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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen-Free Book Notes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

A Doll's House takes place in a large Norwegian town. The entire drama unfolds on one set, a "comfortable room" in the Helmers' house that serves both as a drawing room in which to receive guests and as a family room where the children play and where the family sets up its Christmas tree. There is a door to the entryway and another to Torvald's study.


Ibsen describes this setting in minute detail. About midway through his career, he adapted a style of drama that has been called "photographic." Instead of creating various country or city scenes as background for his characters, he "takes a picture" of one room they inhabit. Every piece of furniture, every prop reveals the character of the people who live in this place. For example, in the Helmers' drawing room there is a "small bookcase with richly bound books." What better way to describe Torvald, their owner, than as "richly bound"- someone who looks good from the outside? Also, the Christmas tree serves to represent various stages in Nora Helmer's life. When her life appears happy, the tree is beautifully trimmed. When her happiness is shattered, the tree is stripped and drooping. Ibsen has described the set and its props precisely, so that every production will reproduce this same "photograph" of the Helmers' living room.

Probably the most significant thing about the setting of this play is that it concerns middle-class characters and values. It takes place in an unnamed city, where banking and law would be considered normal and respectable occupations. Banking is the occupation most closely associated with money, the symbol of middle-class goals, and the crimes of the characters-Nora, her father, and Krogstad-are monetary ones. Notice also how Torvald, a lawyer and bank manager, is preoccupied with Nora's extravagance, or waste of money.

Up until Ibsen's time, serious drama had been almost exclusively concerned with members of the aristocracy or military heroes. Comedy had served to depict the lives of the farmers, workers, and lower class. But A Doll's House is a serious drama about the middle class. Some might even say it is a tragedy of everyday life. In light of today's understanding of marital roles and the larger issue of women's self-awareness, would you call the fate of the Helmers' marriage a tragedy?

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