A Closer Look At Ibsen
’s “A Doll’s House” Essay, Research Paper
IB English 3
A Doll?s House Essay Test
“Everything is relative” or so the flippant motto of the post-modern generation would say. Interestingly enough, this aphorism is brilliantly applied by Henrik Ibsen to enhance his characters in the acclaimed drama, A Doll?s House. Often, we see things relative to their surroundings, and as the contrast between objects heighten, each becomes more visible. Within the first act of A Doll?s House, we encounter Christine Linde, a childhood friend of the main character, Nora, and Dr. Rank, a friend of the family. Ibsen paints distinctive pictures of both Christine and Rank as individuals, and, having established them with the audience uses them as contrasts, or foils, for Nora and Torvald.
Ibsen develops both Christine and Dr. Rank as individual characters and significant elements of the plot. Christine, left destitute by an unloving marriage, reflects a sense of endurance. She is enduring, wizened, and searching for a new beginning. Whereas Nora is girlish and petty, Christine is wise and observant. Commenting on Krogstad: “Still I think it is the sick who need taking care of” (p. 17) she shows her heartfelt concern for others. Christine is discerning, intelligent, and kind. Her amour-propre is based entirely on interactions with other people. Her livelihood is derived from being useful to others. Dr. Rank is jovial, but insightful, kind, but tainted. While at first glance he is a family friend, he is also in love with Nora. “Nora: Tell me?what shall we two wear at the next [ball]? . . . Rank: Yes, I can tell you. You shall go as a good fairy? Helmer: What do you suggest as an appropriate costume for that? Rank: Let your wife go as she is in everyday life” (57). His body is rotting, but he maintains his jocund outlook on life, even as death encroaches upon him. The themes of the play, men and women, their relationship to one another, and to the outside world-, carry through to Rank and Christine. In developing them as individual characters, the audience/reader embraces them, or, at least relates to them, to a greater extent than they would have had Ibsen left Rank and Christine bland plot-catalysts built on stereotypes. As individual characters they can serve stronger and more original.
Christine, most importantly, provides numerous contrasts throughout the play. Most obvious is her contrast to Nora. While Nora has been sheltered and lived an easy life since the time she and Christine were girls, Christine has endured the death of her parents and the resulting care she had to provide her younger siblings. This contrast is most visible when Nora divulges the secret of her loan to Christine. Deciding to tell Christine this seems more like a childish boast than an adult conversation. Nora toys with several lies about a suitor, and only divulges her secrets when Christine calls her a child. Christine, by contrast, is wise. There still exists a grave hollowness in Christine?s life, however. Her livelihood comes from helping others, “My poor mother needs me no more, for she is gone; and the boys do not need me either; they have got situations and can shift for themselves. Nora: What a relief you must feel it? Christine: No, indeed; I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for any more” (10). Christine?s hollowness provides a contrast, or foil, for Nora?s belief in the importance of motherhood and marriage.
Similarly, Ibsen uses Dr. Rank as a foil for Torvald. In the majority of well-written plays, there is a moral figure, often male, who the other members of the cast look to for moral guidance. Ibsen sets up Dr. Rank perfectly to assume the roll: he is older, kind, and wise. But, much to the surprise of the audience, Dr. Rank is both physically and morally tainted. He is dying from a disease begotten by his father?s sexual indiscretions. Furthermore, he is very much in love with Nora. Dr. Rank provides a contrast to Torvald?s immutable sense of morality. Dually, Dr. Rank?s humor serves as a comic relief in an otherwise serious play. . “Nora: Tell me?what shall you be at the next ball? Rank: Well, I think I shall be invisible” (57). Rank, aforementioned, is as syphilitic. Rank?s syphilis, more so, his open discussion of it, was considered extremely taboo in Ibsen?s Victorian era. But syphilis, being a sexually transmitted disease, is as basic an illustration of inter-gender relationships as one could hope to have. Rank?s openness about his disease is a micro-reflection of the play as a whole: radical, taboo, but honest and truthful. The disease itself is also symbolic of Torvald and Nora?s relationship: a few painless chancres on the outside, but disintegration hidden away from the eyes, which ultimately leads to death.
Dr. Rank and Christine are significant to the play in multiple ways. Most importantly, they contrast Torvald and Nora in a variety of ways. These contrasts bring highlight the Nora and Torvald?s actions, motivations, and personalities. This strengthens them as characters and in turn, makes better the play as a whole. They also present vehicles for Ibsen to address other issues. Through Rank, Ibsen takes aim at sex, disease, and death, and through Christine, he speaks boldly about love verses money, and the hollowness of a purely serving lifestyle. A Doll?s House without Christine and Rank would be but a “fool, who frets his hour upon the stage . . . signifying nothing.”