Advanced Composition Hedda Gabbler by Ibsen Term Paper

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Women & Hedda

Women's Roles in 19th and 20th Century Literature, and in Contemporary Life

It is my opinion that in the 21st century, though it is still widely believed and expected by many that women will marry and have children, it is no longer assumed (as it was in the 19th century, and even arguably in most of the 20th century) that marriage and motherhood will be women's dominant (or only) sources of fulfillment. Instead, women today are encouraged (and in many cases expected) to have careers (or at least to work) outside the home, often while still tending to their households, being supportive of husbands, and raising families. Women nowadays, however, also have far more choices of what roles to fulfill. Some women still fulfill traditional roles; some fulfill some, but not all, traditional roles, and others fulfill no traditional roles at all. A key difference between women's roles yesterday and today is that today's women are freer to choose their roles, with less stigma attached to unusual or "non-conforming" roles, such as police work, firefighting, or construction work, or not marrying and/or having children. Therefore, there are far fewer guidelines now for women to follow than in the past in choosing to either accept or reject traditional feminine roles; today, more than ever, it is up to the individual woman to decide what sort of life she wishes to live.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Advanced Composition Hedda Gabbler by Ibsen Assignment

Some changes in typical attitudes about women's roles could be attributable to the effects of the Feminist Movement of the 1970's. Others may be mainly economically driven: for example it is much harder today than in the past to live comfortably and raise a family on only one income. Most women who work nowadays do so out of necessity; working outside the home is still not every woman's first choice, but many women (single mothers, for example) have no choice. Therefore working, not staying home raising a family, is the new norm for women of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This is a far different reality than that represented by authors like Henrik Ibsen in Hedda Gabler; Kate Chopin in "A Pair of Silk Stockings" and "The Story of an Hour," and Virginia Woolf in the portion of her a Room of One's Own often subtitled "If Shakespeare Had a Sister" or "Shakespeare's Sister." Today's world, for women, is radically different than any Ibsen's miserable and frustrated Hedda Gabler; Woolf's Judith Shakespeare, or any of Kate Chopin's female characters would have seen. In fact, those characters would likely have felt more at home, less lonely and despairing, and less internally conflicted now than in the worlds created for them back then by their respective authors.

I will examine each of these works vis-a-vis life for women today, and life for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when these three authors created their respective unhappy, angst-ridden female characters.

In Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1890), when the play, set in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, opens, 29-year-old Hedda (by the standards of the time very late to marry) is just returning, with her husband George Tesman, from a long honeymoon. George has busied himself all that time researching a dull-sounding project on the Middle-Ages. Not only is Hedda bored by Tesman's tedious ways and interests; she is newly pregnant, which makes her almost unbearably unhappy. Tesman is proud of Hedda's pregnancy, but Hedda resents it, or even any mention of it: "I am exactly as I was when I started [the honeymoon]" Hedda lies insistently to Tesman's aunt (162), and when Tesman hints a short time later to Judge Brack of Hedda's pregnancy, she tells her husband, "Oh do leave me alone" (172) and changes the subject. Ibsen's portrait of Hedda contrasts sharply with views of that time about women's roles. Typically, 19th century women like Hedda were (supposedly) delighted and fulfilled by marriage and motherhood, sharing their husbands' interests, and encouraging their husbands' careers (while desiring none of their own.). Hedda, however, is not a typical 19th century woman.

She would, in fact, have been more at home in today's world, where women commonly marry in their 30's or later (or not at all), have careers, and choose (or not) to have children. It would have been out of the question in Ibsen's time for Hedda, to have divorced Tesman, aborted their child, or sought her own career. But those choices in combination, had they been available, or even one or two of them, might arguably have prevented Hedda's suicide at the end of the play.

Hedda's lack of feminine interests contrasts with the more conventional ones of her ex-school acquaintance, Thea Elvestead, who visits early on to announce the recent publication of a book by her paramour and (as it turns out) Tesman's career rival Eilert Lovborg. Though Thea's adultery with Lovborg is atypical, her role in his life (of helper of the man and his work) is not.

Hedda, on the other hand, had her own chance for a relationship with Lovborg earlier, but wished (and wishes now) not so much to be with Lovborg, as to be like him - independent and creative, with a meaningful life and work. Instead, Hedda, at the end of the play, married to and pregnant by a man she does not love; blackmailed and trapped by Brack, and despairing of her future, ends her life using one of her father's pistols, i.e., by taking the only medium of typically masculine power readily available to her into her own hands. Brack's words as the play concludes: Good God! -- people don't do such things" (221) underscores the fact that Hedda has at long last escaped all the stultifying and, to her, reprehensible, conventions of her day, but only by rebelling against them with the ultimate violence against herself -- suicide.

In a very brief short story by American author Kate Chopin, "A Pair of Silk Stockings" (1897) Chopin, though Ibsen's contemporary, manages to approximate far more closely than he does in Hedda Gabler, not only what married life might have been like for married women with children of the 1890's, but also what it is still like for many 21st century women, in terms of expectations by, and sacrifices for, others. At the start of "A Pair of Silk Stockings" Mrs. Sommers comes into an unexpected fifteen dollars (today about $150) and thinks at first it should "be added to the price... For Janie's shoes... new shirt waists for the boys... caps for the boys and sailor hats for the girls" (Chopin 1). But then after much initial hesitation, she buys herself a pair of silk stockings (1-2), followed then by fitted gloves (2-3), an elegant lunch out (3) and a theater matinee. At the end of the day, returning home by cable car, Mrs. Sommers, used as she is to putting her family's needs first, and having had such a delightful day indulging herself, wishes she might never have to get off the cable car to go home (4). This story arguably reflects not only married and family life in the 1890's, but also married and family life now; married women with children often put their wants and needs behind those of other family members, yet feel deliciously free (like Mrs. Sommers) on the rare occasions when they do not.

Mrs. Sommers in this story is wistful to return, but unlike Hedda Gabler, she has no clear intentions of killing herself.

Perhaps the saddest account of the lives of women of a bygone age is Virginia Woolf's description of the life and travails of William Shakespeare's imaginary sister, "Judith Shakespeare" within her longer work a Room of One's Own (1928, 1944). Woolf's description of Judith Shakespeare's life does have some lingering parallels (mainly to stubborn social attitudes about women's capabilities) to women's lives today, but fewer than the works discussed of either Ibsen or Kate Chopin. Virginia's main point in describing Shakespeare's imaginary sister is that a woman with talents equal to Shakespeare's, in the time of Shakespeare, would have had no opportunity to express them, thus the absence of books written by or about women during that era. Had Judith Shakespeare somehow escaped her arranged marriage at age 15 or 16 (which would have been unlikely) and run off to seek fame and fortune as her brother William was free to do, Judith would have met with social resistance that made her dream impossible, even though "She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theater." (1381). But when she stood at the stage door and announced that she wanted to act, "Men guffawed in her face" (1381). To survive day-to-day Judith Shakespeare would have needed to find a man to house, feed, clothe, and other wise support her, and/or turn to prostitution for a living. And then, in either case she would face the constant possibility of pregnancy,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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