Ibsen once said, “Find out who you are and become that person,” because, “To realize yourself is the highest goal a person can attain.” Self realization was Ibsen’s super-objective. To find self-realization was the main theme of his play Hedda Gabler. Hedda, Tesman, and Thea, all live their lives through others, therefore never reaching self-realization. Their deficiencies entail cowardice, lack of imagination and validation. They make up for it by manipulating, borrowing and depending on others, as well as searching for themselves in each other.
Hedda lives through others by manipulation. Hedda is a coward, and is afraid of taking charge of her life and making something of herself. Since she feels a lack of control over her life, she controls others. She is unhappy because she has no control, so tries to make everyone else unhappy. In the opening scene, Aunt Julie comes over and places her hat in the living room. Hedda then purposefully remarks on how rude it was for the maid to leave her hat around the house. Aunt Julie’s feelings are hurt deeply, since she recently bought the new hat. Hedda is also very condescending and sarcastic towards Tesman, although he is completely unaware of it. She plays him like a deck of cards. When he asks her why she burned Lovborg’s manuscript; she says she did it for you dear, since you envied it. Not seeing her real motives, he believes her. Later he exclaims, “Oh, I’m beginning to understand you, Hedda!”
Hedda’s feeling of being out of control also effects how she interacts with the other characters. This is why she is manipulative. She manipulates the people around her to do things that they normally wouldn’t do. When Lovborg and Thea are with her, she offers Lovborg a drink, but he refuses because he quit drinking. Then she spills a bit of information about Lovborg that Thea had told her and Lovborg is outraged. In his anger, he accepts the drink. She makes both Thea and Lovborg angry but she receives satisfaction from affecting their actions.
Hedda is pregnant but refuses to recognize it because again that would mean less control for her. Towards the end of the play Judge Brack tells her that he knows it was her gun that Lovborg shot himself with. He knows she is afraid of a scandal. Hedda replies, “So I’m in your power, Judge. You have your hold over me from now on.” Shortly after saying this, and seeing Tesman and Thea working together, she buries herself in a room with her fathers’ picture and the piano, then shoots herself.
Tesman lives through others by borrowing ideas. He lacks any imagination, so he uses others ideas in place of his own. He lacks control over his work, because none of it is really his. It seems that anytime anyone mentions an idea he remarks, ” Imagine that”, in a bewildered sort of way. He can’t even carry on an interesting conversation because he has no ideas or original thoughts to share. Tesman wants to be recognized and respected for his work, but his work and research is nothing new, and in fact meaningless. Tesman’s book would be filled with regurgitated facts. He spent his entire honeymoon in a library; this shows much about his character. He is very ambitious; almost everything he does is used to further his recognition. Even his marriage to Hedda is used for this purpose; he marries her because she is a trophy to him.
Thea Elvsted is closest to self-realization but doesn’t quite make it because of her dependence on men. She gets much farther than anyone else in play, because she is taking herself to another level by writing the book with Lovborg and later Tesman. She leaves her husband to cling to Lovborg. One could argue that it isn’t her fault to be dependent on men because there was no other way of having an income back then. Therefore, her dependence is not completely her fault but a pressure from society. Thea is Hedda’s opposite because she works for moral improvement but not only for her, for Lovborg and later Tesman. When Lovborg tells her that the manuscript is gone and he has no more use for her, she responds, “Then what will I do with my life?” Later she says, “Oh, I don’t know myself what I’ll do everything is dark for me now.” Without a companion, she feels useless. She has no one to feed off of and she is left feeling meaningless.
No one seems to know who they are in this play; they simply define themselves through other people. Hedda felt that if she killed herself it would be an act of courage but it only underlined her cowardice. After Lovborg kills himself, Tesman and Thea go to work on Lovborgs unfinished book. Thea and Tesman are satisfied with working off each other. In the end, when they finish the book together, their work will leave them understanding themselves better.