Sunday, July 18, 2010

Essay on A Doll's House: Is a Tragedy?

Essay on A Doll's House: Is a Tragedy?

Is the work of Ibsen, A Doll's House, an example of a traditional tragedy in literature? First, we must look at the classic definition of a tragedy in literature. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a tragedy is: medieval poem describing the fall of a great man and serious drama with a conflict between a protagonist and a superior force ending in sorrow or disaster that brings forth pity or terror. Our text and class lecture notes further and more specifically define a tragedy as needing to have a member of royalty as the heroes, not members of the middle class (Introduction to Literature, page 821), the tragic hero is put into an extraordinary position, the hero or heroine has a tragic flaw which leads to the downfall in the end, and the center of the overall conflict is a moral or ethical dilemma. Also, like most all other works in literature there are always protagonists and antagonists.

I will analyze A Doll’s House in relation to the above traditional definition. Ibsen’s story does not fit the first part of the definition in that there is no royalty at all in the story. The closest thing would be in that one main character was a prominent businessman, Torvald Helmer, and the other main character, his wife, Nora. Neither of them could be classified as royalty in that they were members if common society even though they were financially well off. Other highly visible characters were a medical doctor and a lawyer. Again, none of these characters were anywhere near being members of royalty.

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The heroine, Nora, was put in an extraordinary position, even though some of severe circumstance was self-imposed. She also lived and suffered through a moral dilemma, again self-imposed. She was put in a subordinated position initially by her father as he gave her away in marriage to Torvald. She was passed from a situation where she was protected and controlled by her father to her husband where he also severely controlled her life. Even though Torvald did not perceive he was doing anything detrimental to Nora, she suffered from her lack of freedom nonetheless. He felt he was protecting her, and she needed his protection and nothing else, such as being free to be her own person, with her own interests in life. She was being emotionally suffocated. She could no longer live in the role that her husband put her in and society expected her to stay in. She felt that there was nothing to their marriage late in the story and she had to decide whether to live a superficially happy marriage or leave and gain her identity.

Years before, Nora arranged for medical treatment for her husband, even though he did not know what she had done and the way she obtained the funds to do so. She arranged for a loan from a less than honorable acquaintance, the lawyer Krogstad, who was an old friend of Torvald. It turns out she had also done something illegal in signing her father’s name to guarantee the loan to Krogstad. This debt to Krogstad hung over her head and controlled much of her life. Even after her husband found out about the note that described the loan, Torvald still wanted to control her even though he said he would forgive her. However, Nora wanted nothing to do with his forgiveness. After the way he reacted and some of the things he said, Nora realized there was nothing left of her marriage to Torvald.

At the end of the story Nora had an awakening and started a move to a new life without Torvald. She saw there was not way to grow emotionally in the family and social situation she was in. She was so set on a new beginning that she was willing to leave their children with her husband. Even though it was such a drastic change in the live of Nora, she felt she had to do it and leaving was the only way she could improve her stifled freedom. It was her decision for once to control her life. She had to leave to gain her pride. Nora did face these moral dilemmas, yet, it was not a downfall in the true since of the definition such as death, that is seen in the classic tragedy.

There was a great deal of conflict in this work. There was the husband and wife conflict, the conflict between Nora and Krogstad, and most importantly, the conflict that Nora suffered in living in the classic role of a wife in the eyes of society. Nora was the protagonist and suffered at the hands of many antagonists starting with her husband, Torvald, the money lending Krogstad, and the expectations of the society she lived in. This conflict and the protagonist and antagonist roles fit the classic definition of a tragedy.

After the analysis of this literary work, I feel that A Doll’s House does not fit the classic definition of a tragedy. Comparisons have been made and it is my feeling that many of the parts of a tragedy are not met in this work. The lack of royalty and no true downfall of the heroine do not fit, but the moral dilemma and conflict does fit. Part of the reason it does not fit is by design. As discussed in the text, the Realism writers that started in the late 1800’s did not involve royalty, did not write in poetry, and did not select characters that had control over society. In fact, in many ways, A Doll’s House was the antithesis of classic tragedy. The characters were commoners, the text was in prose, and Nora suffered because she was in a position where society controlled her.

In closing, even though the story did have some features of a classic tragedy, it did not fit the complete profile of this type of literary style.

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