19th Century Literature

Humans are a social being, whose behavior is dictated by their society and its norms. If these values are not followed, a person is seen as strange or abnormal. In extreme cases, individuals are shunned or excluded from activities. In each generation, there are different mores to which people must subscribe. Literature, because it is often about the times, often addresses how the characters are able to live within the society's constraints. The three 19th century works Hedda Gabler, the Death of Ivan Ilych and Madame Bovary portray protagonists whose personalities are not able to cope with the artificial and shallow values of their society and, as a result, must seek the final escape.

Hedda was raised by a military father who gave her mixed messages. He most likely demanded strict adherence to his rule yet filled her with the need of romantic adventure and not being content with the status quo. With this dichotomy, she had to conform to society by being in a patriarchal marriage where she no longer has the ability to expand her intellect or freely express herself. On the other hand, she watches her husband, who is not her intellectual equal, being able to write a book and follow his desires.

The fact that Ibsen uses Hedda's maiden name as the title of the play and not her married name shows that she is still tied to the past although trying to exist in the present. The title also stresses Hedda's aristocratic family background and her close connection with the upperclass standard of living, both materially and emotionally, and thus her difficulties to adapting to the middle-class environment of the Tesmans

Hedda, in fact, sums up herself and the entire play when she says:

Ah, dear Mr. Brack... you just can't imagine how excruciatingly bored I'll be, out here... (Rises impatiently) Yes, there we have it! it's these paltry circumstances I've landed up in... (She moves across) That's what makes life so pitiful! So positively ludicrous!... Because that's what it is. (at the glass door) Oh, be quiet, I say!... I've often thought there's only one thing in the world I'm good at. (Standing and looking out) Boring myself to death. (PAGE?)

Hedda is relating her boredom with society and forecasts her death at the end of the play, because she is unable to pursue her interests and break away from the two sides within her that are trying to compete against one another. The comment at the end of the play confirms that Hedda was not able to "follow the rules" even when committing suicide:

Brack replies, as if speaking to himself: "But, good God Almighty

.. people don't do such things!" (PAGE?)

Madame Bovary was similarly a misfit in society. Like Hedda, she grows bored with conventional life and seeks a more interesting life. Also, like Hedda, she is torn between two worlds -- the one that offers her romance and adventure and the other in a boring and conventional home environment. She wants her affairs to give her a release, but she is afraid of what would happen if Charles finds out the truth. Also, both Hedda and Emma are relegated to having a sexual affair as the only other release available. Such affairs are controlled by men, just as theā€¦