The Pillars of Society

by Henrik Ibsen

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What is the role of women in the play The Pillars of Society?

In The Pillars of Society, the role of women is shown as both supportive of men and independent of them. While many of Ibsen’s female characters uphold social norms, others challenge them by having affairs or immigrating to America. Ibsen shows Norwegian society as having a double standard in its attitudes toward sexuality and reputation.

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Henrik Ibsen’s play The Pillars of Society exposes the hypocrisy of Norwegian society in part through presenting the ideas and practices that constrained women in his day. The dominant attitude was that women should be supportive of men, and those who aimed for autonomy faced gossip and censure. Much of the plot revolves around the consequences of an extra-marital sexual relationship for which the female participant suffered more than the man involved. However, these consequences were affected by the man’s lies, which also unduly punished another man who took the blame for him.

Ibsen emphasizes the importance of matrimony and true love for the female characters. He portrays the women as rarely achieving happy marriages. Lona, for example, was spurned by Bernick, who chose her wealthier half-sister. Mrs. Dorf is ostracized after the town learns of her affair, and the critical attitude is extended to her daughter, Dina. Marriage is rendered impossible for Martha after she effectively adopts Dina, as she is likewise tainted by the scandal.

A generational difference is implied through Dina, a freedom-loving spirit. Nevertheless, the male double standard is shown as perpetuated through Rorlund. While professing to love Dina, Rorlund’s sensitivity to reputation keeps him from marrying her. Through this relationship, Ibsen suggests that modern trends have relatively little effect on women’s subordination.

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