Torvald and Higgins: Pigs to the End

         After watching the 1973 film, A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey and based on Henrik Ibsen's 1789 play, I noticed many similarities between the character Torvald (David Warner) and the character Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) from the 1964 film, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion and Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical play. Like Higgins, Torvald was a dominating, self-confident man whose life revolved around his reputable career. It was obvious both men also cared more about themselves and the way they were viewed in society than the phenomenal women in their lives. Both Torvald and Higgins were lucky to have wonderful women in their lives; however, they abused their power in the relationship; and it greatly affected the outcome, especially for Torvald.

         Both Torvald and Higgins were middle-aged men who had highly regarded careers. A hitherto successful barrister, Torvald was about to become the manager of the bank, and Higgins was a linguistic teacher. He taught regular people, not handicapped ones, how to speak "the king's English." Both men focused on their reputable careers rather than the women in their lives and were incredibly selfish. Higgins' "job" was to transform Eliza from a poor Cockney-speaking flower girl into the most spectacular lady at the society ball, and he still managed to focus more on himself rather than Eliza. For example, when Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) returned from the ball, she walked in on Higgins' arrogant conversation with Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White), boasting about his, Higgins', accomplishment of turning her into an extraordinary lady. It was as if Eliza had nothing to do with it.

         Torvald was also extremely selfish. For example, Nora, his loving wife, portrayed by Jane Fonda, had borrowed money and forged her recently deceased father's signature because Torvald had been very sick, and she had wanted to take him to Italy to recover. She had neglected to tell him about the borrowed money for eight years because she knew he would be extremely upset. He definitely overreacted when he found out about the borrowed money. He also said for eight years she had been his pride and joy, and now she was a hypocrite who had destroyed their future. Newsflash, Torvald!-you destroyed your future! Nora had helped save your life, and all you cared about was what others would think of you!

         Besides the similarity of being selfish pigs, both Torvald and Higgins treated the women in their lives like dolls. Like a doll, Nora was picked up and thrown around by Torvald. Towards the end of the film, Nora even claimed she has been living a beggar's life. Throughout the film, Torvald gave her money in a fun-loving way, as if she were a child. Higgins also treated Eliza like a doll throughout the film. He trained her to speak, dress, and act properly. It was as though she was learning new tricks, one after the other.

         Torvald and Higgins were also dominating and controlling men. For example, Nora had a weakness for macaroons; however, Torvald did not want those delightful and chewy cookies in the house because he thought Nora would rot her teeth out. Nora had to sneak the macaroons in the house because, if Torvald found out, he would be very displeased. This is just an example of how controlling Torvald was in the household. She could not even have something as little as a macaroon! Higgins also had much control over Eliza. At the beginning of the film, Higgins flat out told Eliza that she would stay with him for six months and learn how to speak and act properly. Eliza was somewhat doubtful about the idea, but then Higgins offered Eliza her weakness, a piece of chocolate, and said it would be a pledge of good faith. He knew Eliza had a weakness for chocolates and bribed her with the delightful treat throughout the film until she finally snapped "No!" at his bribe after her outburst at him for having ignored her accomplishments at the ball.

         All in all, there were many similarities between the character Torvald from the film A Doll's House, and the character Professor Henry Higgins from the film My Fair Lady. Both men were controlling, selfish pigs that treated the women in their lives like pets. Nora realized she was unhappy when Torvald basically told her she was a disgrace. Eliza realized she was unhappy when Higgins took all the credit for her transformation. Even though both of these women knew they were unhappy, Nora was smart enough not to return to her unhappiness, and Eliza was not in My Fair Lady, although she stayed away in the play Pygmalion.

Melanie Brewer

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