West Chester University

Fall 2001

Spring 2002

West Chester University

Fall 2002



Course Information
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  ENG 020 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Notes on the Art of Fiction: Early Forms
  The Short Story
  Graduate Students Define the Art of Fiction
  Bartleby the Scrivener - Questions for Analysis
  Notes on Melville
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  A Vocabulary for Short Fiction and Beyond
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  A Catalogue of Poems
  Notes on Langston Hughes
  Lines of Continuity
  Poetry Take Home Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  A Doll House
  Study Guide for the Final Exam
  A Glossary of Literary Terms

Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
  The Rhetorical Situation
  Essay #1 Assignment Sheet
  Workshop Assignment for Essay#1
  How to Write Descriptively
  Building a Thesis
  Overcoming Reader's Block
  Analysis and the Culture of Advertising
  Essay #2 Assignment Sheet
  Writing Effective Introductions
  Writing Effective Conclusions
  Propaganda Analysis
  Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda: A Sample Analysis
  Midterm Exam: Tips for Writing on the Spot
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Mapping the Parts of an Arugment

General Announcements
  Announcements for LIT 165
  Assignments for LIT 165
  Announcements for ENG 020
  Assignments for ENG 020


Go Exploring
  A Weblog for LIT 165
  A Weblog for ENG 020

Join the Conversation
  LIT 165 Discussion List
  ENG 020 Discussion List


A Doll House

Helmer: Before all else you are a wife and a mother.

Nora: That I no longer believe. I think that above all else I am a human being, just as much as you are...

Henrik Ibsen's Theater

"Verisimilitude," the appearance, probability, or likelihood of truth, sums up Ibsen's aesthetic. A DollHouse is realism, a mode we are very familiar with today. In his plots, characters, and settings, Ibsen strove for a kind of realism that would give credibility to the incisive social criticism at the heart of many of his plays..

  • Ibsen's plots recreate a believable sequence of events that might actually be experienced by the contemporary audience (later 19th century, European society).
  • Ibsen's characters are not larger than life, but representative of it. A typical theatergoing couple--middle-class, respectable citizens, well-off enough to enjoy the theater--might easily identify with the characters in A DollHouse, maybe uncomfortably so. Realism is Ibsen's motivating aesthetic, and he's been praised for his insightful portrayal of women (as they "really are").
  • Ibsen's sets are realistic, recognizable spaces that the audiences could easily find their place in.

Ibsen's contribution to the theater of his day was to create plays which effectively dramatized contemporary social issues with the intention of awakening his audience to them. His plays challenged social conventions and popular notions or attitudes--in A DollHouse it is love and marriage which are dramatically scrutinized. What Ibsen sees isn't necessarily what his audience sees, or what they want to see. But the play relentlessly reveals the great lie beneath conventional roles that men and women "play" in their marriages. Ibsen did not believe the theater should be a place of refuge or escape from real life, but rather a way of confronting absolutely real social, economic, and psychological issues at a deeper level than everyday life afforded. Like several other of Ibsen's plays, A DollHouse is sometimes referred to as a "problem play," so named because the shocking social criticism it so strongly conveys doesn't easily resolve, or its resolution may seem somewhat radical, even revolutionary--especially to its contemporary audience. Audiences today may still find Nora's flight at the end of the play somewhat shocking.

Emma Goldman, author of The Social Significance of Modern Drama, describes Henrik Ibsen in this colorful way:

Uncompromising demolisher of all false idols and dynamiter of all social shams and hypocrisy, Ibsen consistently strove to uproot every stone of our social structure. Above all did he thunder his fiery indictment against the four cardinal sins of modern society: the Lie inherent in our social arrangements; Sacrifice and Duty, the twin curses that fetter the spirit of man; the narrow-mindedness and pettiness of Provincialism, that stifles all growth; and the Lack of Joy and Purpose in Work which turns life into a vale of misery and tears. <Sunsitel>

Ibsen, like many great, lasting writers, was an innovator. A DollHouse was strikingly unique in its day on several levels. First, he wrote the play in a colloquial Norwegian instead of Danish to once again enhance the play's realism, which made him an instant Norwegian hero, popular nationally. More literary innovations included his variation on the "well-made play," in which the first act provided exposition, the second act a situation that complicated matters, and a third act which produced an "unraveling." This was the standard form audiences had come to expect. Ibsen, however, makes Act III, not an "unraveling," but a "discussion." Until Act III, the play may seem very unproblematic, leading to a clear, unambiguous moral lesson. But when Nora sits Torvald down to "discuss all this that is happening between us" the innovation might have seemed pretty jarring. What? Sit down Another subverted convention was the traditional role of the older male moral figure. That's a stock character, or a "type" that theatergoers would have been familiar with in Ibsen's day, like we are familiar with the certain kinds of characters today. Think of how filled with stock characters a typical Hollywood children's movie is. Rank serves this role, or so it seems. Until we find out, like his name suggests, that there is something a little stinky about him. He is far from being a moral force in the play. On the contrary, he's been hungering after Nora, flirting with her for some time--every chance he gets--until finally he reveals his love/lust. He doesn't apparently give much thought to the meaning of his deception in light of his friendship with Torvald. He's halfway to despicable, saved by the fact that he is gravely ill, otherwise noble and virtuous--a good friend--and Nora teases him mercilessly, seemingly aware of his affections.







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