Realism in literature 

Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House contains elements of realism. The era of literary realism, also known as bourgeois or poetic realism, roughly covers the period from 1848 to 1890. This period is strongly characterized by industrialization and the strong expansion of large cities. This is associated with a complete change in the social fabric: The gap between the increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie and the ordinary workers, who have to do a lot of work in the factories for little money, leads to great social inequality.

Literary realism was influenced by the social and political changes which took place during that time (such as the 1848 French Revolution). It should be noted, though, that unlike the naturalism that appears later, realism avoids using political and social components.

The authors concentrate on portraying the bourgeoisie and their living conditions as precisely as possible. In doing so, they concentrate on the essentials with regard to the plot. The authors want to show the tension between the individual and society and the problems that arise from the changes.  

Ibsen's realistic social dramas

In 1852, the Norwegian National Theater in Bergen, for which Ibsen has been working since November 1851, grants the author a travel scholarship that takes him to various European theater cities, including Dresden. There Ibsen comes into contact with Hermann Hettner's work The Modern Drama, which will have a great influence on his further plays.

The German literary historian, art historian, and museum director Hettner (1821-1882) distinguishes between historical tragedy, bourgeois drama and comedy. He demands that the author should choose material that is directly related to social moods and the consciousness of the times.

Influenced by Hettner's reflections on modern drama, Ibsen adapted the contemporary problems of society as the central theme of his work.

From the drama Emperor and Galilean, published in 1873 onwards, Ibsen's works are characterized by criticism of bourgeois society. He now sees in the work of an author the task of bluntly describing the contemporary period and criticizing the existing issues. The focus on current issues also marks the beginning of the author's period of greatest financial success.

With A Doll's House (1879), Ibsen wants to bring out, through the accurate portrayal of the Norwegian bourgeoisie of the time and its living conditions, the idea that a woman cannot be herself in a society completely controlled by men. All areas are completely dominated by the male perspective. For example, women are not granted the right to vote or the ability to take out a loan on their own.

The realistic description of Nora

Tension between adaptation and dominance

Realist authors describe the living conditions of the middle classes as objectively, precisely, and in as much detail as possible. For Ibsen, too, it is essential that the drama be as realistic and related to social reality as possible. He is not concerned with the superficial presentation of certain ideas and beliefs, but rather with their impact on interpersonal relationships.

In Ibsen's play A Doll's House, human conflicts arise in the course of the plot in the tension between adaptation and dominance. Torvald believes that Nora is his possession and is completely subordinate to him. From a psychological point of view, he displays a very possessive and dominant character, which does not tolerate any contradictions or allow his wife to influence his decisions. 

Nora has adapted to this concept and behaves submissively. Nevertheless, she secretly leaves the area designated for her by men and illegally takes out a loan without her ill husband's knowledge in order to save his life.

Nora's secret action already foreshadows that she will not remain permanently in the narrow role intended for her. Likewise, she is very aware that she can never confide in her husband about this, since he tries to appear masculine but is actually a very insecure and impressionable man: "And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything" (Act 1, 43%). The conflict that arises from this is largely based on the unquestionable belief that one must fulfill typical gender roles.

The psychological design

The interaction of the various characters with each other reveals their respective attitudes in coded form. Therefore, the dialogues play a major role in the characters’ psychological development.  The tension between the will of the characters and their possibilities to fulfil their wish...

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