14 April 2011


One of our essential questions as we began Hedda Gabler in World Lit a week ago involved Ibsen's purpose in staging the play: is it a play about ideas or a play about people? I always save Hedda until the end of the year to take advantage of  the seniors' maturity level and their volubility as they round the last turn in the race to graduation. The drama stands up well to the passage of time. Though the topic of infidelity is confusing in a high school setting, if offers opportunity to discuss betrayal, friendship, social responsibility, morality and ethics with a group of young adults who are about to have cause to refer to their own value system on a daily basis during the first year of college.
But what really dazzled me this year was their approach to that question of whether or not we are to take the characters at face value. Each class approached the question differently. One group directed the class to complete surveys judging the motivation of each individual character. Another group created a Venn diagram on the whiteboard to classify the actions of major characters as realistic or emblematic, and the third group crafted mega-postits to create categories for each of  the emotionally charged situations in the play. They did not all word it the same way, but the most astute observations came as they realized how many of the male characters exhibited motivations that we understood (as fellow human beings) and acted in a "logical" manner.
Then everyone (at least during this part of the project) complained about Hedda's stilted, illogical, symbolic actions. Once we realized that Thea also felt two dimensional, that she was just a "typical" woman, it clicked. Maybe Ibsen needed the female characters to be flat in order to make his point about Hedda and the lack of options she had to BE three dimensional.  Did I agree that Hedda was just an idea and not a real woman? Not necessarily--but then again, I might have agreed when I was 17. You can only judge with the experience and time you've got. I am proud of them. This "gradual release of responsibility" plan feels right.

my questions inspired by:  http://www.shmoop.com/hedda-gabler/questions.html

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