Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler Summary and Analysis of Act II, Part I


Hedda is in the drawing room of the house, loading one of her father's pistols. When she sees Judge Brack approaching, she spooks him by pretending to shoot at him. Brack gently takes the pistols from her, and asks her if she has nothing else to do but play with guns. Hedda replies that she does not. She then informs him that Tesman is at his Aunt Julia's and that he's come too late. Brack says that if he had known Tesman was away, he would have come even earlier. Immediately we realize that Brack is quite fond of Hedda; he even tells her that during her honeymoon he prayed every day that she would return.

Hedda tells Brack that her honeymoon was deathly boring: Tesman worked all day, and there was no one from their circle to entertain her. She also says that she found it "intolerable being everlastingly in the company of one and the same person." When Brack asks her whether she loves her husband, she tells him not to use the word "love" and says that she married him because her "time was up" - it was time to get married, and Tesman seemed poised for success. Now, however, Hedda isn't so sure that she made the right decision. Brack suggests that he would like to be in a "triangular friendship" with the couple, free to come and go as he pleases. Hedda says that it would be a relief to have someone around to engage her in conversation, but it is obvious that Brack would like to provide much more.

Tesman arrives carrying his scholarly tomes, including Eilert Lovborg's new book, which he is quite impressed by. Tesman tells Hedda that she'll be alone that night, because Aunt Julia won't be visiting - likely the result of the hat incident, which left her deeply offended. Tesman exits to get ready for the all-male party that he and Brack will attend that night, and Hedda reveals to Brack that she had known all along that the hat was Aunt Julia's, and that she had behaved so mischievously because she couldn't help doing so; sometimes "irresistible impulses" come over her. Hedda then expresses how deeply bored she is, and Brack suggests that she find a vocation. Hedda says that she wishes Tesman would go into politics to allay her boredom, even though Brack laughs off the suggestion, as Tesman is so ill-suited to the political world. Brack then makes an allusion to the fact that Hedda might have a "new responsibility" on the way. When Hedda tries to avoid the subject, Brack says that having a child depend on her is a woman's greatest talent. Hedda replies that her only talent is boring herself to death.


Two key questions about Hedda's character are answered for us in the first section of Act II. First, we are offered an explicit explanation as to why she married George Tesman: "I'd danced myself out. That was all. My time was up." It's a curious statement, because from all we've learned about Hedda, we might wonder why she would succumb to societal pressure to get married. What seems more likely is that for all her "dancing", she isn't financially independent. Ultimately, she needed to ally herself with a man who could support her and take care of her material needs. And in that sense, Tesman is a "model" - if not superior - husband.

Hedda, it seems, has an oddly narrow conception of life. There are only a certain number of people and things that she is "interested in", and when none of these are present, she becomes deathly bored. This feeling of boredom seems to well up in her like a tide of black sludge - not unlike the rage or envy seen in countless flawed tragic heroes or villains. When Hedda gets bored, it seems, terrible things start to happen.

A second revelation comes when Brack implies that children might help alleviate Hedda's boredom and renew her, but she refuses to acknowledge that she is pregnant, or to even entertain the idea of having children. The idea of having children with Tesman, of her time fully being "up", is abhorrent, and she seems to view raising children with the same sense of boredom. Indeed, the only thing that continually gets a rise out of Hedda is shooting her pistols - the idea of ending life at any moment keeps her boredom at bay.

The issue of Brack's "triangle" proposition is an interesting one if only because we cannot gauge for certain whether it's sexual in nature. Brack at first suggests that Hedda "jump out" of her marriage every so often - in other words, have an affair with Brack - but Hedda quickly rebuffs such a possibility. However, when Brack says he will "jump in" with the couple, creating a triangle, Hedda is more than open to the idea. But what, exactly, does Brack mean by "jumping in"? How can this kind of triangle possibly sustain itself if one of the points - namely Tesman - is unaware that it exists?

Slowly, we're beginning to understand Hedda's modus operandi - she feels trapped by a world that she feels is closing in on her, and has no recourse but to try to expand her circle as much as she can without endangering her marriage. If there's one thing Hedda's afraid of, it's "scandal" - the idea that somehow her name might be tarnished, since it's the only thing left that's still wholly her own.