The theme of confinement is significant in these plays as both of the playwrights have physically confined their female characters into a closed environment and constantly refer back to it through speech. They do so in order to encourage the audience to think about the unequal and unpleasant situation of women in their societies. It’s respectable to comment that targeting this issue must’ve seemed radical to the passively accepting public of those times, whereas, it promotes admiration in the contemporary audiences who have mostly passed gender inequality.
Through looking at setting, language and symbols, this essay explores the portrayal of women’s confinement in Blood Wedding and Hedda Gabler. The playwrights have physically depicted the confinement of women in the plays’ settings. When these plays were written, women were primarily confined to their house in the Andalusian and Norwegian society. Both of the playwrights have used this and placed their female characters in the closed environment of their home. For instance, the stage instructions in Blood Wedding (page 47) state that “BRIDE’s house [is] carved out of the rock itself,” which suggests that Bride lives in a cave.
As Lorca is known for using symbols, the walls that this ‘cave’ creates physically symbolize the confinement Bride’s surrounded in. The word ‘rock’, being an impenetrable mineral, is important here, as well, portraying the strength of the women’s confinement in Andalusian society. Ibsen depicts this through a similar approach in Hedda Gabler. By deliberately setting all the activity of the play to take place in the scenery of Hedda’s house, he calls attention to her limited area of movement and her monotonous lifestyle.
The audience is invited to sympathize with the protagonist through this subtle observation learning in the course of the play that many of her mean actions launch from this very same confinement. By telling Brack (page 305) “You can’t imagine how horribly bored I’m going to be out here,” she foreshadows and undoubtedly points out that her cruel proceedings, such as evoking Li??vborg’s alcoholism, are measures to fight the ‘horrible’ boredom the confinement in her house creates in her.
Furthermore, the negative connotation on ‘out here’ directly implies that she doesn’t like living in the house. On the other hand, this line creates ambiguity and might also suggest that the house is far from populated area. This also indicates confinement from people. Likewise, in Blood Wedding Bride’s house is far away, too. The use of the paradox ‘back of beyond” by Neighbor in ‘She lives with her father [… ] in the back of beyond,” (page 36) indicates Bride to live ridiculously far away and characterizes the unpleasant distance the confinement creates between her and people.
It may also express the zealous attitude of some individuals who exaggerate in living according to society’s rules. Like Mother who refused remarrying after her husband’s death and “turned completely to the wall” (page 33), Bride’s father may have purposely set to live so far away to isolate his wife and daughter. Continuing with the exploration of setting, Ibsen also uses mental landscape to convey the effect of confinement. In Hedda Gabler, the protagonist states “I’m just looking at the leaves. They’re so yellow, and so withered” (page 276).
The ‘yellow’ and ‘withered’ leaves outside of Hedda’s window correspond with her feelings and condition. Like leaves that turn yellow and wither when their life is coming to an end, Hedda’s diction implies that she is dying through her imprisonment. Through this, the playwright pushes the audience to contemplate over the unpleasant and undesirable results of confinement. Correspondingly, Lorca also uses trees to introduce this issue to the viewers.
In Blood Wedding, Bride talks of her mother who “came from a place full of trees… nd withered away” in the ‘cave’. Trees take a symbolic meaning in Lorca’s play standing for people and life. Bride’s mother slowly faded to her death in the ‘cave’ where there’s ‘no good land’ (page 49) for trees to grow, and which is ‘a good couple of hours from the nearest house’ (page 36). Therefore, the ‘cave’ is an implicit portrayal of the conflict between human craving for freedom and the confinement society imposes on women. Besides expressing the confinement of women, the playwrights also address their passive acceptance of it.
In Blood Wedding, Lorca represents society’s voice and women’s passive acceptance through Mother. For this character, the rules of society exceed the natural and instinctual unlike with Bride’s mother. For instance, “When the Felix murdered [her husband], [she] looked straight at the wall” (page 33). Although she suffers from these as she’s lost a husband and a son due to the appraisal of family honor, Mother continues to support society and teach others to do the same.
She teaches Bride that “[Marriage] is a man and his children, and a thick stone wall to keep the rest of the world out” (page 51). Her numerous uses of the word ‘wall’ suggest, however, that she is not so rigid and cold, but is willing to be confined because she realizes the futility of going against the powerfully established society. For this reason, she advises Bride to passively accept her situation, too, passing it down to other generations of women. Nevertheless, she holds a very powerful position in society in the play despite being a woman.
She’s respected for being morally correct and it’s fair to reason thus that following society gives one power as respect and honor hold and important place in Andalusian society. Likewise, Bride also wants to follow society although she suffers, when she says “I’ll lock myself away with my husband… and I’ll do right by him” (page 60). This indicates her unchallenged understanding that society is ‘right’. She repeats ‘I’ to emphasize her strong desire to act accordingly despite being in love with Leonardo. This portrays her passive acceptance.
In Hedda Gabler, the protagonist is also fixated with her status in society similarly to Mother. She exclaims “One doesn’t do this kind of thing” (page 276) emphasizing that, being the daughter of high- ranking General Gabler, she is proud to follow the code of conduct expected of a lady, and that she expects others to do the same. A large reason behind such behavior in these women might be the need for a sense of belonging as society holds an important position in people’s lives, especially in Andalusia. Ibsen conveys this need, too, through presenting Hedda as a woman “terrified of scandal” (page 361).
The word ‘terrified’ is particularly strong emphasizing her solid desire to fit and belong, just like Bride’s. In contrast to women, men have the freedom to move around in these male dominated societies. To bring this aspect forth, Ibsen has made Hedda a free spirited woman in order to portray the difficulties and unpleasantness such a person has adjusting to confinement. Unlike in the ‘General’s days’ (page 265) when she could attend high- class parties, she’s now constrained to her house as a middle-class wife with nothing to do but bear children. This also indicates a confinement not only by house but by class.
Additionally, she says that at the age of twenty- nine, her “time was up” and she ‘had simply danced [her]self out’ (page 299). Hedda’s expressing how she had tried to prolong marriage and fight the traditional but was eventually confined by her customs. Men, on the other hand, have freedom of movement even when married. Tesman clearly makes this apparent in his line “You mustn’t expect me as early as that, Hedda” (page 323) when going out. With the emphasis on ‘me’, Tesman portrays the dominance and freedom of movement men possess in Norwegian society.
Likewise, Lorca in Blood Wedding uses the fast and free- spirited horse to symbolize this. Leonardo owns a horse and often rides with it portraying his freedom. Bride bitterly comments on this with “You ride your horse so well… ” (page 60) conveying her dislike for the confinement and her crave for similar rights as Leonardo. Through horses, Hedda, too, expresses her unfavorable feelings for her imprisonment by commenting “… a saddle- horse that I was going to [ride] – … I suppose it’s no use of even thinking of that now” (page 295).
This means that she’s denied even the illusion of freedom riding a horse creates. Ibsen provides her with a similar method of relief,however, through shooting with General Gabler’s guns. This masculine activity also gives her a sense of power and freedom that her fierce nature needs. It’s only fitting that she shoots herself in the end with these very same guns to escape her confinement. In brief, Ibsen and Lorca have powerfully presented the unjust circumstances of women in the Andalusian and Norwegian society through physical confinement and restriction of movement in their plays.
The playwrights have expressed their judgment over this by developing doleful attitudes in their female characters, and causing them to take desperate measures, such as the protagonist committing suicide Hedda Gabler, against this oppression. On the other hand, they also express passive acceptance and the need for belonging in humans which is what stops the women from trying to change their situation. In addition, the playwrights have used effective language and symbols in order to try and bring a change to this mind-set in their audience.