Tag: society

A Modern, Short Story Re-Write of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (as told from Shylock’s point of view)

Deep in thought over Jessica and her, at least by his standards, poor choices she’s making in her life, weigh heavily upon this father’s mind. Shylock has spent the morning wondering how he, a Jew trying to maintain ground in this Christian society, could have better cultivated a sense of loyalty in her to their heritage and their beliefs. They (for in this society there is a heavy distinction between “they” and “us”) have convinced his daughter that he is a devil – they are the “good” and he is the “bad” – brainwashed her, he is certain. Now, the little bell above the door has sent its light ting! to interrupt his thoughts and bring a momentary distraction from this new heart ache.

Shylock recognizes this perspective customer as he looks up from the paper clip he has been absentmindedly fidgeting with on his desk, and he is by no means in the mood to amuse. Bassanio is the self-serving, self-indulged friend of Shylock’s earthly arch-nemesis, Antonio, which makes him guilty by association if nothing else, and here he is asking the “lowly Jew” for money? This understanding almost brings smirk to Shylock’s worn face.

“Three-thousand dollars…well.” Shylock responds to Bassanio’s request, not asking to clarify, but repeating the requested sum in part to buy time to consider how he’s going to handle this transaction, and in part to reiterate the irony of the request.

“Yes sir, for three months.”
Sir? Shylock replays the word in his mind. It is interesting to him that in time of their need they are willing to offer some semblance of respect by referring to him as “sir”.

“For three months… well.” This repetition for sake of drawing out the irony and buying Shylock time. It defies his greed, his need to survive, if he were to turn down this business opportunity, but it defies his sense of self-worth to accept it.
“Yes,” Bassanio confirms, “Antonio will be responsible for paying it back.”
“Antonio will be responsible…well.” In his mind, Shylock snorts at this. Typical of Bassanio to need something for himself but to make Antonio responsible for it. Ahhh, the irony… the irony… In Shylock’s observation, the Christian idea of friendship being exhibited is far from the example of friendship the founder of their religion gave.

Christianity, which bases its moral code, religious doctrine, and spirituality upon the example and teachings of Jesus has, in Shylock’s experience, betrayed itself multiple times over. He marvels over the superiority the Christians carry regarding themselves, yet their treatment of humanity lacks. Further, he finds it more amusing that Christians base their existence upon the teachings of a Jew, yet they spurn and scorn the Jews among them.       This irony too is not lost on Shylock.

“Will you do it? Do we have a deal?” Bassanio interjects.
Shylock again subtly emphasizes his consideration, “Three-thousand dollars for three months, and Antonio is responsible for paying it back.”

“That’s it.”
“Antonio is a good man.” This statement is not made as a question, nor is it made as a matter-of-fact. This statement is made sarcastically, however subtly, though the sarcasm is entirely lost on Bassanio.

No matter what the Christians of Venice may think of Shylock and the way he conducts business, he cannot, in good conscience, conduct business with an absent man. “Well, I’ll have to meet with Antonio, discuss the parameters of the deal, and make sure he understands the implications and the risks…” This is a dual-purposed decision on Shylock’s part. For one, no business man worth his salt would hold a man responsible who was not present to agree to the bond, and for the second thing, Antonio’s pride could use a shaving or two by being forced to face Shylock head-on, look him in the eye, and request his help.

Ha! A Christian at the mercy of a Jew… Shylock finds the whole thing both amusing, and slightly disconcerting. He would prefer to not enter into the arrangement at all; too much bad blood between the two religious sects, and too much bad blood between the two individuals: the “holier-than-thou” Christian, and the “lowly, wretched” Jew. Shylock shakes his head to clear the thoughts.

“Ahh! Here he is! Shylock, this is Antonio,” as Bassanio formally introduces the two strangers who, in spite of their unacquaintance, have previous, unpleasant interaction with one another.

Glimpsing Antonio in the reflection of the security mirror hanging in the corner of the office, the old, harbored feelings of revenge and resentment, dislike and distrust surface. Shylock is consumed with thoughts of hatred for Antonio.

“Shylock, did you hear me?” Bassanio-the-selfish interrupts Shylock’s thoughts.

“Oh, yeah… I heard you. I was just considering what I have readily available to loan. I’m not sure I have it to lend…” Shylock is wrestling with his conscience. He can very easily stick to this story and get out of the whole deal with his good conscience still intact, but his old feelings of resentment gurgle so close to the surface now and eventually win out as he continues, “But, ya know what? I’ve got a wealthy buddy who can supply the funds. You boys still interested?”

