The Role of Gender in Hedda Gabler and The Importance of Being Earnest

Topics: Hedda Gabler

Discuss the “performance” of gender in the plays using one character from each play as examples. Gender plays a great role in both plays Hedda Gabler and The importance of Being Ernest. In both plays there are women playing extremely masculine roles. In Henrik Isben’s play, Hedda Gabler, it is Hedda herself and in Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, it is Lady Bracknell. They both have characteristics that a man should have had in their time period.

Hedda, the protagonist, exhibits a mixture of masculine and feminine traits due to her unique upbringing under General Gabler and the social mores imposed upon her. Hedda displays no emotion or affection towards her husband George. This appearance of indifference is a trait that is usually common to men. “Tesman: My old morning shoes. My slippers- look!.. Yes, I missed them dreadfully. Now you shall see them, Hedda. Hedda: No, thanks. It really doesn’t interest me.” (274) “Tesman: Why, bless me-then Aunt Julia was right after all! Oh yes-I knew it! Hedda! Just fancy-Eilert Lvborg is not going to stand in our way! Hedda: Our way? Pray leave me out of the question.

” (3??) Statements like these shows Hedda’s resistance to marriage. She may legally be George’s wife, but she’s honestly not okay with the idea of a union between them.

She also objects to and often defies the conventions established for her gender by society. She rejects references to her pregnancy as a reminder of her gender.

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“Tesman: Yes, but have you noticed how plump she’s grown, and how well she is? How much she’s filled out on our travels? Hedda: Oh, be quiet – !” (275). In other words Hedda dismisses the fact that she is pregnant and getting to the point of showing. Another masculine trait of Hedda is to entertain herself in her “boring” marriage. She plays with her father’s, General Gabler’s, pistols. These pistols are a symbol of masculinity and are associated with war, a pastime which women are excluded from other than in the nurturing role of nurses and are thus not tolerated by society. According to Barstow, “Hedda Gabler, who was not a positive role model but an embodied protest against the strictures and banality of conventional femininity, a figure for the unspoken, unrealized anger of her female spectators.” (406) Actually in each of Hedda’s relationships: with her husband, with Loevborg, and with Judge Brack is based on what she can gain from the other. And control is her unstated, but core issue held back by the rules of a society that she doesn’t have the courage to show.

Lady Bracknell is very set in her traditional ways but the ways of a man or husband. Lady Bracknell has control, she runs her entire household from behind the scenes, allowing for the appearance of everything being in her husband’s control but he is sickly. She shows her own self-absorption through insisting that only she knows best in terms of her daughter’s marriage. Rather than discouraging or arguing against the engagement she hears of between Jack and Gwendolyn, she simply refuses its existence,as to her daughter she says, “You are not engaged to any one.” (474). This demonstrates Lady Bracknell’s demanding belief in her own non-objective power, showing arrogance and assertiveness in her character.

Lady Bracknell does all the things that her husband should do. For instance arranging marriages is a role of the father, also is interrogating the candidates. Bracknell stands as the figure of authority, the way that things ought to be in society for a man. She has wants and has authority not only of her daughter and her husband but her nephew Algernon. She also at one point tries to tell him who he can and cannot marry. According to Lalonde “Lady Bracknell is not merely acting as an individual but as a figure of the larger society’s work to fit individual subjects into socially recognized and sanctioned categories.”

Discuss the roles of Lady Bracknell and Judge Brack as the “outsiders” who manipulate the actions in the plays. In each of the two plays there are main characters that act as manipulators; these two characters are Lady Bracknell and Judge Brack. Both characters manipulate people and things to go a certain way but they do not always happen that way.

Lady Bracknell wants to manipulate most of the actions pertaining to marriage. When she discovers that her daughter Gwendolen “thinks” she is engaged to Jack Worthing, she replies: “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself. (474) This implies that she does not care for her daughter’s happiness or preference, but rather the decision of the parents upon who is suitable for being their child’s spouse. The reason for this, as implied by society, is so that the parents may choose a husband based on social status, money, and even the neighborhood in which their land resides.

She also manipulates the marriage of Cecily and Algernon, her nephew. When she firsts learn of the engagement she says “I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seems to me considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.(527)”. This statement shows her unhappiness with the thought of the engagements of her daughter, Gwendolyn and Jack, and also Cecily and Algernon. She does not feel that they should be so ready to just be engaged. According to Lalonde, “Lady Bracknell is not merely acting as an individual but as a figure of the larger society’s work to fit individual subjects into socially recognized and sanctioned categories. (662)”

Judge Brack had various ways to manipulate in Hedda Gabler. The only person’s actions he manipulated are the actions of Hedda herself. In aspect Judge Brack just wants to have an affair with Hedda and he would use anything he has ever done or will do as justification on why she should agree to it. Judge Brack helped them get their house by helping with financing. Judge Brack constantly wants to black mail Hedda for her love. He especially does this when she learns of him knowing that it was her gun that Ejlert Lovborg shot himself with.

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The Role of Gender in Hedda Gabler and The Importance of Being Earnest. (2023, Jan 12). Retrieved from

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