Hedda Gabler: What’s money got to do with it?

Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler opens with the conflict that the title character Hedda Gabler is an entitled, rich upper class woman who is accustomed to a high standard of living. George Tesman, Hedda’s new husband, discusses with his aunt Julie that he is afraid he will not please Hedda because she is the daughter of a general and she had an extravagant upbringing. Hence, George makes irresponsible financial decisions to please Hedda. For example, the couple has just returned from a six month honeymoon trip, a luxury that Tesman admits is too expensive but Hedda insisted on having it. Also, George reveals that he has overextended himself to give Hedda the home and lifestyle that she expects: “I simply couldn’t have her live like a grocer’s wife.” When George realizes that his job appointment might not be as secure as he thought because he may have to compete with his arch rival Lovborg, George scolds himself for being so reckless and living on dreams: “It was living in dreams to go and get married and set up house on nothing but expectations.” George is therefore depicted as a heedless character that is out of touch with reality. He obviously feels that he will not keep Hedda’s attraction if he does not give her the things she wants. Thus, this issue calls attention to an issue that persists in relationships even today: No romance without finance.

Aunt Julie is complicit with George’s goal to please his new wife in that she risks her pension as collateral to help George secure the mortgage for their new home. Aunt Julie displays that she is also unwise for making such a risky financial decision in order to please Hedda. Furthermore, Aunt Julie explains that she bought a new hat “for Hedda’s sake” so that “Hedda wouldn’t feel ashamed of me if we walked down the street together.” This is yet another instance in which Aunt Julie makes a monetary gesture to satisfy Hedda. In doing so, Aunt Julie reveals that she believes Hedda not only wants expensive, fancy things for herself, but also expects her associates to have such things and that she will be embarrassed if they don’t have such things. This reinforces that idea that Hedda is fixated with appearance, money and a flamboyant lifestyle.

George and Aunt Julie’s lack of financial judiciousness is a classic dilemma that pervades even today because presently there are many persons who live above their means to impress others, including family members. Aunt Julie and George believe that they will win Hedda’s love and approval through providing her with the lifestyle she expects. This predicament therefore also calls attention to the common yet untrue belief that love can be bought.

 

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