This sample essay on Gender Roles In Medea reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

The eponymous characters featured in both Medea and Hedda Gabler have perpetually been cast as unconventional women, defying every aspect of feminine behaviour expected of them in their respective societies. However, in truth, both women conform to convention far more than it would seem, albeit in contrasting ways. Medea dreams of the same future as any ordinary Greek woman would even despite her refugee status.

In the end it is circumstances that drive her to the unexpected and terrible acts she commits.

Hedda differs within her relationship with the culture surrounding her and fights at it. She is forced to live the life of a traditional woman in her society and hates it, as we shall see, she makes any effort she can to escape it. This combination of propriety and unconventionality contribute to the power of both plays as tragedies.

There is some debate, though, on whether the playwrights intentionally did this, or, due to the cultural era they inhabited, they could not possibly see women totally unshackled from their roles in society.

Medea appears to be a traditional wife in many ways therefore the cataclysmic breakdown of her marriage with Jason is more of a surprise to the reader; the way in which it dissolves into such violence. Throughout the play, there is evidence that Medea approached her family life in a very traditional manner: treasuring her children and respecting her husband’s authority over her.

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Right at the beginning of the play when the Nurse, who is privy to all domestic events, describes the couple’s serene and idyllic cohabitation: Medea had “come with Jason and her children to live here… in Corinth; where, coming as an exile, she has earned… the citizens’ welcome; while to Jason she is all… obedience-and in marriage that’s the saving thing… when a wife obediently accepts her husband’s will.” This in itself does not show an unconventional occurrence, in fact, Medea winning the approval of the people of Corinth just goes to show how well she did fit the mould of a traditional Greek wife; otherwise she would not have integrated into the Corinthian society so successfully.

Gender Roles In Medea

To Jason she was “all obedience” meaning that despite the potency of her supernatural abilities, she still decided to obey Jason as the authority figure of the house and thus ensuring the continuation of the traditional political balance of a Greek family structure. This idea of Medea’s willing submission to Jason is made clear by her grief-stricken cry, “Jason was my whole life…” Another traditional idea she wholeheartedly upholds is one of the most essential duty I wife carries: to bear her husband sons, as a wife who did not deliver would be viewed as a worthless addition to a man. She says, “… you have the wickedness… to turn me out, to get yourself another wife… even after I had borne you sons! If you had still…been childless I could have pardoned you for hankering… after this new marriage.” This suggests that even she, who has an almost fanatical longing for Jason, would have forgiven him for taking a new wife if she had indeed failed in the most basic role of a wife: to bear children. This shows the importance of children to Medea’s outlook-it would appear that she feels a woman is incomplete without them. It is therefore feasible to suggest that Medea fully commits to the Greek idea of Oikos and she entirely identifies with the concept that family and lineage is what confers honour and, for a woman, honour comes from perpetuating the household.

Hedda Gabler is diametrically opposed to Medea, in that she-internally-completely discards the many traditional desires and roles of a contemporary woman, and yet presents, almost to the very end of the play, the fa�ade of one. She continually voices her strong aversion of love: “Uh-don’t use that sticky word!” and motherhood: “I have no leaning towards such things, Mr Brack.”; she is completely devoid of the strong emotions Medea holds about traditional wifehood. Despite this, though, she is still trapped in a loveless marriage to Jorgen Tesman. However, she commits to it due to her deep fear of being involved in a scandal. There are two things that Hedda fear more than anything: the first is being trapped in the role of an ordinary, dull, respectable woman, and the second is being caught behaving in any way unbecoming of such a woman, the type of which she despises. This innate fear of being caught up in a scandal only really breaks through when she learns that Mrs. Elvsted has left her own husband: “Then you have left your home-for good and all? …And then-you did it so openly…But what do you think people will say about you, Thea?” Even Hedda herself honestly admits her fear: “That shows you how frightened I am of scandal.” Such is her fear that she strictly adheres to the traditional role of simply staying at home and waiting for callers, despite her monstrous boredom. There is one moment where she indulges in tempestuous conversation with Ejlert Lovborg however she still carefully maintains the appearance of respectability by wearing the fa�ade of two friends perusing a photo album.

