Over the past few decades, criticism has shifted its focus from things in themselves to the relationship between things. As society, or the social, has become an increasingly dominant force in terms of critical criteria, we have come to view literary characters in terms of their reflecting the society in which they live or lived. In the following article then, we examine the characters and their relationship both to each other and to the world they live in in the opening act of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House  , a play noted for its naturalistic character , in order to gain a better understanding of the society which Ibsen set out to articulate in his drama. In the process we discover a society characterised by deceit, prejudice and social constraints.
A Doll’s House begins on a Christmas Eve late in the nineteenth century and is set in the middle-class family. Following a fairly traditional structure, the first act acts as exposition, setting out the key elements that will drive the coming drama. The reader soon learns that the major issues surround the lead female player – Nora – and her relationship with her husband, Torvald, who treats her throughout in a decidedly patronising and child-like manner: “Is my little squirrel bustling about?” he questions in the beginning aspect of the conversation and he later refers her to his “poor little girl” . Furthermore, the viewer is attracted to to the elements of deception that essentially underpin both the relationship between the Helmers themselves and between them and the secondary characters: “Speak low”, Nora urges at one point, “Suppose Torvald were to hear” .
Most pertinently perhaps, with A Doll’s House Ibsen appe...
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... Torvald of her ‘discrepancy’ unless she influences her husband with regard to Krogstad’s position at the bank. Krogstad is portrayed as the epitome of moral sickness , “Each breath the children take in such a house is full of the germs of evil”, Torvald condemns. Nora meanwhile, reminded of her own deceptions, wrestles with her own guilt: “Deprave my little children? Poison my home?” she beseeches, “It can not be true” .
We have seen then how Ibsen’s characters are in turn, patronised, oppressed, desperate, deceitful and morally corrupt and the playwright expertly captures their natures within the framework of a mirrored society. A Doll’s House has thus remained a landmark of dramatic significance. Vital in its condition of the dehumanizing oppression of the feminine, crucial to the understanding of the social struggle we continue to face.
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