Henrik Ibsen's Play a Doll's House: How Naturalism Has Been Used to Show The Real Life in The Society

Categories: Naturalism

Ibsen’s use of Naturalist techniques to expose social reality in A Doll’s House

Naturalism was a literary movement that emerged in the late 19th century and “was inspired by adaptation of the principles and methods of natural science, especially the Darwinian view of nature, to literature and art” (Britannica). It was a more detailed form of Realism and focused on factors of social determinism such as the “effects of heredity and environment, outside forces, on humanity” as opposed to “internal qualities of.

.characters” (About.com). In his play A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen makes use of various Naturalist techniques to highlight the unnatural lives people led in the face of societal expectations. This paper will discuss how he uses the perception of dollhouses to expose social realities by utilizing techniques such as stage manipulation, fourth wall, symbolic imagery and informal dialogue.

Dollhouses were playthings of adults in 19th century Europe. They were miniature houses with furnished interiors, extravagant accessories and carefully crafted dolls; representing the perception of an ideal home.

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The title A Doll’s House, therefore, serves to present a familiar visual to the audience based on accepted norms and tradition concerning an ideal home at the core of which are doll-like husbands and wives. Ibsen uses the stage to shatter these unnatural perceptions of family life. An example is the final scene when Nora leaves the house. She slams the door on Torvald, making it feel as if the entire set will tumble down like a pack of cards.

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The slamming door signifies the collapse of the dollhouse and would’ve made the audience gasp. This is not only because of the loud noise from the closing door but also because of Nora’s tremendous boldness in taking such an action. In fact, Ibsen’s portrayal of the character’s final action was so controversial at the time that he had to write an alternative ending to be acceptable for German theatres.

Fourth wall is another technique Ibsen used to make the audiences see the flawed perception of an ideal home. It is “an imaginary wall that keeps performers from recognizing or directly addressing their audience” (Webster). This technique is aimed at making the audience believe it is eavesdropping into the lives of the characters rather than solely watching the play. From timely exits to the characters’ contact with material things in the house, the Fourth Wall helps to create an illusion of everyday life and makes the audience empathize with the characters. Its effect can be readily realized by comparing the transition of Acts in this play versus traditional plays such as those by Shakespeare. Traditionally, the way playwrights demonstrated a change in Acts was to send a person on the stage with a large placard inscribed with the Act and the Scene number. Contrary to this method, Ibsen found it unnecessary to use physical means for demonstrating transitions and instead chose to show them through an evolution or devolution of characters or objects throughout the passage of the play. He deliberately did this so that the play paralleled real life.

An element that helps in sustaining the play’s realistic illusion is Ibsen’s use of symbolic imagery, which makes the set come alive and take part in the action. Two examples that demonstrate his use of this technique are Helmer’s study and the entrance hall. The living room at its rear has two doors; the one on the left leads to Helmer’s study, which symbolizes power and authority and is only opened when Torvald chooses. He maintains a constant presence behind this door and every time he emerges from it, he wields his authority to create changes in the world. Footsteps away from the door is the entrance hall. Through this door, people who are damaged by the outside world such as Mrs. Linde and Krogstad emerge. Even though the door represents the atrocious reality of the world, it also has an abrasive quality of making a person mature. As the play comes to a close, Helmer’s study and the entrance hall go through a dialectical change and, eventually, authority transitions from the Study to the Hall.

To make the play appear realistic it had to sound realistic so perhaps the greatest technique that Ibsen uses is the play’s dialogues. The prime example of this is the disparity in Nora’s dialogues as she responds to Torvald and in her conversations with Mrs. Linde and Krogstad. In front of Torvald her lines demonstrate submissiveness and almost intentional naivety. She is conscientious of her tone and about the manner she asks, which shows that she understands how to get something she wants; for instance even after Nora gets berated by Torvald over her carelessness with money, she sweet talks him into giving her more money by playing with his coat buttons and accepting that she’s a spendthrift in a coquettish and childish manner. On the contrary, when Mrs. Linde says to her that she’s a ‘great spendthrift,’ (Mrs.Linde, 7) she becomes defensive and begins to explain how she and Torvald both have had to work in order to run the house. This unevenness in attitude directly results from the presence and void of power and influence. In front of Torvald she chooses to act submissively and doll-like because she realizes the social influence he has due to his material wealth and the fact that her livelihood is tied to it. However in front of Mrs. Linde, Nora can freely speak her mind because Mrs. Linde is not influential and neither is Nora’s survival dependent on her.

In conclusion, Ibsen uses Naturalism to expose the social reality of 19th century Norway. He manipulates the physical setting of the dollhouse in order to make uncomfortable situations tense such as in the case of Nora leaving the house. Ibsen then uses the Fourth Wall to create an illusion of reality and makes the audience feel as if it is peeping into the lives of the characters. He also uses symbolic imagery for instance Helmer’s Study and the Entrance Hall, where one symbolizes authority and the other harsh freedom and in the end undergo an exchange. Finally Ibsen uses dialogues to exhibit the effect of external forces on communication and attitude towards other characters. He shows how Torvald’s wealth and social influence had forced Nora to become subservient to his wishes and the void of these attributes allowed her to be open and herself in front of Mrs. Linde.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Henrik Ibsen's Play a Doll's House: How Naturalism Has Been Used to Show The Real Life in The Society. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/henrik-ibsens-play-a-dolls-house-how-naturalism-has-been-used-to-show-the-real-life-in-the-society-essay

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