Explain realism in drama as introduced by Ibsen in A Doll's House.

Realism in drama can be seen in Ibsen's A Doll's House by the way that the playwright strips away the veneer of social convention to reveal what's really going on underneath. Ibsen shows us men and women as they actually are, warts and all, without in any way trying to idealize them.

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Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House exemplifies realism in drama through its overall approach to representing life. This approach is laid out through the setting, plot, characters, and dialogue. The trend toward realism to which Ibsen contributed is generally contrasted to the earlier nineteenth-century Romanticism.

In literary realism, the author focuses on everyday aspects of life in a familiar setting rather than fantastic, heroic exploits in far-off lands and times. Realism may be described as holding a mirror up to life. In realist drama, such as Ibsen helped pioneer, the stage set often represents an ordinary home. This is the case in A Doll’s House, where the playwright offers a detailed description of rooms in the Helmers’ house. Realist plays are often staged in proscenium theaters, retaining the imaginary fourth wall separating play from audience.

Characterization and dialogue also go hand in hand in a realist drama. The characters often have ordinary jobs or vocations; Torvald is a banker and Nora is a housewife and mother. They are not elevated heroes such as knights or supernatural deities. The characters converse in dialogue that approximates normal speech rather than poetry or flowery prose and rarely address the audience, as that would break the fourth wall.

Although the characters have flaws, which often contribute to the plot development, these are not the grand flaws of classical tragedy. A realist play is usually serious, and the incidents may have grave consequences—such as Nora’s decision to leave her home and family—but rarely ends in tragic events such as a main character’s death. It could be argued, however, that by taking such a bold step, Nora is embarking on a quest and thus resembles a Romantic hero.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 20, 2021
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Many of Ibsen's contemporaries were positively scandalized by his portrayal of middle-class life in A Doll's House. They felt that it was somewhat scandalous for a playwright to delve beneath the respectable facade of bourgeois existence and present such a frank and honest portrait of people as they are, rather than as we want them to be.

Such criticism is a backhanded compliment to Ibsen's fidelity to the principles of dramatic realism, which he turned into an art form, here as elsewhere in his plays. Ibsen wanted to present men and women warts and all, capturing both their good sides and bad sides. There is no sentimentality or idealization of people in A Doll's House; instead, we are introduced to them as they really are.

In real life, people, even ostensibly good people, do bad things. They lie, cheat, and steal, showing themselves to be quite complex characters beneath their respectable exteriors. Nora Helmer is one such person. On the face of it, she seems like an ordinary, middle-class housewife, a respectable member of society. However, as the play progresses, we discover that there's much more to her than meets the eye.

Nora once forged her late father's signature on a loan application so that she could pay for her husband to have some much-needed rest and recuperation after an illness. This is not the kind of behavior we'd expect from such a respectable lady as Nora.

But Ibsen's not interested in ideals; he's interested only in reality. And the reality is that outwardly respectable people do such far from respectable things much more often than we'd like to admit.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 15, 2021
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Ibsen's play stands as an example of modern realism because portrays truthfully the characters and the conflicts. The play lacks sentimentality and romance of any kind. Nothing is glorified. There is no "happy ending." The ending instead is rather shocking, given the society in which Nora lives, but it is consistent with the way in which her character has been developed throughout the drama.

The marriage between Nora and Torvald is presented realistically for what it is: a sham. Nora points this out to her husband in the play's conclusion, explaining that they have been "playing" at marriage rather than living in an authentic partnership of mutual caring and sharing. Their home has been only "a doll's house." Ibsen shines a strong light on the Torvalds' relationship, softening none of its aspects.

Torvald's character is treated realistically, as well, revealing his arrogance, authoritarianism, and selfishness. His "concern" for his wife is not romanticized. Torvald does not "take care" of Nora because he loves her; he "takes care" of her only because he treats her as his inferior. In truth, he does not take care of her at all. He only controls her, exercising his power over every detail of her daily life.

The play's conclusion is also realistic. As a genre, realism does not specifically demand an "unhappy" conclusion, but it does demand a concusion that is consistent and reasonable, given the circumstances. Nora's leaving Torvald is consistent with her character as she has grown in self-awareness. The play does not offer a sudden "happy ending" with Nora and Torvald falling into each other's arms. Even when Torvald swears he will change and begs Nora to stay, she looks truth in the face and rejects his promises, placing no faith in his integrity.

Ibsen does not glorify or romanticize Nora's leaving. She will be separated from the children she loves, and she will have to make her way in the world alone. Nothing in her life has prepared her for what lies ahead. Her future will not be an easy one. There is no glory or sentimentality in A Doll's House," only painful choices.

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