Shylock notices the hesitation in Antonio’s answer as he loudly exhales his breath before answering, “I…” and his “I” lingers on his tongue until it fades from voice. “I don’t usually borrow more than I have, nor do I spend or lend more than I have.” Antonio again hesitates as he looks at his friend, Bassanio. “But, my buddy here needs quite a bit, so…” Antonio exhales again. “But, what the heck, let’s do it.”

Shylock stares at Antonio, surprised by his weakness; how easily he betrays his personal conviction because he continually allows himself to be taken advantage of by his “friends”.

Thinking on this, Shylock’s thoughts make their way to his tongue before he is able to stop it.

“You would betray yourself, and your convictions because a “friend” wants you to?” Shylock shakes his head in disgust. “You would do business with me, a hated adversary, just because a “friend” wants more from you than you can give? And you can’t give it – you don’t have it to give, so you need my help. You come to me, and expect me to help you?! You spit in my face last Wednesday. You have called me a dog, yet you refuse to even treat me as well as you treat the stray dogs on the street! All this and more mistreatment from you, who do not even know me, and yet here you stand and want me to help you?”

Shylock does not break his gaze from Antonio, and it is not lost on Shylock that Antonio has not lost his look of contempt for Shylock.

Proving this contempt, Antonio responds, “Sure I have. I have, and I’ll do it again.”
Shylock, in disbelief, shakes his head. “I would be friends with you. I would be a good friend to you. I would help you out with anything you needed help with; I’d give you the shirt off my back, but you’re too stupid and too stubborn to listen.”

A moment of thick silence passes between the men before Shylock, blood boiling with the flavor of ill-regard and old harbored resentments, speaks again. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do… I’ll lend you the money you want, for the amount of time you want it for. If you do not repay me the money by the agreed upon conditions, I get a pound of your flesh.”

This is a condition of hidden duality; consciously, Shylock assumes there is no way Antonio will take this deal – which will absolve Shylock from any responsibility in the transaction, and will absolve him from having to do business with this stupid, stubborn, arrogant, oppressive Christian; subconsciously, in the rare event that Antonio should accept the deal, a small part of the weaker side of Shylock will be justified when the revenge Antonio deserves is served – cold – which is the best way revenge is served.

To the ill fate of Shylock, and the damnation of Antonio, too proud to gasp for air as he is drowning, Antonio signs on the dotted line.

About this re-write:

I rewrote this scene from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, for one of my Literature classes. I chose this particular scene because Shylock is a character whom scholars are unable to agree upon, nor are they able to come to any concrete conclusions about. Scholars and readers alike do not know how to appropriately classify the character of Shylock, how to analyze his actions and behaviors, nor can they effectively determine an agreement on Shakespeare’s intent with the character of Shylock. Is he good? Is he bad? Are any of the characters in the play able to distinctively be classified as “good” or “bad”?

Author Kenneth Gross, in his book titled Shylock is Shakespeare makes the claim that Shylock “steps into a void and is almost forgotten by the play itself, which continues on for another act” (Gross). Gross goes on then to use this “incompleteness” as support for his understanding as the reason readers and scholars are left continually guessing about Shylock saying, “we can neither quite let him go nor decide what form to give him in our minds” (Gross). As a reader, I am unable to let go of Shylock’s character. Modern readers need clearly defined characters; they need the immediate gratification of knowing whom among the characters to “root for”. Shakespeare does not readily provide his readers with this, so it is up to the reader to decide, making it easy to pin Shylock as the villain. Upon close analysis and ample consideration, this is not necessarily the case of course, unless the reader is using his/her own religious attitudes as bias in their reading.

I used Gross’ book as support that I was, in fact, not alone in Shylock’s lingering presence in my analyses. Further, I used author Janet Adelman’s book, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice, for clarification of the complex relationship between Antonio and Shylock. Adelman purports that the theme of blood is undeniable between the two sects; i.e. The Jews demanded the blood of Jesus; Jesus gave his blood for his followers (Christians); Shylock demands blood from Antonio; Antonio eventually, figuratively, bleeds Shylock dry; not to mention the close “familial” relationship between the two religions in the first place in which, historically, Christianity was born from Judaism.

