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family relationships in hedda

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Compare and contrast views of the family and family relationships shown in the plays of Ibsen and Strindberg, commenting on the relative importance in each case of social and psychological pressures, as well as physical environment, and showing how these are expressed in theatrical terms. This essay will be focusing on three texts written over a three year period: Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1890) and August Strindberg's The Father (1887) and Miss Julie (1888)1. In approaching this topic, I have decided it best to confine my study to these three plays rather than attempt an overview of either playwright's canon. I intend to focus on the relevance of the father in these plays, specifically analysing how the role of fatherhood is explored. Furthermore, instead of trying to take into account every possible reference to 'family', I will be limiting my focus to what I regard as the three central family relationships in these plays: Miss Julie and her father; Hedda and General Gabler; and finally, the Captain and his daughter Bertha. Though other characters will obviously be relevant in this study, it is the dramatic significance of these three relationships that I will be studying closely. Both playwrights present families as institutions prone to major tensions. While Strindberg chooses to place family firmly in the context of an instinctive psychological war between the sexes where the protagonists are rendered almost helpless, Ibsen stresses how the accumulation of psychological, social and environmental factors all contribute but not necessarily determine the outcome of the play. Strindberg's characters seem trapped in a natural pattern of motivations from which they cannot extricate themselves, and the audience2 are made aware that the characters onstage are in some sense archetypes, illustrating a central point about life's absurd struggle. By contrast, Ibsen's work is deliberately produced to emphasise that the circumstances portrayed, though largely a product of universally recognisable factors, is still an individual case.


of patriarchal authority which led in turn to her father's social exclusion and the attempted reversal of conventional sex roles; how this finally led to her father's protestation, and how the two subsequently waged war on each other until her mothers death. Miss Julie is the product of such a marriage: a confused creature constructed from a brutal amalgamation of her mother's instincts and father's social mores. Thus, she possesses not only a human desire for relationships but also a deep-rooted hatred of men14, a desire to break free from the shackles of her role in society, yet also a keen sense of honour that proves her bane after her 'fall' with Jean15. It is the clash of what Strindberg referred to as "the passionate character of her mother and the upbringing misguidedly inflicted on her by her father"16. The environmental factors that Strindberg depicts onstage, combined with this chaotic internal chemistry, all contribute to the circumstances of the play. The impossibility of reconciling them leads to Jean's proposition of suicide as a form of escape. Hence, both daughters' suicides can be partly attributed to their family's influence. As Miss Julie ultimately isn't permitted to excuse her violation of honour as 'love', so the failure of Hedda's romantic visions (first motivated by the prospect of finally having a role in another person's destiny), leads to her death. When Miss Julie leaves the stage for the final time, Strindberg has made sure that we are explicitly aware of all the factors that have played their part. In her own confined state, Hedda perceives the only way of having a role of importance can be through delivering Lövborg 'to himself'. His subsequent failure to control himself at Brack's party and return "with vineleaves in his hair", followed by his ignoble death (when she had provided him with the means of a 'glorious' exit), denies Hedda any chance of fulfilling her longing for significance.


You must have only one thought, and you shall have only one will, mine. Bertha: I don't want that! I want to be myself! Captain: I won't let you do that! You see, I'm a cannibal, and I want to eat you. Your mother wanted to eat me, but she couldn't. I am Saturn, who ate his children because it had been prophesied that otherwise they would eat him. To eat or be eaten! That is the question.40 The conscious echoing of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" is intended to resonate with a theatre audience, once again emphasising the universality of the struggle41. The child's position is that of a pawn in a heightened game of power between its parents. The Captain is left unable to lift a finger in response: when he reaches for his revolver, a symbol of masculine phallic authority presiding over the household from its mounting on the wall, Laura has symbolically robbed it of its potency by taking its ammunition. The stage-image constructed for the close of the play demonstrates how the matriarchy's final victory (attributed in part to women's own security regarding the origin of their children) has led to the father figure being reduced to a state of second childhood. The defining role of patriarchal authority in the family, the position of 'father', has been rendered literally impotent by the removal of the daughter as a route to immortality; by extension, the logic that first legitimised the sex-conflict instigated through the undertaking of the role of 'father' has collapsed. This alternative perspective is what differentiates the play. Whereas Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie touch on the influence of father on the daughter, The Father examines the function children have within the concept of fatherhood, and how they are inevitably drawn into the archetypal struggle of which we are all part. Ibsen and Strindberg had fundamentally different opinions, but the re-emergence of topics concerning the family and the role of the father proves they both felt compelled to deal with them, and regard them as truly universal themes worth investigating theatrically.

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