Form and Structure – A Dolls House Essay
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By breaking away from the theatrical conventions of his day, Ibsen created “A Dolls House”. The playwright experimented with theatrical structures by: deviating from the “well made play” and by using his play as a medium to promote change in the world which in turn shocked audiences. Ibsen wanted the audience to be more involved with the play and used numerous devices to achieve this. His play is laced with symbolism and unusual themes which make the form and structure quite different from the typical play of that era.
Naturalism was the hallmark of Ibsen but naturalism contradicted elements of the “well made play”. The “well made play” was performed in one act and included an introduction followed by a complication. These complications arose from letters being read by the wrong person which lead to a climax near the end of the play and concluded with a happy ending.
However, Ibsen did not believe that all stories had a happy ending. He therefore adapted the “well made play” to include naturalism. Ibsen kept the frame work of the “well made play” but changed the ending to an unhappy one.
He also split his play into three acts, following each other chronologically, which meant that there were three times more complications, climaxes and unhappy endings. This took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions which saw them relating to the characters of the play. The characters followed the recommendations of the “well made play” in that there was: a woman in distress (Nora), a confidante (Mrs Linde) and a cruel villain (Krogstad). However, he changed the domineering father into a domineering husband (Torvald) and a jealous husband into a jealous friend (Dr. Rank).
Whilst Ibsen wanted his own style of play he knew that if the structure changed too much the audiences of that time would not understand the new structure. This is why literary genre of naturalism was mixed with the “well made play” Another way that Ibsen’s style differed from those of other playwrights was his inclusion of the audience. Ibsen wanted the audience to be observing the life of the characters through a portal or window. He therefore used the stage as his window. The audience also felt included in that they knew more information about all of the characters than the characters knew of each other.
The audience knew all of the stories which were circulating which allowed them a sneak preview as to what was about to come. Ibsen felt that by including the audience more it allowed them to go on a metaphorical journey and connect with the actors. Whilst the changes to the way a typical play was staged may not have shocked the audiences too much, the content of “A Dolls House” certainly did. Ibsen wrote the play in 1879. This was a time where only certain subjects were appropriate for the stage and correctness was the base of a middle class Victorian life.
Therefore when Ibsen included topics such as women disobeying their husbands and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) audiences were horrified. Ibsen did not include such topics just to shock his audiences; he did it to promote change of such issues. In the 19th century sexually transmitted diseases were rampant. Ibsen believed that: “society has… obscure diseases which must be revealed before they can be cured”. Ibsen can therefore be seen as a person who allowed society to progress. If he had not have talked about such issues it might be possible that STDs would still be a taboo issue today.
Symbolism is an integral structure of the play. The play can be interpreted on many levels and it seems that everything which Ibsen included in the play was included for a reason and has a meaning to it. A great example of this is the dress which Nora wears to the ball. A simple interpretation is that allows Nora to dress up and pretty herself which is something that little girls like to do. This would reinforce the point that Nora is akin to a little girl or doll. A deeper interpretation is that it allows Nora to put on a fai?? ade to hide the lies about the loan and who the money lender is.
The more complex interpretation is that the dress symbolises Nora. When the dress is first revealed it is ripped. This is similar to Nora as she has a problem with the loan. The rip is then fixed which symbolises when Krogstad decides not to tell Torvald. Finally when the dress is taken off it shows that Nora is finally taking off her fai?? ade and showing her husband the truth. I believe that Ibsen used symbolism to show that every story had a deeper meaning and that things should not be judged by their appearances. Torvald shows this when he thinks that Nora spends the money on items for her self indulgences.
Little does he know that she is actually actively trying to save money and that money she has spent was to rid her husband of illness. Women and their role is a major theme of the play. Ibsen suggests that the role of women is much less important than the role of men. He suggests this when he shows how society expects women to sacrifice their integrity whilst men do not have to do the same. Nora has to be the reticent wife whilst Torvald is a domineering husband. It is not only Nora who must sacrifice her integrity. The nurse does this when she must leave her children to look after Nora.
I believe that Ibsen is trying to show that all women are affected by the expectation for them to give up their integrity. As previously mentioned, the playwright might have done this under the belief that if such an issue was to be resolved it would first have to be acknowledged. Ibsen took a risk by trying to adjust the tried and tested form and structure of a play. However, the risk paid off and Ibsen has been applauded as one of the greatest writers of his era. Many writers today use his form and structure to help create their own plays but there is only one true “Dolls House”.