What are the symbols represented in the play "The Master Builder written by Henrik Ibsen?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henrik Ibsen always leaves the reader of his plays with a philosophical thought, encouraging readers to analyse and consider their own actions and contribution to society. He was considered quite controversial in his time. In The Master Builder, Ibsen cleverly uses Solness and his ambition and insecurities to reveal how man can contribute to his own failings, even if he is seemingly successful, just by refusing to "...make room. Room! Room!" There is irony in this suggestion and the symbolism attached to making room - a task well within the scope of a builder- cannot be overlooked, especially with Solness's insistence that "I am what I am, and I cannot change my nature" which stifles his own development, although he cannot see it. Solness attempts to manipulate everyone around him to ensure that he remains "the master," and not only in the course of his business; even preferring the title "Master Builder" over being referred to as an architect. He is afraid of being overlooked in favor of the younger generation; he is afraid that someone will do to him what he did to Brovik and, symbolically, he is afraid of heights. His attempts to retain his superiority in Hilda's eyes will lead to tragedy. 

Hilda is a complex character, representing some feminist characteristics but also contradicting this status in her efforts to become Solness's "princess," where her success is reliant on his, rather than being successful in her own right. As a "bird of prey" she will be the one doing the manipulating- preying on Solness's need for reassurance. This is also symbolic, recognizing the ability of a bird to soar - above the very rooftops that prove to be Solness's undoing. 

Aline is Solness's long-suffering wife and her grief for her dolls that were lost in the fire that actually became the catalyst for Sollness's success, remains her secret. Solness believes that she grieves for her babies that were lost in the fire and his attempts to please her to ease his own guilt do nothing to appease her as they can never regain what they have lost. Solness thinks she should be happy with their new "home" but to her home is not a structure but a feeling. Solness, as a builder, can satisfy physical needs but can never fill the emotional abyss that actually overwhelms them. This reinforces the symbolism of his profession as a builder. 

The remaining characters in The Master Builder all represent some aspect of Solness's consciousness. In building a tower, he expects to be able to rise above all his self-doubt and counteract any negative feelings that these characters may expose. Some critics link Solness's dramatic representations to the Temptation of Christ. The problem for Solness is that he does not have the confidence nor conviction of his actions nor is he working for the greater good.  

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The Master Builder

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