Henry Higgins and Torvald Helmer: Separated at Birth?

         The plays, Pygmalion (1913), by George Bernard Shaw, and A Doll's House (1879), by Henrik Ibsen, do have many similarities. It is interesting to note how the two male leads in these plays, Henry Higgins and Torvald Helmer, were portrayed in the movie versions. Henry Higgins and Torvald Helmer are actually much alike in the two movies. Henry Higgins in the 1938 version of Pygmalion directed by Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith and Torvald Helmer in the 1973 version of A Doll's House directed by Patrick Garland share many characteristics and traits that lead to the situations described in the movies.

         Higgins (Leslie Howard) and Torvald Helmer (Anthony Hopkins) both try to mold the women in their life into what they want and expect. Higgins shapes Eliza (Wendy Hiller) to be his modern-day Galatea, or his conception of the ideal woman. Torvald, on the other hand, is extremely controlling of Nora (Claire Bloom). He tells her what she can and cannot do, and expects her to obey. This is seen by the fact that he does not allow her to have macaroons because he does not want Nora to ruin her teeth.

         Professor Higgins and Mr. Helmer both crave power and control over the women in their lives. Higgins orders Eliza around and expects no less than perfection from her. He expects her to do what he wants. Eliza is treated as no more than a diversion or side show for Higgins. Eliza is almost less than a person in some senses for Higgins because he treats her much like a project or a mission. This is much the same way as Torvald treats Nora. Nora says near the end of the play that Torvald treats her much like a doll that he plays with. I think this is very true because Torvald expects Nora to make him happy. Nora is treated as entertainment for Torvald, since he seems to enjoy it when she acts silly and "performs" for him. He seems to like Nora most when she makes him proud, such as when she dances the Tarantella for the crowd at the Boxing Night party.

         As much as Higgins and Torvald both try to have the upper hand in their relationships, it is obvious by the end of each play that the men are nothing without their women. Eliza and Nora are both powerful women and learn how to stand up to both Higgins and Torvald. This is the point at which both of these men seem to fall apart. They do not know what to do without the women in their lives. This fact essentially leads to the pivotal, climatic point in both plays.

         This is why I feel that Higgins and Torvald are similar in the movie portrayals of Pygmalion and A Doll's House. It is interesting how the characteristics and traits of these two men drive the plot of the two plays, and essentially shape the outcome. Luckily, for Higgins, at least in the movie version, he redeems himself with Eliza. Unfortunately for Torvald, he is not given the same chance with the lovely Nora.

Megan Locke

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