Hedda Gabler: Summary, Characters, Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson details the Henrik Ibsen play Hedda Gabler, and includes a summary, character description and analysis. After reading, take the quiz to see what you have learned.

The Original Mean Girl, Circa 19th Century

Everyone remembers the one girl from high school or college you didn't want to cross. She was beautiful and maybe rich, and she used that to her advantage to manipulate everyone around her. Think of that girl when reading Henrik Ibsen's 1891 play, Hedda Gabler. This example of realism examines in detail domestic life gone awry.

Characters in Hedda Gabler

The play's titular character is an entitled diva with a hint of mental instability who utilizes her beauty and wits to ensure her desires. Hedda is bored by her new life as a wife, and potentially a mother. She is the daughter of a general, and she likes to play with pistols. She also has expensive tastes. As the play progresses, it is obvious that Hedda will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Hedda is newly married to Jurgen Tesman, a weak willed academic who is below her socially, and attends to Hedda tirelessly. He wants to become a professor at the University, but faces competition in this, and with Hedda from Ejlert Lovborg.

Ejlert is Hedda's former paramour. He has spent the last couple of years writing a manuscript that is his masterpiece, tutoring, and recovering from alcoholism. He created the work with Thea Elvsted, the wife of the man whose children Ejlert tutored. She is also weak willed, and finds her value and meaning in men; first in the husband she married after being the governess to his children, and in Ejlert and his work. Thea knows Hedda from school, and remembers her as being a bully.

Judge Brock is a family friend of Hedda's, and is flirty and inappropriate with her. Like all the men in the play, Brock is enchanted by Hedda's beauty and wit, and wants to have a relationship with her.

Aunt Julie is Jurgen's aunt, and has given him large amounts of money to be able to afford the house that he thought Hedda wanted. Berte, the servant, is afraid that she will not be able to please the exacting Hedda. She has good reason to feel that way.

A portrait of Henrik Ibsen
A portrait of Henrik Ibsen

What's My Name Again? A Summary of Hedda Gabler

Act One

When the play opens in the Tesmans' living room, Hedda and Jurgen have just returned from an expensive six-month honeymoon. Aunt Julie and Berte are waiting on them in the large house that Jurgen bought for Hedda with Aunt Julie's help. Hedda is immediately rude to both Berte and Aunt Julie, castigating the former for opening the window, and insulting the latter's special hat. Jurgen begins to hint that Hedda might be pregnant, and she dismisses all mention of it.

After Aunt Julie leaves, Jurgen asks Hedda to be nicer to her, but Hedda is dismissive of Jurgen's talk. Afterwards, Thea comes to call, talking about Ejlert, and his brilliant work. Thea is afraid that Eljert may begin drinking again, and is looking for him in secret. After she leaves, Judge Brock comes to gossip with the Tesmans, and he also talks about Ejlert. Brock throws in the information that Ejlert and Jurgen may be competing for the same university position. This makes Jurgen nervous, and he tells Hedda that they may have to spend less money.

Act Two

Brock comes back to talk with Hedda in private and is somewhat flirty with her. Hedda flirts back with Brock, and says disparaging things about Jurgen, his finances, and their honeymoon. When Jurgen comes back into the room, Brock begins to talk about the bachelor's party he is hosting that evening. Ejlert arrives, and is manipulated by Hedda into going to the party with Jurgen and Brock, despite his resolve not to drink. We learn in this scene that Hedda and Ejlert once were involved, and that Ejlert is not over it.

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