The Pillars of Society

by Henrik Ibsen

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What is a character sketch of Mrs. Bernick in The Pillars of Society?

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Mrs. Bernick tries to be a good wife in the play. She entertains others, as expected from her station as the wife of a prominent businessman, and she strives to be polite and proper at every turn. The issues she deals with generally stem from her attempts to fit perfectly into the realm of civility, causing problems when she cannot assert herself or defend those she should.

While she does a good job keeping her household in order and supporting the work of her husband, he has betrayed her. Despite his excellent reputation as a pillar of society, he has done terrible things in the past and attempts to do terrible things during the play to cover them up. Mrs. Bernick attempts to help her husband and protect his reputation, but she is always pushed around. For example, in act 1 of the play, we see the following exchange:

Mrs. Bernick (at the verandah door): Karsten, dear, what is it that—?

Bernick: My dear Betty, how can it interest you? (To the three men.) We must get out lists of subscribers, and the sooner the better. Obviously our four names must head the list. The positions we occupy in the community makes it our duty to make ourselves as prominent as possible in the affair.

Sandstad: Obviously, Mr. Bernick.

Rummel: The thing shall go through, Bernick; I swear it shall!

Bernick: Oh, I have not the least anticipation of failure. We must see that we work, each one among the circle of his own acquaintances; and if we can point to the fact that the scheme is exciting a lively interest in all ranks of society, then it stands to reason that our Municipal Corporation will have to contribute its share.

Mrs. Bernick: Karsten, you really must come out here and tell us—

Bernick: My dear Betty, it is an affair that does not concern ladies at all.

Mrs. Bernick, despite her traditional wifely qualities, does not make an impact on her husband. He does not honor her sacrifice or accept her grace. Instead, he treats her like a nuisance. Despite the condescension from her husband, she continues to seek to do good in the world. The truth about Betty Bernick is in her relationships. She is an honest, hard-working, and considerate character. She loves her husband dearly and worries that she has failed to get him to love her. By the end of the play, she is happier than she has been because, in his revealing the truth of only marrying her for her money, he gives her hope that she might still capture his love.

While Lona might better represent the spirit of freedom, Mrs. Bernick represents the spirit of truth. She fulfills her role with fidelity, despite gaining little from her marriage to Bernick. Her continued loyalty and her commitment to doing good for his reputation show that even when he was doing evil, she was doing good because she was committed to the truth of her love for him.

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