As a critical reader of literature, and as an analyst of literature, I feel that Shylock deserves a deeper look. There is much to be missed by succumbing to the modern day understanding of a story in which we take it at face value, placing classifications where they easily seem to fit. Shakespeare clearly does not divide his characters in The Merchant of Venice as good or bad, but instead intends the reader to fairly balance, and give a fair fighting chance to all of his characters. It is in this “fair” reading that, perhaps, Shakespeare’s intent can be interpreted.

Works Cited
Adelman, Janet. Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266060&gt;.
Gross, Kenneth. Shylock Is Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266016&gt;.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. ENGL 200: Composition and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Web. 10 Oct 2014.

Spit Wads and Bullets

Thwack! The spit wad squishes in its landing on the Spanish textbook sitting open on my desk. We pause our anticipatory talk of upcoming prom on April 24 – exactly one month to the day. Not at all surprised at this par-for-course behavior of the boys in my sophomore class, I roll my eyes in faux annoyance as I turn to look back over my left shoulder. A group of them, sitting purposely too straight and proper in their chairs, grinning like a herd of Cheshire cats, point at one another in a haphazardly organized effort of deflecting blame. Shaking my head and exhaling a sigh of annoyance, I turn back to the group of girls gathered in the same circle as myself and we resume our chatter.

Thwack! Another spit wad breaks the barrier of our “girl circle,” this time splatting into one of the girl’s shoulder before rolling down the front of her shirt and landing in her lap. Quickly she brushes the slobbery wad of chewed paper off her leg and into the floor. “Grow up,”she seethes at the boys.

“Don’t you talk to Billy Idol that way,” a disguised male voice from the back row quotes a line from Adam Sandler’s new movie, The Wedding Singer.

One of the other girls in our circle growls in response, but again, this is mostly for show. Daily we are annoyed with their antics, but this same idiocy that annoys us also partially endears them to us as fellow classmates and friends.

“Where is Ms. B?” I ask only out of nosiness. Ms. B’s is our second-to-last class of the day, and though time spent dodging spit wads is far more pleasurable than conjugating verbs, half the class period is nearly over.

Pop! One of the boys who had been standing in the doorway on “teacher watch” duty (so as to alert the others when to stop misbehaving) pops one of the girls’ bra straps as he hurries back to his seat. “She’s comin’!” he squeals in a high-pitched, mock voice, purposely trying to heighten the excitement in the room. We all heed his warning then, shuffling our desks back into less than tidy rows.

When Ms. B steps into her classroom, red-rimmed eyes and slumped shoulders evidence of her weariness, we are composed and orderly, no sign that anything amiss has been taking place. I assume that her lack of notice means we’ve been successful in our façade, but as she stands in front of us, head down and very obviously collecting her words, I know it has nothing to do with our successfully hidden shenanigans, and that, instead, she is preoccupied in her thoughts.

We shoot sideways glances to one another, eyebrows raise, shoulders shrug… none of us know what to say or do. After all of our eyes meet each others’ and a silent consensus is reached that none of us know anything, Ms. B lifts her gaze from the worn industrial carpeting and focuses intently on the sheets of student artwork plastered along the back wall of the room. I wonder if she is assessing the plethora of spit wads littering the room.

“Mr. Green got a phone call from a colleague of his in Jonesboro.” Her voice quivers as she references the principal of our school. “We don’t know any details yet, but…” she pauses, again, takes a breath, then begins again. “We don’t know any details yet because it just happened, but… someone took a gun to a school in Jonesboro and… I don’t even want to imagine…” Ms. B voice trails off. She cries, heartbroken. Amongst my peers there are some small gasps, a sniffle, and a couple of classmates squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

Someone sucked all the air out of the room. The tick of the clock on the wall above the chalkboard, the hour hand holding steady at “1,” pushes the minute hand past “27.” How strange time is, to continue on in spite of ourselves. I think about time for a minute; about how, in the very same minutes – seconds, even – while we were dodging spit wads, terrified students at Westside Middle School, just three hours away in distance, were dodging bullets.

I stare intently on the spit wad stuck to the chalk board behind Ms. B’s head, marveling over how mundane the silliness is. I wonder how many mundane spit wads witnessed the horrors that had taken place at that school not even an hour earlier.

