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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Germanic Languages & Literatures

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



My research identifies the existing parallels between the repressive societal structures portrayed in the play Hedda Gabler (1890) and central political issues addressed by representatives of the German and Austrian women’s movement at the turn of the 19th century. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen shows how oppressive social conditions negatively affect his female characters, but he does not offer satisfactory alternatives to their suffering. I selected the theoretical writings of Helene Stöcker and Rosa Mayreder as more “radical” opinions of the first German and Austrian women’s movement because they present solutions to the repressive societal structures Ibsen addresses. Since many voices of the women’s movement describe literature as a political tool that has the power to influence society’s worldview, my research demonstrates that the political effectiveness of fictional texts like Hedda Gabler is increased once these texts are linked to theoretical feminist writings. In my literary analysis, I focus on the following categories discussed by Ibsen, Stöcker, and Mayreder: (1) The “old maid” question, (2) Devotion and sacrifice as parts of female education, (3) Unhappy marriages, (4) Unfulfilling motherhood and (5) The repressed female sexuality. My research centers on the perspective of selected feminists in the German-speaking world by emphasizing women’s voices and shifting the spotlight from the male-dominated theater at the time, thus leading to new insights and interpretations. In my analysis, I show that Hedda Gabler’s desperate cry for freedom is reflected in the reality of many middle-class German and Austrian women at the end of the 19th century and remains relevant for women’s rights debates in the present.

First Advisor

Sara Jackson