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Hedda Gabler vs. Chandara Review Essay

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Updated: Oct 16th, 2021

There can be no doubt as to the fact that the motif of self-destruction defines the semantic properties of both: Ibsen’s play “Hedda Gabler” and Tagor’s short story “Punishment”. However, authors explore this motif from different points of view, which in its turn; can be explained by particularities of their ethnic affiliation. Ibsen’s Hedda embarks on the course of destroying people’s lives, and ultimately her own life, simply because of her hypertrophied sense of existential finesse. She considered her lifestyle as not being dramatic enough to represent an objective value, as the result of being affiliated with people she despised on subconscious level, simply because they happened to lack “aristocratic qualities”. Despite the fact that Tesman tries his best to satisfy Hedda’s desires to the best of his ability, she still thinks of him as not being quite worthy of her, because in Hedda’s eyes, Tesman is incapable of elevating himself above “petty things”: “It is this genteel poverty I have managed to drop into! That is what makes life so pitiable! So utterly ludicrous! I often think there is only one thing in the world I have any turn for – boring myself to death” (Ibsen, Act 2). In other words, Hedda considers her perceptional negativity as having value in itself. It is not by the pure accident that, by the time she hands out a gun to Eilert, she refers to the act of suicide as having an aesthetic value – “Have a beautiful death!”. This betrays Hedda as living in the imaginary world of romanticism, which does not quite correspond to the objective reality. By encouraging Eilert to shoot himself, and by deciding to follow his footsteps, at the end of the play, Hedda actually strives for nothing less of reversing the course of history, which could not be done in principle. Therefore, we can refer to Hedda as the victim of social circumstances in rather aesthetic then economic or political sense of this word – she suffered from realization of her marriage to Tesman as such that had effectively prevented her from being able to broaden her intellectual horizons. By deciding to commit suicide, Hedda did not want to make a moral statement. It is namely that, which distances her from the character of Chandara, in Tagor’s story “Punishment”. Chandara’s unwillingness to follow her husband’s advice, (who suggested that she should have told the authorities that she killed Radha in the act of self-defence), cannot be thought of as being nihilist in its essence. Unlike Hedda, Chandara was not becoming utterly bored with her own existence. Quite contrary – Tagor describes her as an individual fully capable of enjoying the life to its fullest: “She was buxom, well-rounded, compact and sturdy. Everything amused and intrigued her; she love to gossip; her bright, restless, deep black eyes missed nothing as she walked” (Tagor, p. 210). By refusing to even try to save her life, Chandara wanted to punish Chidam for his inability to perceive his wife as being equal to himself. In other words, Chandara willingly chooses to die, as the ultimate gesture of making a moral statement, which allows us to think of her as being the victim of social circumstances, in the true sense of this word. For Chadara, her death does not have the value of “thing in itself”. At the same time, she understands that only by refusing to follow Chidam’s advice, she can prove her husband as being utterly unworthy individual and to rise above various social limitations, associated with her gender affiliation. Chandara is someone who simply strives to attain a higher existential status. The irony lies in the fact that she has come to realization that she could only accomplish it through death.

There are many people who choose to kill themselves, whether actively or passively (just like Chandara); however, it is only when people perceive individual’s suicide as the ultimate mean of making a socio-political statement, that such individual continues to be remembered, well after his or her death. Hedda’s suicide was the logical conclusion of her mental decadence. For example, it was a common practice among European aristocrats of 19th century to swallow small amounts of poison, so that their skin would appear as being particularly pale, and therefore “fashionable”. Moreover, the members of “old nobility” would often kill themselves, just for the sake of doing it (the game of “Russian roulette”), simply because their existential decadence was preventing them from being concerned with anything else but entertainment. We can say that the reason why Hedda decided to put a bullet through her head was because, on subconscious level, she felt herself being attracted to death more then to a life (Freudian “instinct of death”). Chandara, on the other hand, had chosen the death because of her love of life (whatever the illogical this statement might sound), while assuming posture of a martyr. This is the reason why she also subconsciously felt that the end of her physical existence does not necessarily means the end of her unique individuality. There was only one way for Chandara to give a moral lesson to Chidam – by proving herself being more of a man then her husband, because the very concept of manhood implies men’s ability to do “what is necessary”, as opposed to women’s tendency to act in accordance to “what it feels like”. Therefore, we can say that Hedda’s suicide was a result of her eagerness to achieve transcendence, while struggling with the boredom, whereas Chandara’s willingness to die was a result of her being uncomfortable with social limitations, imposed on women in Indian society. This represents the conceptual difference between two characters.

Personally, I think of Chandara as deserving much more respect, as opposed to Hedda. It is superficially sophisticated but utterly useless White decadents like Hedda, who were responsible for designing ideologically poisonous doctrines of Marxism and Liberalism. These people, despite possessing a superior intellect, proved themselves as lacking biological vitality, which is why Western countries are now being “colonized” by the hordes of illegal immigrants from the Third World. Apparently, when individual’s existential sophistication is being directed inwards, it eventually results in destruction of such individual.

Bibliography

  1. Tagore, Rabindranath “The Tagore Reader”. Ed. Amiya Chakravarty. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.
  2. Ibsen, Henrik “Hedda Gabler”. 2003. The Project Gutenberg Etext.
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