Symbolism is a device used in drama and writing that exerts meaning beyond its literal sense. Henrik Ibsen uses symbolism in his work of Hedda Gabler, to attach deeper meaning to familiar objects used in the play. While there are countless objects that may be perceived beyond their literal meaning, the most symbolically relevant are the fire, manuscript, pistols, piano, as well as the glass windows. These objects all in some way develop or represent a component of Hedda's character. Through the exploration of these seemingly mundane objects, considerable significance is found which in turn allows for a stronger and further rooted perception of Ibsen's work. .
Fire is a strong symbolic reference that often represents power, destruction and energy. In Ibsen's play, there is repeated association with Hedda and fire. On multiple occasions, Hedda is seen sitting by the fire, stove, and speaks of burning things. Hedda's talk of Thea's hair, that she "must burn it all off" may be interpreted as an early allusion of what is to come in the climactic moments of the play, as we come to realize Hedda's fascination with fire. We learn that she is not afraid of using it, specifically as a means of destruction. When Hedda tends to the fire in Act 3, there is definite foreshadowing of events to come. This scene in which Hedda feeds the fire marks the beginning of the drama's rising action. Ibsen uses fire as a destructive symbol, as Hedda uses it to destroy Lovborg's coveted manuscript once she is threatened. Hedda repeatedly remarks, "I am burning your child." The fire may also represent an aspect of Hedda's character, her fiery personality and burning passion to escape the confinement she finds herself in. One of many symbols in the dramatic play, fire notably represents the passion of Hedda on numerous levels.
There are a number of contextual symbols in Ibsen's work. The manuscript and the personification it embodies eventually leads to the downfall of Hedda and Lovborg.