Hedda and Thea are presented as not only opponents for the soul and genius of Eilert Loevborg, but as contrasts in sterility and fertility. Although Hedda is pregnant and Thea has no children, Thea is fertile and Hedda is sterile. Hedda rejects even the idea of her own pregnancy, while Thea works with Eilert Loevborg, and later with George Tesman, to bring the book “child” of Eilert and herself to birth. Mayerson points out that:
Ibsen uses Thea...to indicate a way to freedom which Hedda never apprehends. Through her ability to extend herself in comradeship with Loevborg, Thea not only brings about the rebirth of his creative powers, but merges her own best self with his to produce a prophecy of the future.
This notion of a woman fulfilling herself by inspiring a man is rather dated, but Ibsen clearly approved of Thea’s nurturing femininity. Thea, despite her totally feminine nature, is able to break with the social standards of her culture to leave her husband and follow Eilert Loevborg. Of all the characters in Hedda Gabler, Thea is the most able to act from her own conscience and convictions, despite the disapproval of society.
Mayerson comments that:
The manuscript is Loevborg’s and Thea’s ‘child,’ the idea of progress born of a union between individuals who have freed themselves from the preconceptions of their environment. This manuscript the sterile Hedda throws into the fire at the climax of her vindictive passion. Her impulse to annihilate by burning is directed both toward Thea’s “child” and toward Thea’s hair and calls attention to the relationship between them....Ibsen was using hair as a symbol of fertility ...”
According to the Ibsen’s stage directions, Hedda has “not especially abundant” hair, while Thea’s “hair is...exceptionally wavy and abundant.” Hedda has evidently been jealous of it since their days at school. Thea remembers that she was frightened of Hedda in school, because:
Thea: Whenever you met me on the staircase you used to pull my hair.
Hedda: No, did I?
Thea: Yes. And once you said you’d burn it all off.
Hedda is jealous of Thea’s hair which represents both her femininity and her fertility. Consequently, Hedda attacks both Thea’s femininity and her fertility, destroying her relationship with Eilert Loevborg and destroying the manuscript, the “child” of Thea and Eilert. However, Thea’s abundant fertility conquers even this, and as the play draws to an end, she is working with Tesman to reconstruct the manuscript/child.
While Thea is able to create and recreate, brilliant Hedda can only destroy. She destroys the manuscript, destroys Eilert Loevborg, and finally, destroys herself. She is, ultimately, an ignorant, highly romantic woman, trapped in the rigid bourgeois society of 19th century
The other major symbol in the play is the pistols of General Gabler, which, along with his portrait, seem to be all Hedda has inherited from him. Hedda uses the pistols throughout the play to assert her identity as her father’s daughter. This role is the most glamorous one available to Hedda in her limited world.
Such pistols traditionally belong to an officer who cherishes a code of bravery and honor. Hedda’s trifling use of them mocks this traditional role. She threatened Eilert Loevborg with her pistols before he left town years ago, and she playfully shoots at Judge Brack as he approaches her house through the back door. This is a mockery of protecting her “honor,” especially since she is so dishonest in her sexual relationships with the men in her life. She sent away Loevborg, whom she evidently desired, married George Tesman whom she does not like, let alone love, in order to be supported comfortably, and flirts with Brack, despite her marriage.