A Doll's House Tragedy

     Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, is probably one of the most touching stories I have read this semester. Its modern portrayal of a woman trying to choose between her family and her own potential I found to be very thought-provoking. At the same time, I also felt that the issue of separation was more fairly and realistically treated than in previous works.

     Of all the characters in A Doll's House, the character I sympathize the most with was Torvald Helmer. Torvald is a man who was raised on the philosophy that men should provide and women should stay at home and care for the children. Coming to terms with Nora's decision to leave him therefore comes to him as a shock. It is in this climatic point that I saw two strikingly different, but effective, tragedies played out in the book and the 1973 Patrick Garland movie. (The 1973 Joseph Losey movie simply displayed Torvald (as played by David Warner) as an ogre, so I choose to omit that one.)

     In both stories, Torvald displays the classic Sophoclean concept of the "fatal flaw." In the Ibsen play, Torvald's sense of morality and justice overwhelms his own duty to his wife, destroying his marriage. Although I disliked the movie slightly more the play, I found its Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) to be more poignant. In the movie, adapted by Christopher Hampton, Torvald has a different flaw: his reputation is greater than his love for Nora (Claire Bloom). When he finds out about Nora's shady dealings, he goes so far as to slap her simply because it could affect his job. Inevitably, like Creon in Antigone, this "fatal flaw" ruins Torvald, exposing his true character and costing him his marriage.

     Torvald is the most interesting character in A Doll's House because reflected in his tragedy we can see the inadequacies that make us human.

Joseph M. Pence

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