The concept of problem play emerged during the 19th Century as a form of a realism drama that addressed contentious social issues. The problem play engages characters on a stage who typically have conflicting issues within a realistic social context. Not to mention that debates have been staged for a long time, the problem play assumes the debate presentation to show the dilemma among characters. The problem play addresses realistic social problems such as prostitution, immorality and entrapment of women, particularly in the tragicomic drama of “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen. Quite the opposite of escapism, Ibsen’s play focuses on the realities of anxieties and lives of the bourgeoisie. The concept of problem play as revealed A Doll’s House play shows the struggles of the financially and aristocratic well-off families in terms of education and employment. The goal of Ibsen when creating the play was to expose the toxic societal norms perceived in the society. From the play, the problem play exhibits four major characteristics. For instance, the problems in the play are made the subject of debate by the characters, the action happens in a contemporary setting, and the characters present people’s everyday situations. In addition, Ibsen shows how the characters develop socio-critical perspective by not creating a theater that shows leisure time activity, but a society of soul-searching and of changing events.
A Doll House Play
The main conflict in the play revolves around money. For instance, the main character, Nora Helmer, borrows large sums of money from Krogstad on a trip to save her husband’s life. She does not want her husband (Torvald) to know since if he realized she got the money without his consent, it would hurt his pride. Ibsen reveals the problem of social status ailing Torvald’s character since borrowing money to him was bad to his eyes and unthinkable. Torvald could not even borrow money to cater for his wellbeing due to his stubborn pride and commitment to saving his status quo before their middle class the era. Ostensibly, he is unable to save his face, and Nora exclaims that the money was, “the most wonderful thing of all” that could save their marriage. As a result, Nora leaves Torvald although he does not understand the cause of her action. From the play, Ibsen challenges of the problem of the bourgeoisie mindset during the middle-class era in relation to both male/female relationships and money (Kellenberger 18).
As the stage opens, a dozen of problems is propounded in the A Doll’s House play. The real problem of the play is more concrete on the reflection of the modern life enveloped various styles and aspects to provide the deeper meaning of the marriage relations. Ibsen uses tarantella, symbolism, characterization, themes, dress and costumes, motifs and setting to support his thesis.
Tarantelle is a form of dance that brings a natural course in the play. With what seems like a mere stage device, the fancy dress-ball dance becomes a major episode of the play. Considering the dance movement, tarantelle is not just an ordinary dance. The dance is named after tarantula, a dance that involves dizzying rounds and swift movements which to the victims, are measured as a poisonous sting. The dance creates frenzied, round and hurried-swift movements. After the victim breaks into chattering and laughter, she drops dead at the climax of the dance. The victim only hopes for a miracle to save her from her troubles.
From the play, Tarantelle symbolizes Nora. The play presents Nora as performing a wild and unsettling movement as the tragedy of her nature. Nora appears as frivolous and light on the surface; however, she conceals a dreadful secret underneath. The gruesome climax of Nora’s dolls life comes to surface at the end of the play. Nora’s character is consistent throughout the play, but her nature is filled with inconsequence. To calm herself, she dances and flits since her fear is heavy and poisons her veins because of the problem of women entrapment that prevails in her marriage. Her husband prohibits her attempt to look for money and uplift their social status in an effort to match the middle class in their social niche. Although she could not escape harm from those she loved, she hoped for a miracle from Torvald’s love. After a dull-helpless-melancholy fight, Nora discovers Torvald is naturally selfish and mean. She dances and laughs with a wild desire to set her free from the problem of entrapment, and eventually leaves the doll’s house. And while her heart is broken, only miracle can make her return. She says with clear eyes, “Yes, I have changed my dress,” to symbolize she no longer lives a masquerade life (Siddall 31).
Ibsen uses the tools of characterization to elaborate the concept of the problem play. For example, he uses actions, social status and names of characters to emphasize the problem of women’s living lives of restriction in the play. For instance, he uses the social status to show how different characters are bound to their roles by the society that has set them.
Arguably, the most important characterization tool used in the play is the social status in A Doll’s House. For example, Nora is presented as a dutiful wife. Her dutiful and submissive nature to Torvald shows the problems housewife women face under their condescending husbands in the social realities. Same as a character of a dutiful woman, she flirts, begs and even dances to the tune of her husband, Torvald. She is almost child-like when she is communicating with her husband. Although she seems playful, she behaves obediently in his presence and coaxes for favor in spite of the fact that she should be communicating with him as equals. She is an example of how women live in restrictive families under the husband’s condescending prowess. It becomes a problem to women liberalization since throughout the play; Torvald chides her gently, and she naturally responds to his criticism in a dutiful manner and as a loyal pet. In addition, the characters in the play represent specific roles that help to expose the problem of family conflicts. For instance, Christine stays happy as a way of fulfilling her role of being a dutiful woman while Torvald remains as the dominant husband. Krogstad struggles to maintain his social status despite what the community perceives of him for committing crimes of forgeries of signatures at the bank. For the majority of characters in the play, social status is their dominant feature (Ibsen 90).