We sit in silence; some watch the clock, others close their eyes. We don’t know what any of this means. We know it is sad – the loss of human life is sad – but we cannot fathom it. Our lack of experience has not fully developed our aptitude for empathy yet. Our perspective is skewed; incomplete.

Realization of the implications of what Ms. B has just told us finally dawning, we slowly look around the room at one another, beginning, for the first time, to consider each other in new light – in suspect light?
No. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in places like this.
Thwack! The spit wad that had been trailing a slow descent finally loses its grasp on the chalkboard, and we all startle as it falls, sloppily, in a collection of dust onto the chalk tray.

About this essay:

I was inspired to write the essay, “Spit Wads and Bullets,” by a prompt in a college textbook asking the writer to recall a national event, using his/her senses to re-create this memory. As I’m sure would occur with most people, several national events came to mind, but this one in particular unfolded effortlessly in my mind, begging to be penned. It tells the story of the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting which occurred on March 24, 1998, subtly and indirectly, by employing the parallel of what myself and my classmates were doing at our own school three hours away, in the very same minutes as the tragedy in Jonesboro.

My use of italicized “sound effects” throughout the essay were implemented as a “startle” technique, to prompt a sort of “mental jolt” in the reader. Similarly, my ending is intended to leave the reader with a leaden feeling as the heaviness of the essay begins to sink in.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed in this essay.

Not So Supernatural After All

Thomas Hardy’s short story, “The Withered Arm,” addresses social issues of class conflicts through the parallel he draws between the supernatural and reality. Through this parallel, Hardy suggests that the class structures are inevitably and uncontrollably interconnected. Because of this interconnectedness, each class distinction directly affects the other class distinctions, even if unintentionally. Hardy urges the reader to not only draw these connections between social classes, but also exposes the inner turmoil and stereotypical expectations in the mentality from one class division to the other.

Early in “The Withered Arm” Hardy shows the reader the mental impact class division has on individuals. In Parts 1 & 2, Rhoda Brook continuously inquires about Farmer Lodge’s new wife; inquiries which seem to perpetuate from a jealousy or insecurity based on comparison. Even after her son has told her his impression of the farmer’s new wife, and she has told the boy, “That’s all I want to hear” (Hardy), she again probes the boy about the new wife. It seems to be an unquenchable, instinctual curiosity resulting from the human need for acceptance.

If the reader considers Rhoda Brook as a general representation of a lower class of society, and Farmer Lodge’s new wife as representative of an upper class, then Hardy implies with this example of Rhoda’s inquiries that the natural response, lacking any instigation from one side on the other, is envy. Accompanying these envious feelings are feelings of self-comparison and a longing for what the “other side” has/exhibits. Though Rhoda has done nothing at this point to constitute feelings of less self-worth, and though Farmer Lodge’s new wife has done nothing to imply that she thinks herself better than Rhoda, the very essence of social class division presents these implications and burrows them deep into the minds of individuals.

Once the initial negative mental impact is rooted in the individual psyche, the stigma associated with either/any particular class presents itself. In the characters of “The Withered Arm” Hardy shows the reader this prejudice first in Rhoda’s dream in which she very realistically envisions Gertrude Lodge as an “incubus.” This is an evocative word choice which Hardy uses for Rhoda to view Mrs. Lodge as. By its very definition the terms “evil” and “oppressive” are characteristics often suggested of the higher class division. These characteristics become the expected reality, as Hardy conveys in the line, “…Rhoda Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs. Lodge that realistic as a photograph” (Hardy).

Following Rhoda’s dream sequence the reader is made aware of the manifestation of the dream in the bruise on Mrs. Lodge’s arm. Rhoda, after having decided that Mrs. Lodge is rather personable, states that she has “exercise(d) a malignant power over people against (her) own will.” This is an unfortunate reality that mirrors the unfortunate reality of the power one social class has to inflict “bruising” upon another social class.

Any “bruising” caused by a lower class is often viewed as an evil infliction by a higher class. As Hardy has Mrs. Lodge claiming that her “husband says it is as if some witch, or the devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and blasted the flesh,” this sentiment, though it is supernatural in its implications, coexists with the more realistic animosity that the lower class is a parasite, or something of evil/sinful influence.

