In Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House, how does Nora's character fit under the literary term Realism?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One way the literary term Realism can be defined is that it refers to a literary movement in which the author tries to portray things the way they really are(Dr. Wheeler's Website). One way to do this is to give an "in-depth" description of the characters' "psychological traits"(Dr. Wheeler's Website). However a second definition of Realism is that the author portrays every day life, rather than romantic  fairy tales of what could be. While in his play A Dolls House Henrik Ibsen uses Realism to paint his character Nora and to depict women in Nora's society, Nora's egress at the end of play does not fall into the category of Realism, therefore the play cannot fall under the Realism genre.

Henrik Ibsen uses his character Nora to show how poorly treated women were in his time period. Nora has many psychological self-realizations. One self-realization is that she was treated with little respect by either her father or her husband. They both treated her kindly, but neither of them really cared to learn her point of view, because it was believed back then that women should not have their own points of view. Another self-realization Nora has is that she is highly inexperienced and uneducated. She is completely unaware of how the world works. For instance, she does not understand why forging a loan in order to save someone's life can be seen as a bad thing. She also feels she does not know herself.  She does not know her own views because no one has asked her for them. Nora's psychological self-realizations are very realistic. Ibsen uses these realizations to paint a realistic picture of how women were treated in his society.

However, Ibsen also has Nora leave her husband and her children at the end of the play. Although Nora's reasons and her desire to leave them can be considered realistic, it was not realistic for women in her society to leave their families. A woman's family was her sole means of survival. It was her sole means of any income, a roof over her head, and all other basic necessities of life. There were very few options open for women in those days for employment and any situation a woman could find such as being a governess, working in a school house, or in a work house could be even more difficult than the situation her family offers her.  Therefore, it is very unrealistic for Nora to leave her family without first considering all consequences.

Therefore, while Ibsen's character Nora does have some realistic traits, over all, his character Nora cannot fall under the category of Realism.

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