Masculinity In Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler

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In Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen portrays the dangers of conforming to society’s expectations of masculinity through the good fortune and consequence met by his male characters. George Tesman and Eilert Lovborg are two of the main male characters in the play, and both have significant relationships with the title character. Their characterizations, as well as their fates, vary greatly. Neither one of the men fits perfectly into gender stereotypes, and their failings in the eyes of society are what make them analytically intriguing. Usually, George Tesman is the least masculine of the main male characters. He is portrayed as almost pitiful and weak, something a man shouldn’t be according to society in the late 1800s, and he doesn’t realize that …show more content…
This is particularly clear in how others treated Tesman and Lovborg negatively due to their weaknesses. Characters in the play don’t seem to respect Tesman; his wife least of all. Hedda says, to Tesman’s face and in front of his aunt, that she “really [doesn’t] care” about what he has to say, yet Tesman continues to follow her around (Ibsen). Brack, who seems to be his closest friend, holds Tesman’s financials over him and explicitly pursues an affair with his wife. Others treat Tesman this way because they know they can get away with it without having to worry about his retaliation. Ibsen intentionally portrays Tesman in this vulnerable position to introduce a relatively virtuous character that the audience can use to contrast with his more morally ambiguous characters. Similar to her control over Tesman, Hedda engineers Lovborg’s devastation because she wants to and she knows she can. Hedda’s boredom leads her to want to have “her fingers in a man's destiny,” (Ibsen). Lovborg’s inability to control himself makes him a target of Hedda’s influence and his friend Thea’s concern. Apart from Lovborg’s reputation, the most direct victim of Hedda’s manipulation is his manuscript; it is a physical representation of everything that he holds dear. Lovborg refers to it as his and Thea’s “lost child,” and goes on to describe how losing it would hurt Thea more than …show more content…
Ibsen may have immediately introduced Tesman as an unlucky guy, but in a much more intense way it seems Lovborg is doomed from the start. His alcoholism and volatility are central to his character from the beginning. Not long after his first appearance, Hedda fairly easily gets Lovborg to drink again. With masculinity comes hubris, and it was this that Hedda used to manipulate him. It was Thea’s lack of “frank confidence” in him that drove him to relapse out of spite (Ibsen). His traits that most clearly reflected masculinity were those that lead to his downfall. Similarly, Tesman’s pride, although it is more subtle, is likely part of the reason he so readily believed Hedda when she deceived him. Quickly, Tesman transitions from shock that Hedda would burn the manuscript to delight that she “did it for [his] sake,” (Ibsen). Hedda knows that appealing to Tesman’s emotions by implying that she is pregnant and loves him enough to resort to “unlawful appropriation of lost property” is an effective way to get him to disregard his objections to her actions (Ibsen). Frequently, Ibsen shows the more fraudulent characters in the play asserting their dominance over Lovborg and Tesman by identifying and attacking their vulnerabilities as a way to advance their own

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