Despite any fault Rhoda may have in the eventual affliction of Gertrude’s arm, Hardy proposes that “she could not conscientiously stand in the way of a possible remedy” (Hardy). This is an interesting statement in which Hardy appears to be suggesting that it is not the lower class that restricts progress, as may often be suggested by those of greater means. In his narrative note that, “She had a strange dislike to walking on the side of her companion where hung the afflicted arm” (Hardy), Hardy insinuates, again, that the lower class (as represented by Rhoda) does not enjoy being the heel of the body which makes up society, and rather attempts to move around and outside of this assumption.

In spite of any attempts to maneuver around one another, Hardy plainly tells the reader that, “a curious creeping feeling that the condemned wretch’s destiny was becoming interwoven with her own” (Hardy), again providing a concept that mirrors the true realities of the relationship between varying class structures. By the end of the story, Hardy has shown multiple ways in which the social classes are undeniably interwoven, with neither side able to be independent of the other. Besides the unacknowledged relationship of the boy (lower class) and Farmer Lodge (higher class), in the end, the cure and/or demise for one is only at the sacrificial price of the other. This, obviously then, creates a scenario in which neither side wins.

Ultimately, the story repeatedly circles itself back around to very blatantly urge the reader to notice the similarities in the relationship between all social classes, as well the mental anguish the impact of class division has on the individual. In the beginning of “The Withered Arm” the reader sees Rhoda’s (lower class) internal struggle; in the last half of the story, the reader sees Gertrude’s (higher class) inner struggles, as well as the continuous effects these interior capacities have overall. More importantly, however, Hardy urges the reader to connect the interconnectedness of class distinctions for his/her self through his use of superstitious symbolism and supernatural events which are really too close to reality for comfort.

Works Cited

Hardy, Thomas. “The Withered Arm.” The Longman Anthology British Literature. Vol.

28. Ed. David Damrosch. New York:Longman, 2003. 1429-1447. Print handout.

Hedda Gabler: Beautiful Freedom in Desperation

The motivations of the character Hedda from Henrik Ibsen’s 1890 play, Hedda Gabler, are often debated with varying views and contradictions. Many readers conclude from the play that Hedda is evil, manipulative and calculated; that her actions are unjustified and unfair. As Mrs. T.H. Thompson and John Watson, a child psychologist, advised to “be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle,” then perhaps such conclusive judgments of Hedda’s character are shallow; decided by readers who dare not scratch below the initial surface. Consider, perhaps, that it is not Hedda dealing the greatest injustices, but the reader with his/her lack of compassion and empathy for this woman who is suffocating in expectation and drowning in silent desperation. The reader must consider that to be misunderstood is the most invalid and unnecessary treatment of any human being, and once that is considered, try to “walk a mile in the shoes” of such. A “walk” through Ibsen’s play through the eyes of understanding will not reveal a spoiled, disregarding woman, but instead a lost and searching girl still coming to terms with the establishment of her life as a “Gabler”.

Author Margaret Higonnet, in her book Speaking Silences: Women’s Suicide, suggests by her comment, “For when we categorize a death we do not record a pure fact (if any exist). Rather, we produce a reading that depends upon the physical and subjective context…” (Higonnet), that all things, particularly surrounding death by suicide, should be carefully reviewed in context. A “walk” in Hedda’s “shoes” properly begins when the reader heeds Higonnet’s suggestion and examines the context in which the author, Ibsen, intends the reader to view his heroine. This contextual examination begins from the very beginning, with the title of this play.

Henrik Ibsen, in his cleverness as creator, gave so much more meaning to the title than a common reader would ever initially think to ascribe to it. The use of Hedda’s last name in the title of the play is conclusive as a significant factor in the understanding of her character. The Norton Anthology points out that “Ibsen told us himself that, [he] intended to indicate thereby that as a personality she is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife” (651). Ibsen’s purpose for naming the play Hedda Gabler, as opposed to Hedda Tesman, is because Ibsen wants the reader to be aware of the connectedness between Hedda and the source of her maiden name: her father. While it obviously cannot be disregarded as Ibsen’s purpose for it, the depth of its purpose is much greater than just that initial conception.