In contrast, Medea is totally unafraid of scandal. Whilst Hedda’s only conventional trait is her fear of social disapproval, Medea was completely ready and willing to take on the role as a traditional wife in order to please Jason. Given this attitude, then, one would imagine that Medea a very meek and submissive figure. However, this is not so as when love turns to hate after Jason’s betrayal, as she volunteered herself into this role she has total power to break away from it. It becomes clear when she says, “Love, did you say? It is a mighty curse.” This is the first time we begin to see the cracks in Medea’s marital bliss with Jason. When she begins to contemplate killing Creon and his daughter, an act no respectable Greek woman would even consider, we see her complete lack of fear of scandal. She says, “(Creon) lets me stay one extra day, to make three enemies corpses: ha! father, daughter, and my husband” Her greatest worry is for her own physical safety, which is assured by her extraction of a promise of sanctuary from King Aegeus. There is only one fear that Medea has which even resembles a fear of scandal and that takes the form of the totally masculine fear of humiliation before one’s enemies: the only thing men were truly afraid of in Greek society.

The restricted power that any woman had in either 19th Century Europe or Ancient Greece inevitably plays an intrinsic role in the fates of Medea and Hedda and why the climactic points of both plays see heightened tragedy. At the end of her play, Hedda has two equally abysmal choices to choose from. The first is to be trapped under the will of Judge Brack. The relationship between the judge and Hedda is volatile to say the least which is seen in the beginning of the Second Act when Hedda threatens to shoot Brack: “Now I’ll shoot you, Judge Brack!” This immediately triggers rather a violent streak between the two characters but what Brack does next sums up everything Hedda hates about masculinity: “(Gently takes the pistol out of her hand) Allow me, madam!…Now we won’t play at that game anymore to-day.” This act goes to show Brack removing the only outlet Hedda has of masculine power; her father’s pistols.

When he removes them from her it demonstrates the condescending relationship between the genders that Hedda is desperate to escape. Her second choice is to defy Brack but in the process have to face her other great fear: being complicit in a scandal, the greatest to rock her corner of Norwegian society; the death of Lovborg. Hedda is truly ensnared. Her first option will result in a man having total control over her, which would essentially destroy someone who so chafes under masculine authority. However, her second option would result in her condemnation by society in a way she so fears. Finally, Hedda is totally defeated by her constricted society and takes the only option left to her: suicide.

In contrast, however, Medea manages to totally triumph over her restraining society. Unlike Medea, she doesn’t become trapped or defeated by the expectations and restrictions placed on women; she utilises her perceived weakness as a weapon to destroy Jason. In Greek society, sons were the sole thing that wives could give their husbands and so Medea uses this to exact her revenge. By killing her sons, Jason is dealt a far graver blow than she could have accomplished by any other means. Whilst plotting her terrible deed, she recognises it potency by saying, “This is the way to deal Jason the deepest wound.” Then Jason responds by saying, “Thou living hate! Thou wife in every age abhorred, blood red mother, who didst kill my sons and make me as the dead.” This statement made by Jason just goes to show how deadly a blow Medea has dealt him in her actions and therefore she ultimately triumphs over him.

The fact that Medea is a traditional woman who rigidly adheres to all the conventions a Greek woman was expected to yet still manages to completely destroy her social shackles after Jason’s betrayal could be argued to be Euripides’ intention. It is implied that she was a submissive, meek wife who had given Jason no reason to betray her which therefore makes her subsequent acts more justifiable. She becomes a more sympathetic character to the audience which subsequently makes them more emotionally sympathetic to her plight and creating a cathartic effect, which seems to be the playwright’s goal. However, Medea using her children as a weapon against Jason – a seemingly diabolic act – was perhaps the only true way for a woman to have any sort of power over a man in the society they occupied.

Hedda’s blend of traditional values and unconventional emotions was almost undoubtedly Ibsen’s intention. He said himself that he had to know his characters through and through before he could begin writing as was stated in an interview for The Humanitarian in January 1987. He said, “Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through. I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul.” It would therefore appear that Ibsen’s plays have always been driven by the characters as opposed to the plot, and all the events within the plot are a direct result of the natural progression of the storyline due to the personalities of the characters. The story of Hedda Gabler is totally driven by Hedda’s internal conflict between her great longing – breaking the restrictive shackles of society – and fear of social condemnation. Therefore, it would appear that Ibsen deliberately crafted her character to be a cess pit of battling emotions in a maelstrom of resentment.

Medea and Hedda Gabler both manage to combine traditional and untraditional aspects of their roles as women, albeit in distinct ways. For Hedda, the end is bleak and tragic as she is trapped and defeated by the social constraints she wants so desperately to defy, whilst in the meantime Medea uses her social role to her advantage, exploiting the degrading position in puts her in to achieve her final victory. Euripides made the mythical murderess Medea somewhat traditional because it would make her character worthy of the audience’s pity, while Ibsen made Hedda a character torn in an internal battle between tradition and rebellion because he was intrigued at the aftermath this dual nature would create.

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Gender Roles In Medea. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Gender Roles In Medea
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