A Doll’s House as a Naturalistic Play
Henrik Ibsen was a nineteenth century playwright who is known for his great depiction of social reality. Ibsen was born in Norway; however he worked in different countries to earn a living. His plays are the most frequently performed after the ones of Shakespeare. One of his most popular plays, which we have studied as a part of the “Modern Drama” class, is called A Doll’s House. The following essay will try to demonstrate with detailed explanations and references to the play that its content is a Naturalistic one. First of all, we will define what Naturalism is. Secondly, we will look at how the definition applies to A Doll’s House.
Thirdly, we will compare it with another play: The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. Naturalism is often based on the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. Naturalist authors frequently want to show how people are predestined to live a certain way as they are prisoners of the social hierarchies created by men. John Rahn points out this affirmation in his article on Naturalism: “The dominant theme of Naturalist literature is that persons are fated to whatever station in life their heredity, environment, and social conditions prepare them for. The power of primitive emotions to negate human reason was also a recurring element.” (Rahn, 2011) Naturalism is a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific ideologies of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. It focuses not only on the characters, but on the way they react to unusual situations. Naturalists try to recreate human nature through fiction that is to say that the novel or play is a creation through observation of humans living in society. Some have criticized Naturalists to only show a pessimistic side of human nature. In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House we can easily conclude that the content is Naturalistic by, first, looking at the monologues and dialogues.
For example, the way Nora speaks when she addresses Torvald is different than when she speaks with other characters. The fact that, in the 1880s, men were considered dominant and had power over their wife is a sign that it is the way a women would behaved towards her husband; she would have been respectful and always at his service. The author of A Doll’s House was concerned with the way women were treated back in his days: “Ibsen’s concerns about the position of women in society are brought to life in A Doll’s House. He believed that women had a right to develop their own individuality, but in reality, their role was often self-sacrificial.” (Unknown, 2014) Women were not treated as equals with men, either in relation to their husbands or society, as is clear from Torvald’s horror of his employees thinking he has been influenced in a decision about Krogstad’s job by his wife. However, when Nora speaks with Krogstad, she does not use the same tone and she is a lot more straightforward responding to his accusations. Since Krogstad is Torvald’s employee, Nora feels more inclined to not take him seriously and to argue. Even though Krogstad is a man, Nora is on top of him in the social hierarchy since her husband has power over Krogstad.
Depending on the epoch, words and behaviour have more or less power. This also depends on who is reading the text. In the case of A Doll’s House we can understand from the way Nora acts, that her behaviour might not be well perceived by a 1880s audience, however in the present era her behaviour would not be as shocking. Still, the way Nora acts in whatever period in history is part of the human nature that wants to be free. As for the other characters, Torvald is a banker whose vanity will lead to his downfall and cause him to lose the love of his life.
Dr. Rank is the only character that treats Nora as an intelligent human being, however he wants something in return (her love) which makes Nora more reticent to share her flaw with him. Mrs. Linden is a tragic figure at first since she is a widow and women did not usually work during the 1880s, but she gets hired at the bank and starts a new life with Krogstad. All of these characteristics are typical to a Naturalistic play because everyone stands where he/she belongs according to the social conventions of the time.
If we compare Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard we can notice the similarities through the patterns of the Naturalist movement. As mentioned earlier: “The dominant theme of Naturalist literature is that persons are fated to whatever station in life their heredity, environment, and social conditions prepare them for. ”(Rhan , 2011) In A Doll’s House, Nora is fated for the almost unique reason that she is a woman in a particular time in history, which makes her role as a mother and wife the most sacred thing for a woman at that time and deprives her of the freedom that man have.
In The Cherry Orchard, the people of the Bourgeoisie are fated to become useless since capitalism is taking over and businesses are now richer than they are and can afford to buy lands and earn power through their possessions. In both plays there is a peripeteia also called “reversal” which is typical to Naturalistic drama. In A Doll’s House the peripeteia occurs when Nora decides to leave her husband to learn about herself, Torvald ends up alone not understanding what happened and at the same time Krogstad and Mrs.
Linden decide to get back together to help one another through . In The Cherry Orchard the peripeteia is plain to understand as the Bourgeois culture comes to an end while a serf takes over the land since he has climbed the echelons and became a businessman. To continue, in A Doll’s House there is the character of Nora that is in some way a proto-feminist character and that was pretty revolutionary back in the days for a woman to quit everything and become autonomous.
In The Cherry Orchard, that revolutionary character would be Trofimov whose idealistic convictions make him an interesting character to reflect upon. Naturalistic playwrights want the audience to see human nature through their eyes and make them rethink what is normally considered as right or wrong. These often “avant-garde” characters are there to make the audience react to their monologues and reflect upon what they have heard. Finally, we can notice that the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a Naturalistic play from the definition that is given of Naturalism.
By looking at the dialogues and monologues we can recognize that everyone is at their place, there are no inverted roles, the social hierarchy is respected and humans are being humans. In comparison to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, we can identify similarities from the typical unfolding of a Naturalistic play as the character are predestined to remain where life has put them, but also because of the typical “reversal” (peripeteia) that occurs in both plays. The intention of Naturalist playwright is regularly to make their audiences look at themselves in the mirror and realize the flaws of human nature.