Measured against such Henrik Ibsen masterpieces of social realism as Et dukkehjem (pr., pb. 1879; A Doll’s House, 1880), Gengangere (pb. 1881, pr. 1882; Ghosts, 1885), and Vildanden (pb. 1884, pr. 1885; The Wild Duck, 1891), The Pillars of Society is considered an inferior work. It was, however, the drama in which Ibsen first committed himself to the realistic form and is, therefore, crucial to an understanding and appreciation of Ibsen’s theater. The Pillars of Society contains in embryo most of the major subjects, themes, and character types that were to dominate Ibsen’s plays over the succeeding dozen years. Three concerns in The Pillars of Society became central to his realistic dramas: the nature and powers of society, the relationship between exceptional persons and that society, and the manner in which suppressed corruption in the past inevitably surfaces to destroy present success.
Nineteenth century middle-class Norwegian society was, to Ibsen, hypocritical, materialistic, stifling, and essentially corrupt. The alliance between narrow religious moralism (with its emphasis on sin, guilt, and rigidly controlled behavior) and selfish business interests (with their respectable facade that concealed the greedy exploitation of the many by the few) led to a society that corrupted or stifled all evidence of creativity or imagination.
The exceptional individual...
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