Often, analysts of literature assume Ibsen’s purpose for having intentionally connected Hedda to her father in this way is to lead readers to believe that Hedda regards her life under her father as one of more prestige and respect. The emphasis of this specific purpose is often used as evidence that Hedda’s behavior throughout the play is the result of a woman who is spoiled and regretfully missing her youthful days with her father. Because of this assumption, many students of literature are predisposed to a negative image of Hedda, passing judgment on her before considering all the implications of Ibsen’s use of Hedda’s maiden name. Consider, however, instead of dismissing Ibsen’s purpose for using “Gabler” in the title as that of forlorn youth, perhaps Ibsen is attempting to direct the reader to the reason Hedda behaves the way she does. The name “Hedda” means “strife” (Lahr); struggle; battle, and the fact that Ibsen chose that particular name to pair with the distinction of her father’s name, it begins to alert the reader’s attention to a different purpose in the understanding of Hedda Gabler; one that implies a personal “struggle”, rooted as deeply as her life as a Gabler.

Aside from clues left behind by Ibsen in the title, the reader glimpses further parallels that aid in the understanding of the character of Hedda by reading the description of the set that Ibsen wanted his play staged within. At the beginning of Act I, there are a few notable provisions Ibsen specifies for the set that stand out as a sort of abstract parallel to Hedda. Included in the set details is a “portrait of a handsome elderly man in a general’s uniform” (654). When the reader accounts for the multiple noted mentions of General Gabler’s portrait in the stage setting, the reader can begin to see the apparent impact the General had on his daughter and how such a cataclysmic void could form within Hedda Gabler, beginning in childhood.

Stereotypically speaking, it is said that “military brats” and “preacher’s kids” are “the worst” amongst their peer groups. This generalization stems from the acknowledgment of rebellion that often occurs as a result of the stringent control and authority exercised over the children of people in these professions. The very nature of a General is one of strict conduct and iron-fisted authority; both of which are attributes that are necessary to the successful fulfillment of the job and the continuation of a country’s armed forces. By default then, it is not difficult to accept the implication that these same indications are present in the private life of a General, particularly in the raising of one’s child. The constrictions of this authority are suffocating on a clever, spirited girl such as Hedda. The reader never gets to see more than glimpses of this in his/her interaction with the character. By the time Ibsen introduces the reader to Hedda she is already grown and fully drowning in the result of a lifelong struggle against this stifling fate.

Hedda’s upbringing as the daughter of a general can also be linked to the recollection of the treatment of a young Thea at the hands of a young Hedda. It is a clear indication of a troubled young girl bullying her way through adolescence. Karen Waters, a clinical psychologist, said in a forum for Phi Kappa Phi that, “Bullies often grow up in authoritarian households. This style of child-rearing bypasses support and reasoning for more heavy-handed discipline buoyed by parental power” (Waters). Bearing in mind that “everyone we meet is fighting some kind of battle”, when the reader understands the psychology behind Hedda’s treatment of people, the reader can then begin to understand the “battles” Hedda has been fighting. This by no means provides an excuse to justify such behavior, but instead is intended to cause the reader to explore compassion for the suffering of this human life.

Ibsen is clever to ensure that the reader is exposed to snippets of Hedda’s disposition under the reign of her father, the General, throughout various dialogues in the text of the play. Miss Tesman’s recollection to Berta of a younger Hedda Gabler “out riding with her father…in that long black outfit, with the feather in her hat” (655) is the single-most sum of the impact General Gabler had on his daughter. Ibsen assumed it was sufficient in its simplicity that his reader would accept it for its worth as such. Deducted in one, short recollection is the depiction of a young Hedda Gabler “riding” for freedom, but in the presence of the General, never able to break into a run. Hedda, dressed in black, is as unsettled in youth as she is in adulthood.

As inwardly unhappy as Hedda’s life under her father appears to have been, the presence of General Gabler’s portrait throughout her home, and Hedda’s value of the piano and pistols would suggest that she doesn’t resent her father of this. On the contrary, it can be derived from the previous recollection of Hedda “with the feather in her hat” that General Gabler always intended her upbringing to be a source of strength and independence. The idiom of wearing “a feather in one’s hat” means that someone has been exposed to or has experienced something that will be of a great help to them in the future. In the end, what a double-edged sword such a revelation turns out to be. The very upbringing intended to bring her prosperity in life is the same upbringing that would lead to her demise.

Ibsen’s setting of the drawing room also sets for the reader a vaguely foreshadowed glance at the life and demeanor of the play’s namesake. The drawing room, which is “large, pleasantly and tastefully furnished” but “decorated in somber tones” (654), is significant of the “larger than life” experiences, and the woman who can appear pleasant and tasteful, but whose somber inner self dulls the vibrancy of all that could potentially be beautiful in Hedda’s life.

