Ibsen’s use of structure to present themes in “A Doll’s House”

16 Sep

In A Doll’s House, Ibsen does not follow the conventional plot structure of story/play. Normally a story/play has an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and then resolution. The conflict has been solved and everybody lives happily ever after in the end. Instead, Ibsen uses a three act play, which splits up into an “exposition/rising action” in the first act, a “situation” in the second act, and then a “discussion” in the third act, as suggested by George Bernard Shaw, an essayist who analyzed the play.

In the “discussion”, Nora exits the play, leaving Torvald and the life she had behind. This certainty isn’t your regular resolution, as things are still out of balance and left hanging out there (i.e. there isn’t a “Happily Ever After”). The audience is left questioning why she did this and “Was it the right thing to do?”. The answer that they come up with is open to difference in perspective. They then begin relating these questions to the theme representing it: “Femininity is derived from upholding society’s expectations”. Well, in the contemporary society at the time of the play’s introduction, women were expected to stay with and love their husbands and children, and not leave them just because of the pursuit of self-actualisation. The fact that Nora left her life to pursue self-actualisation certainly raised some eyebrows among audience members, and more questions like those above begin to arise. Audience members then begin thinking about the other thematic ideas (and the questions they come with)  that are present throughout the play, but become most noticeable in the “discussion”. For example, “Marriage does not necessarily mean true love” and “Money brings out the true nature in people” are two recurring themes throughout the play, but become explicit in the “discussion” as well, so audience members begin thinking about these.

To emphasize the above idea that themes, which appear throughout the play, become more distinguished/explicit in the “discussion” of the play, an example will be used. In the “discussion”, we see that Ms. Linde and Krogstad want to have a relationship, not because they love each other but instead because they need each other. The audience begins thinking, “Hang on. How can you have a relationship like that and not have love at the foundation?” They then begin questioning about the thematic idea that  “Marriage does not necessarily mean true love”. In the case of Krogstad and Ms. Linde, they realize that no, a marriage relationship does not need to be built off of true love. Also, in the case of Torvald and Nora, we see that there relationship was built off of blind love, as they only thought they loved each other, and they stayed together because society expected them to.

As stated above, once one theme is being discussed, subsequently all other themes that appear in the play, but become most prominent in the “discussion”, become of concern to the audience and they begin discussing these as well. For example, another theme that the play features is “Masculinity is derived from upholding society’s expectations”. The audience can see this theme throughout the play, but it becomes of special concern when Torvald reads Krogstad’s blackmail letter, and does not keep his head high, as Nora hoped. Instead, he immediately worries about his reputation at the bank and among his friends, as he now feels trapped in Krogstad’s claws. The audience can see that Torvald cares most about his reputation in society; more than he cares about his wife or anything else. It can then be deduced that reputation and respect define the how much of a man someone is in this society that the play is set in. This idea can also be seen in Krogstad. Since he “slipped up” and lost his reputation and the respect of many of his peers, he feels he has lost what makes him a man. Men at the contemporary time of the play’s debut are expected to be respected and hold a positive reputation among other members of society.

Other themes include “The home is a place of comfort, deceit, and truth” and “ Respect and reputation are the main priorities in a man’s life”.

Naturalism is a technique used by authors/playwrights. and features in “A Doll’s House”. Essentially, the characters and setting and every other aspect in the play must be as real as possible, if not more. There should seemingly be no script, and the story should basically be like looking through a microscope looking at real people acting in the natural ways they do.


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