A Doll’s House – Language Paper
Towards the end of the 19th century, Henrik Ibsen set out to write a play which represented a realistic society, a play without melodramatic language in unbelievable situations, and a play which attempted to show the realities of modern life. The result was unsurprisingly controversial, yet Ibsen sacrificed audience appeal for the naturalistic language he wanted to portray. The effect of this kind of dialogue meant that audiences were able to relate to the characters they were seeing on stage, and the familiarity of the situations was compelling.
People were being shown situations that were possible, and realistic, and for many who preferred to see only the traditional Victorian values society, it was shocking. Unlike many other plays of that time, Ibsen used natural speech patterns and mannerisms appropriate to that time period, but didn’t take realism too far that the dialogue was incomprehensible and overlapping. Throughout the play, Ibsen uses pauses to create a sense of awkwardness as well as using interruptions in the dialogue, in an attempt to portray more realistic conversations.
Nora If you wanted to give me something, could you – could you – Helmer Say it, say it. The most naturalistic feature of the language is its ability to change within the play, and within characters. There is a clear difference between the styles of language Nora uses when speaking to different people, and even within one conversation. Nora plays with Helmer, and behaves as a Victorian woman would, using feminine endings to words such as “sweetly” and at the beginning of Nora’s conversation with Mrs. Linde, she is polite, and sympathises with her “No, it was bad of me Kristine.
You poor woman, you’ve gone through so much. ” Ibsen uses commas and short sentences to break up the passage and emphasise that Nora is genuine, in contrast to her long, complex sentences when she talks only of herself “Kristine, do believe me, I meant so often to write to you then, but I kept putting it off and something always got in the way. ” In the latter statement, Nora over-justifies what she is saying with “so often” and “do believe me”, which Nora thinks will make her sound honest, yet has the opposite effect.
It suggests she has something to hide, and is not convincing to the audience. Mrs. Linde however, does portray honesty in her language, contrasted to Nora’s, by using short sentences, and she doesn’t exaggerate “Three years ago, yes. /Nothing. /That does happen sometimes Nora. ” Her statements are almost completely factual, and they accentuate her practical view on life. Nora’s character is also demonstrated when she contradicts herself while talking to Mrs. Linde, saying “Today I will think only about you”, but then proceeds to do the exact opposite, and inform her friend of her own fortunes.
This, combined with Nora’s statement about not contacting her friend in three years, concerning her husband’s death, only heightens the audience’s perception that Nora is self-centered. Nora is also portrayed as insensitive by Ibsen in this section of the play. She tactlessly mentions how Mrs. Linde has aged, as well as boasting of her “pots and pots of money” without recognizing that Kristine may feel offended. She has a seemingly primitive view of money, and is emphasised by the use of the vague “pots” description.
This, combined with her view of the justice system “there must be laws permitting such things as that” makes her seem more childlike. Nora, at this point in the play, seems to have a very shallow understanding of the world, and so when we hear of her “big thing” that she has done without her husband’s permission, and clearly involving some skill, we are surprised. Ibsen uses language to create tension, and to show that Nora wants to temporarily withhold information from Kristine, “Nora hums and smiles secretively/ you’re dying of curiosity Kristine”.
When Mrs. Linde talks of her lack of grief from losing her husband, Nora is surprised, and asks “Kristine, can that be possible? ” This could suggest that Nora is so sheltered that she cannot comprehend a life without a husband, or it could imply that she is genuinely interested as to whether it is possible. This is also echoed in “Tell me….. tell me” and Nora seems almost desperate to discover what life is like alone. This is the first time we see Nora actually listening to her friend, and actually seeming to want to hear her side.
Their roles reverse, and instead of Mrs. Linde, we have Nora only saying short sentences, and asking questions “What happened? ” This suggests to the audience that Nora is already thinking about the possibility of ending her marriage with Torvald, and starting a new life. Although the language is not highly complex or easily misunderstood, Ibsen still manages to convey subtle meanings within the text. The play is packed with innuendos and symbols, such as the significance of the New Year.
This represents not only the beginning of a new job for Torvald and that Nora will be able to pay off her debt to Krogstad, but towards the end of the play, it symbolises Nora’s new life, away from the constraints of a traditional Victorian household. Macaroons are another symbol, used to represent Nora’s rebellious behaviour towards her husband. By using a seemingly minor example of her rebellion so early on in the play, it suggests to the audience that this behaviour will be repeated, yet in a more significant and dramatic way “She puts the bag of macaroons in her pocket and wipes her mouth”.
Ibsen’s subtext is also very apparent in dialogue, and is used to convey a character’s personality. He is able to portray Nora’s insensitivity by immediately following the news of Mrs. Linde’s husband’s death, with great detail about Nora’s children. This contrast of status is commonly used, particularly in Nora’s language, in order to emphasise how little she cares about protecting others’ feelings. With Torvald Helmer, we see his patronising behaviour through his use of pet names, or neologisms when talking to his wife. He uses nicknames such as “Squirrel” and “Skylark” as one method of controlling his wife.
While on the surface they seem like affectionate nicknames, he is to some extent, dehumanising Nora. By doing this, with labels such as “little woman” and “little skylark”, he is suggesting that she is not at the same level as him, and instead some kind of animal or doll. Demoting her to a lifeless, “miserable creature”, he patronises Nora, resulting in her feeling inferior, and he keeps control. His pet names become more and more unpleasant as the play progresses, and towards the end, he calls her a “blind, foolish woman”, and “a heedless child”.
Helmer almost always precedes a nickname with “my”, implying that Nora is his, and that he owns her. Victorian society also keeps Nora from arguing with her husband, as it would be completely out of place to question your husband “This is unheard of coming from a young woman”, and instead Nora uses reverse psychology to manipulate him “Everything as you wish Torvald”. Helmer is then left with no choice, in his opinion, than to solve his problem with money. By toying with Nora’s emotions in this way, he is treating her like a doll.
This relates to the title of the play, and eventually, Nora recognises this, “Our home was just a playroom”. Nora’s language changes dramatically towards the end of the play, and she leaves her Victorian values way behind “You don’t understand me. No, don’t interrupt me. Just listen to what I have to say”. This is a complete role reversal, and at this point, Helmer is the one taking the submissive role “But, my dear Nora -“. This is the aspect that shocked audiences, as it is a far cry from the precise, formal language audiences were used to, and that they witnessed at the beginning of A Doll’s House.