How is naturalism used in A Doll's House?

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Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House is an example of realism, although the terms "realism" and "naturalism" are often used interchangeably.

A distinction between realism and naturalism is that naturalism is hyperrealism, a heightened form of realism. Naturalism is realism taken to the extreme.

Realism has one foot in theatricality and reverts to theatricality when it serves the play (and the playwright), whereas naturalism has walked away completely from theatricality.

A realistic play like A Doll's House retains, and is dependent on, conventional theatrical form and structure. A Doll's House has exposition, rising action, complication(s), climax, and resolution, as well as plot, characters, and a theme.

A naturalistic play doesn't rely on theatrical conventions in the same was as a realistic drama does. A naturalistic play doesn't rely on conventional play structure and might not have a plot, characters, or a theme.

A naturalistic play presents what's called "a slice of life," a term that originated around 1890 as "tranche de vie" by French playwright Jean Jullien (1854–1919). It's as if two hours of a certain number of people's lives were lifted directly from their life and put down on a stage wholly intact in every way.

An extreme example of naturalism would be a play in which characters walk onto the stage as if they just walked off the street or came in from another room, and they walk into a set that is essentially perfect in every way, down the smallest detail. Everything on the set is absolutely real.

The characters engage in informal, colloquial conversation, with all the pauses, repetition, "uhm"s, "ah"s, and "you know"s, irrelevant stories, and meandering flow of words found in normal conversations. The conversation touches on subjects which might or might not be related to the central issue of the play (assuming the central issue can be discerned from the conversation).

The action of the play, if any, or, more likely, just the conversation, occurs in real time. Stage time equals real time. Time is not expanded or contracted as it is in A Doll's House.

Often there is no discernible cause-and-effect relationship between events in the play.

There might or might not be character development. Characters don't necessarily change or "go on a journey" from the beginning of the play to the end, discovering things about themselves or each other that are meaningful to themselves, each other, or the play as a whole.

Nora goes on a journey. Her character changes from the beginning of the play to the end of the play. Interestingly, her husband Torvald is almost naturalistic in that he doesn't go on a journey. He doesn't change.

Two or three hours later, the characters leave the stage, often without any conflict reaching a noticeable climax or any resolution of the central issue (if any) being achieved.

A realistic play, like A Doll's House, looks real, or it looks real enough for the purposes of the play.

A naturalistic play is real, or as close to real as a theatrical presentation can get.

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"Naturalism" can be defined as either synonymous with "realism" or as a kind of subset of it. It usually refers to literature in which human behavior as it occurs in the real world is faithfully reproduced and in which ordinary, everyday events are depicted. Usually it also means a specific kind of realism in which unpleasant and harsh facts of life are presented, with an explicitness that includes subjects previously considered scandalous or offensive. Sexual matters, for example—things that had been thought outside the bounds of what was permissible in art—are often focused upon in naturalistic literature, rather than being discreetly glossed over. The same is true of violence and criminal behavior. In the late 1800's, an opening up of expression occurred, an expansion of what was proper for writers to discuss, regardless of the sensitivities of the reader or of the audience in the theater.

Most of these elements characteristic of naturalism appear in A Doll's House. The story centers around a blackmail attempt by Krogstad upon Nora, hinging upon the crime of forgery she has committed. Sexual matters are alluded to with a degree of frankness tame by our standards today, 140 years later, but shocking to many people in the 1800's. Abusive behavior by Nora's husband is shown with the kind of raw, stark quality that occurs in real life. A harsh, grim atmosphere pervades the story. Finally, Nora's walking out on Torvald represents a defiance of what was considered proper and allowable by the middle-class standards and by the religious codes of that time and later. All of this is characteristic of "naturalism."

One thing we do not see in A Doll's House that many commentators have recognized as a hallmark of naturalism is a depiction of poverty, of a working-class environment such as that shown in, for instance, Stephen Crane's Maggie, a Girl of the Streets. Nor do we see explicit violence such as occurs in Zola's novels like The Beast Within, or people who openly live outside the law as the courtesans in Zola's Nana do. Ibsen shows us what is, on the surface, a sedate bourgeois household, though the setting is a facade for emotions as violent and grim as anything in Zola or Crane.

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