Most dramas use actions of characters to define them. Ibsen uses character actions to display the problem of people struggling to keep their social status. For example, Krostad spends a lot of his time blackmailing and threatening to show the audience the how nasty he can be in an effort to maintain his job that his family depends on. He helps Helmers from his clutches to show he has compassion other than the community’s accusation of forgery of signatures. Christine through her actions tries to be the best of help to Nora by her caring nature. Ibsen uses Christine to show women struggles to achieve liberation from the problem of dominance by men. For instance, she forces Nora to start a confrontation with Torvald, with the intention to help them end their family conflict. Also, the central action that stirs up the play is Nora’s action. Her doomed struggles to conceal the secret of the borrowed money show the audience how the society has forced her into desperation. In the end, her change of character represents her final actions to put to an end the struggles of women segregation from family responsibilities. She tells Torvald the truth about the money and desserts him so that she stop from being anyone’s doll (Ibsen 125).
A closer examination of the names of the two couples in the play gives the realistic feature of the struggles of family relationships and the social status. Ibsen uses specific names to portray the genuine identity of the characters in their roles to bring out the concept of the problem play. For example, Christine is synonymous to Christ-ine. As such, Christine lives a Christ-like life which is characterized by self-sacrifice. For example, from her motherly figure and tough love for Nora, she helps Nora throughout the play when the family is going through tough times. Christine accepts Nora to confide in her about a debt secret which compromises her integrity, despite she advocates truthfulness and honesty. Also, without Christine’s self-sacrifice to help Nora free from her husband’s entrapment, she would not have had the courage to confront Torvald. She would have ended the problem of women living like a doll in their houses (Ibsen 39).
Krogstad’s name is synonymous to Norwegian word for the crooked. From the play, we can see situation Ibsen uses to show the problem of social status. For instance, He does a lot of crooked things such as blackmailing and threatening anyone who tried to uncover his nasty activities at the bank. Perhaps the Satan to Christine Jesus and Krogstad is in antagonism with her. At the reckoning of his redemption for his crooked actions and to restore harmony in the social status, he retracts the threatening letter he had sent to Torvald. Ibsen uses the moment to show how families can resolve their family conflicts despite their social inequities. On the other hand, Nora and Torvald names have pagan origin. Torvald originates from Thor, the god of thunder while Nora-Elenora. Throughout the play, the Helmers participate in pagan-like activities such as Nora feasting, dancing and celebrating that is similar to pagan celebration of Yule. Ibsen uses their names to symbolize families in real life who would do anything to fight for their social status. For instance, Nora secretly secrets hides her debt secret and when she frees herself from her husband’s entrapment, she breaks into dancing laughter to celebrate her liberalization (Ibsen 80).
Overall, the couples such as Korgtad and Christine live a Christian life who works hard to achieve the social status in an honest way. They represent the reality view of families that toil and moil to climb the social ladders through the honest ways. Ibsen uses the couples to symbolize couples that achieve their social wealth through hard work and honesty. Conversely, Torvald and Nora represent the pairs living a pagan insouciance. Not to claim they are pagan, but the play uses them to show families who live a life of Adam and Eve’s tenancy. With their innocence shattered on the onset of family struggles, they toil through the social ladders to obtain an aura of social recognition. The problem play introduces them as families who are still struggling for a higher status in order to save their face (Ibsen 51).
Motifs refer to recurring structures, devices of contrasts that help to bring out major themes in the play. For instance, Ibsen uses motifs such as Nora’s definition of freedom and letters.
Nora’s definition of freedom
Her understanding of freedom continues to evolve throughout the play. From the perspective of the problem play, Nora represents women who are on the verge of liberalization. In Act One, she understands she will be totally “free” when she has completed paying back the debt in full (Ibsen 25). She foresees having complete freedom and having enough time to devote herself toward serving her husband on domestic responsibilities. Nevertheless, when Krogstad blackmails her, she again reconsiders her definition of freedom and questions how happy she is with Torvard considering his edicts and orders. Her quests for freedom manifest at the end of the play when she relieves herself of the familial obligations and seeks for a new identity, ambitions and believes. She represents the problem women face in social realities for being submissive to their husbands’ orders. Regardless, they struggle to be free to pursue their interests (Ibsen 113).
The letters bring to the plot twists and turns that serve as a function of a subtext that uncovers the unpleasant reality of Tarvold and Nora’s obscured beautification. The letters develop the problem play by exposing the internal conflicts the families are going through, which otherwise are not revealed in the traits. There are two letters written by Krogstad. The first one shows Nora’s attempt to commit a crime of forgery to Torvald, the second one is sent to retract his threats of blackmail and the return of the promissory note belonging to Nora. In the first letter, the letter shows Nora’s past and her inevitable dissolutions and initiatives to save her marriage. When Nora tries to retrieve the letter from Torvald, we learn that she is in denial of her marriage (Ibsen 74).
A Doll House criticizes the scandalous traditional roles of men and women in their families during the 19th Century. Using the concept of the problem play, Ibsen tries to explain why freedom is important to a woman by showing the domestic life of Nora when she is confined in her husband’s home. Nora’s awakening to freedom symbolizes the inevitable nature of human nature to get liberalized from oppression, selfishness and social dominance.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Maryland: Arc Manor LLC, 2009. Print.
Kellenberger, James. Relationship Morality. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 2010. Print.
Siddall, S. H. Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House. New York, NY: Humanities-Ebooks, 2008. Print.