Hedda Gabler: Metaphor Analysis
Hedda uses the familiar metaphor of life as a journey to describe the situation that she has created for herself. As she tells Brack, her companionship abroad with Tesman during their honeymoon took on a more than literal quality: “Ugh… sitting there, just two people alone in the compartment!… The [nuptial] journey’ll be a long one… a long one yet. I’ve just come to a stopping-place on the line” (p. 203). She goes on, at Brack’s suggestion, to compare her marriage to Tesman itself to that cramped railway car: “I’ll never jump out… I’d sooner stay where I am… in the compartment. Two people alone together”—to which Brack, meaning himself, suggests, “Well then, if somebody else climbs into the compartment…” (p. 204). Ibsen may be employing this metaphor somewhat ironically. After all, the image of life as a journey usually connotes growth and progress—but none of the characters seem to make very much progress over the course of the play. The only movement appears to be backward: Tesman “regressing” into a childlike state at the conducting of “Auntie Julle”; Lövborg’s fall from grace; Hedda’s suicide. If Hedda’s life, and the lives of those around her, is a journey, it is one that has the sense of rushing headlong into disaster and death.
Lövborg’s book is a dominant metaphor in the play. As Mrs. Elvsted herself tells Lövborg, the book on which she and he worked so hard is like “a little child… The child was mine, it was also mine” (pp. 243-244). As discussed earlier in this commentary, portraying the book as a child allows Ibsen to hint that the manuscript contains within it promise for the future: Lövborg’s bright future after having restored his reputation, certainly, and perhaps also a continuation of his relationship with Mrs. Elvsted. When Hedda destroys the manuscript—i.e., murders Lövborg and Mrs. Elvsted’s symbolic child—she is closing off that future to them, and she sparks a further destructive chain of events. It is true, as authors often testify, that words, once committed to paper, take on a life of their own, often even beyond what the author intended. What Hedda does to Lövborg’s manuscript could be seen as an argument that the destruction of such words, as opposed to their creation, also necessitate consequences, beyond what anyone can see.
General Gabler’s pistols—with which we see Hedda occupying herself at the end of Act One; one of which she gives to Lövborg in Act Three; and with the other of which Hedda kills herself in Act Four—are a further metaphor. They could be seen as symbolizing the imminence of death and destruction, the presence of chaos in the (to all outward appearances) orderly Tesman household. Further, since they belonged to Hedda’s father, they could possibly represent the “unfinished business” (not Ibsen’s phrase) of the past that so often has destructive potential for the present. Hedda has been unable or unwilling to come to terms with her new role as Tesman’s wife (as opposed to General Gabler’s daughter), and this refusal to grow, to mature—her insistence on engaging, as she did when she was a girl, in impulsive behavior with disastrous consequences—seals her fate.