The presence of so many flowers arranged throughout the room denotes this same concept. While people often perceive flowers as things of natural beauty, they are also symbolic through their relationship to the realm of death, and they provide, perhaps the biggest foreshadowing of the result of Ibsen’s play, as well as an important understanding of Hedda’s search for beauty in life.

In his setting of the stage, that Ibsen specifies that “on both sides of the upstage doorway stand shelves displaying terra cotta and majolica objects” (654) seems as a vital significance to collecting the proper notion about his main character. The terra cotta and majolica objects imitate the dynamic contrast of the contradiction that is Hedda Gabler. Terra cotta is a raw, earthenware creation, and majolica is a vibrantly colored representation of a mold. Interestingly, the terra cotta in its natural form, hardened under the burden of firing, is more perfect in its finish than is the majolica which has been groomed and colorfully painted but is often found with crazing. Similarly, throughout the play Hedda Gabler, aware that she is parted from her “terra cotta” self, desperately tries to control the crazing taking place in her “majolica” self.

These two “selves” of Hedda Gabler as represented by terra cotta and majolica are most important to keep in mind while reading the rest of the play. There is a natural Hedda, and there is the painted Hedda that the reader hears so much about. It is easy to deduce without the benefit of doubt that Hedda is “particular” and finicky because the reader is told so by eavesdropping on conversation between Berta and Miss Tesman. Berta’s statement that, “the young mistress wanted so much unpacked before she could settle down” (654), and that “she’s so particular about things” (655) is taken at face value that Hedda is demanding, but in contrast, it is rarely considered that Hedda could be suffering from an anxiety disorder, stemming all the way back to childhood.

The ease that the reader exhibits in trusting the word of every character in the play over that of Hedda is filled with partiality and bias. In fact, from the very beginning it is implied that Hedda is a burden. First, by Miss Tesman in her statement that “we must bear it patiently” (654) at having Berta stay with George Tesman, and then again in a conversation shared between Miss Tesman and George Tesman about the cost of the trip and the cost of the house (657). Just because Ibsen does not spell out for his reader that Hedda is, or is not, aware of this conversation, does not make it so. On the contrary, it is directly following this conversation that Hedda enters, for the first time. Ibsen directs that “her eyes are steel-grey, cold and clear” (659). Perhaps, it is because Hedda has overheard the talk of the burden of cost followed by the immediate vainly possessive statement of ownership (658), as though she were a desired object obtained by the highest bidder, no matter how that bid money was acquired.

Throughout the rest of the play, the reader further alienates Hedda from human hood, pushing her closer and closer to monstrosity. Building on the foundation of constriction and ugliness in Hedda’s childhood, each of Ibsen’s characters press a nerve in one way or another until, as Mary Kay Norseng said in her literary criticism, “Slowly, silently, surely they surrounded her, a cabal disguised as a social group” (Norseng). The one greatest thing of beauty that romantics and philosophers profess as the greatest to life was nonexistent, non-returned, or non-accepted: love. It is no wonder Hedda only knew of it as a “syrupy” word (673).

Oppression came in many forms in the life of Hedda Gabler and she, just a girl amidst it, searching through it all for the freedom out of it. “It’s a liberation for me to know that in this world an act of such courage, done in full, free will, is possible” (705). That was life’s beauty that she had spent her life grasping for and would never attain. John Lahr, author of Hedda, Get Your Gun, claims that Hedda “is not brave; she is reckless, a signal of her resignation. Her life is a living death, so she has nothing to lose” (Lahr). That may be so, but even in her death they would not grant her the acknowledgment of owning her own life and instead dehumanized her by the final statement of the play, “But God have mercy-People just don’t act that way!” (709).

                                                             Works Cited

“Hedda Gabler”. The Norton Anthology World Literature. Shorter Second Edition. Ed.

Peter Simon.New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2009. 13-81. Print

Higonnet, Margaret R.. Speaking Silences: Women’s Suicide. Cambridge: Harvard, 1986.


Lahr, John. “Hedda, Get Your Gun.” Abstract. New Yorker, 85.1 (2009): 110-112. Web.

16 Feb 2012.

Norseng, Mary Kay. “Suicide and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies, 71.1

(1999): 1,40. Web. 16 Feb 2012.

Waters, Karen. “Teenage Bullies: Might Not Right.” Article. Phi Kappa Phi Forum,

Spring 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.