. Through the progress and modernization of literature, women characters break away from these stereotypical representations as they become the powerful and resonating forces in different novels, stories and plays. Some female characters possess the characteristics of being manipulative, scheming, superior, and elite among many others. Even though we, as readers, have our own temporary notions of women representation, it is hard to isolate our own biases on them. Truly, women representations in the field of literature are ambiguous that makes us wonder if these circumstances mirror real life. The plays Hedda Gabler and Harlem Duet present two different faces of women representation but constitute the same governing body that moves within society.
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This paper will discuss the representations of women in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and in Sears’ Harlem Duet. Through textual evidence and additional personal inputs, the paper will portray different aspects of representation among the female characters of these timeless classics. In what way are the characters of Hedda Gabler the same or different from the characters of Harlem Duet? Are they portrayed in the traditional way or do they deviate from social norms and uphold independence? Do they also personify and uphold women empowerment? If yes, how do they personify it and how does it affect the outcome of the story and their relationships toward the integral main characters? Do they create a venue where social stereotypes are upheld or are they victims themselves? These are some of the questions that could possibly shed light on how women are represented in both stories. This paper aims not to create personal biases but to serve as a venue to disclose characteristics inherent to the female characters. The paper will center more on how Billie and Hedda are represented rather than the other characters but, as we go along the way, we will realize the importance of the other sub-characters on how their women representations play a role in general.
Hedda Gabler portrays a visage of a woman’s pursuit for selfish control. We see that a woman is not just an “object” used to please men’s desires but they are independent beings as well. At the same time, a woman must not abuse her independence for it can create unnecessary consequences that are uncalled for. Ibsen creates a powerful character, though unnoticeable at first, portrayed as an elite member of upper-class society. Hedda Tesman is a shallow, sophisticated and hard to please woman with no self-objective in mind. She exclaims how “dreadfully boring” (Ibsen 250) her life is, her references to her marriage as she “longed for some third person so many times on that trip,” (Ibsen 252), her lack of activity and isolation around the house (Ibsen 249), and her endless thoughts of hatred and indifference towards others such as Elvsted (Ibsen 237) and Lovborg (Ibsen 288). She has a heart of selfish desire and an inherent manipulative personality. Her personality clearly shows that she does not belong to a marginalized society. She chooses to affiliate herself with her “circle” (Ibsen 250) rather than starting a married life with Tesman. This shows that she is not a victim of oppression and discrimination. In fact, she is the reason why the “spice” of chaos is implicitly occurring in the story. In the early parts of Act Four, she becomes an instrument in Elvsted’s hallucinations regarding Lovborg’s unsteadiness. Furthermore, in the closing scenes of Act Three, Hedda is the driving force behind Lovborg’s crucial attempt to suicide. Hedda is represented as an empowered woman but in the wrong ways and means. She empowers herself to stand out and recognize her own independence and freedom but she uses it to put people down. She goes from having much respect due to her reputable social class to being a cynical, absent-minded, and deranged woman as she intentionally ends her life (Ibsen 303).
On the other hand, Harlem Duet portrays a visage of a woman’s pursuit for justice. We see that a woman can escape from her “objectified” state and be and be a tool to express personal opinions. At the same time, a woman’s principle-centered opinion can lead to unexpected circumstances of disillusionment just as in the case of Billie and her mixed emotions toward Othello. The element of racial stereotypes plays an integral role on how women are represented in this specific play. Billie is smart, open and a vocal advocate of justice equipped with thoughts and ideas to defend herself. She is passionate in her race and color and a dignified member in her small Harlem community. Though an educated and motivated person, these credentials do not bear any advantage on her part. She personifies woman empowerment intellectually, but not socially (Sears 56). This can be seen in the play when she expresses her personal thoughts and opinions about Othello’s denouncement of her roots (Sears 73). Othello exclaims his sense of belonging to the White community that made Billie furious at him. For her, the root of her anger is not because Othello left her for Mona but because he trashes and spits the foundation of his self-being (Sears 53). Billie is an empowered woman but her objective in mind seems to take a wrong approach. During this era where Blacks continue to fight for justice and equality, she speaks out and expresses herself on behalf of the millions who continually live by the words and dreams of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. She goes from a woman fighting for high respect and equality to a woman who seeks to achiever her goals through drastic measures (Sears 102)
Both stories may look different on the surface but what underlies in all the innate drama and tension is their impact on society. In modern society nowadays, there are possibly a million more “Billies” and “Heddas” who continually struggle to be an empowered individual in society. Most people may have the best of intentions but take a wrong turn (just like Billie), but there is surely quite a number of people who aristocratically desire to be represented in society in order to make a name for themselves (just like Hedda). In both plays, Hedda and Billie are represented not as “mere social beings” but idealistic characters who are influential through their thoughts and actions. The main characters of both plays may be “masked” differently but they both belong in the same body as people “wanting to make a difference”. The interplay of values and ideas of both Hedda and Billie constitute not just a “woman” but a “WOMAN” represented to be social beings with an objective and purpose, no matter if it is good or bad.
Thus, women representations in literature are essentially important in order to realize the circumstances that the female characters undertake. No matter what “mask” someone wears, eventually it will wear off as he/she goes through life’s struggles, hardships and difficulties. It is through showing the real face do we get to know a person’s real impact in society.
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