How Tolstoy S Ivan and Ibsen S Hedda Are Different Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Hedda and Ivan: The Struggle of the Willful Self

Hedda Gabler and Ivan Ilyich are both willful individuals. However, Ivan on his deathbed converts from a life of selfishness to a vision of selflessness and thus, it is presumed, saves his soul. Hedda, on the other hand, pursues a selfish existence to the very last and when she realizes that she no longer has absolute control over her life, she shoots herself. The two are very different characters in this way: Ivan submits to the realization that he is not in control, that he is in fact a burden to others, and that there is a beauty in the act of compassion to which he wants to attach himself at the end of his miserable life. Hedda does not interact with this beauty nor does she submit to the realization of loss of control. She instead "opts out" of her contract with life, the ultimate act of self will.

The means of salvation, in a sense, for Ivan Ilyich come through Gerasim, the butler, who devotes himself to caring for Ivan, even though Ivan is miserable on his deathbed and displays neither virtues nor any sort of character that one would want to be around. Gerasim's compassion and selflessness becomes the vehicle for Ivan's spiritual conversion: he begins to see the world through the eyes...
...He does this before he dies and his soul is thus transported from a hellish state to a grace-filled state: "In place of death there was light," states Tolstoy. "What joy!" exclaims Ivan -- the first real sense of actual joy he has ever really known: it is the joy of selfless giving that sets him apart from the damned and miserable.

Hedda does not get to partake of this joy. She insists on following her own willful course, first by getting Eilert to fall off the wagon and become drunk. When he is drunk, he loses his masterpiece manuscript, which Hedda then villainously burns so as to secure her own future with her husband, who fears Eilert might usurp his position at the university. Hedda then goes even further and presses Eilert into committing suicide, even providing the means to do so with a pistol. Hedda is like an evil counselor in this play, having more in common with Iago of Shakespeare's Othello than with Ivan, whose willfulness is mainly out of ignorance and self-love. Hedda's willfulness is almost sinister and spiteful in a way: she not only loves herself to a fault but despises those who pose a threat to her security and is jealous of anyone, such as Thea, who shows an actual ability to positively influence anyone, especially someone like Eilert who is a recovering alcoholic and ex-lover…

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