In Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, who is the tragic hero and what is his/her misinterpretation or hamartia (tragic flaw)?

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A Doll's House does not fit neatly into Aristotle's definition of tragedy in The Poetics. The same might be said, however, of several Greek tragedies, even out of the tiny sample that has survived. If we view the play as a tragedy, it is clearly Torvald's tragedy. Nora ...

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A Doll's House does not fit neatly into Aristotle's definition of tragedy in The Poetics. The same might be said, however, of several Greek tragedies, even out of the tiny sample that has survived. If we view the play as a tragedy, it is clearly Torvald's tragedy. Nora, although she is the protagonist, does not fulfil any of Aristotle's requirements for a tragic hero except anagnoresis in her discovery of her own nature and that of her relationship with Torvald. She does not fall from a high position, since she starts the play as Torvald's child-wife and actually gains stature and dignity as the action progresses. Neither is it clear that she has any particular flaw that could be dignified by the name of hamartia.

Torvald's position in life is not high by Aristotelian standards, but it is a responsible and respectable role in bourgeois life. There are points of comparison between Torvald and the greatest of all tragic heroes, Oedipus. Like Oedipus, he is metaphorically blind in failing to understand the true nature of his marriage. It is this failure to understand his true position, rather than any conscious act of malice or folly, that is his tragic flaw. Hence, like Oedipus, he persists in forensic interrogation which can only hasten his own downfall. Also like Oedipus, he ends the play deeply wounded but not actually dead, forced to deal with the effects of his failure to perceive the truth.

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Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House is a modern realistic drama, not a classical tragedy. It does not have a tragic hero. In classical drama, the concept of "tragic hero" was defined in the Poetics of Aristotle. Such a hero was a great figure, noble and admirable, with larger-than-life attributes. Despite many outstanding features, some flaw in the hero's character led the hero to take an irrevocable wrong step leading to his or her inevitable downfall. Because of the greatness of the hero, the downfall would evoke fear and pity in spectators.

Ibsen's characters are not larger-than-life, almost godlike creatures. Their actions do not have a greater amplitude and effect than those of ordinary people. Instead, they are meant to represent ordinary middle-class people, much like those in the audience. The protagonist (main character) of the play is Nora, a woman caught in dilemmas not entirely of her own choosing and living in a society that restricts economic opportunities available to women. Although Nora is an imperfect woman, using flirtation and deception to get her way, she has a fundamentally good heart. The ending of the play is not tragic, but triumphant. Although Nora is disappointed by Torvald and makes a difficult decision, most viewers applaud her final decision and see it as leading her to a better and more authentic life.

Krogstad is the antagonist or even villain of the play. Torvald is to a degree an antagonist, although many spectators would sympathize with him as a man trapped in the ideology of patriarchy who eventually fails to realize how the system as a whole is deeply flawed. Although he is an antagonist rather than a "hero", he is not evil to the extent of Krogstad.

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If we were going to refer to A Doll's House as a tragedy and to analyze the characters for their misinterpretation as their hamartia tragic flaw, we could actually refer to either Nora or Torvald as the tragic hero. Nora can more likely be considered the tragic hero because she is really the protagonist of the story. Furthermore, her misinterpretation of her husband and her naivete about society and law have led to dramatic changes in her life. However, at the end of the play, Nora seems quite content to begin life over again. She seems quite content to leave both her husband and her children and to begin educating herself and striving to become a "reasonable person" (III). While Torvald is not the protagonist, he is the only character who feels he has suffered a devastating blow. Therefore, let's analyze Torvald as the tragic hero.

Torvald's tragic flaw is that he accepted society's characteristic treatment of women as the way in which he ought to behave. Moreover, he misinterpreted his wife, including her desires and her motives. He only saw her as a ridiculous person, rather than the strong, self-sacrificial woman she truly was. As Nora says to Torvald in the final act, "You don't understand me, and I have never understood you either" (III). Nora had expected that when Torvald learned of her forgery he would instantly recognize it as having been an act of love and self-sacrifice in order to save his life. She further expected that he would be self-sacrificial in return and take all the blame for her actions upon himself, which would ruin his reputation. Torvald intimated earlier that he would sacrifice himself for her if ever they were put in any danger, such as Krogstad trying to slander Torvald's reputation, when Torvald says, "Come what will, you may be sure I shall have both courage and strength if they be needed. You will see I am man enough to take everything upon myself" (II). However, after Torvald reads Krogstad's letter his first reaction is to blame her for destroying his reputation, demanding of her, "Do you understand what you have done?," even going so far as to call her "a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal!"(III).

Nora doesn't stand for this treatment. Torvald soon realizes that all these years he has thought of her and treated her as someone to be trifled with. Now she is leaving and he is genuinely brokenhearted. We see just how truly devastated Torvald is in Ibsen's final lines, including the stage directions:

[sinks down on a chair at the door and buries his face in his hands.] Nora! Nora! [Looks round, and rises.] Empty. She is gone. (III).

While Nora suffers losses too, such as clothing, lifestyle, and children, her losses are all self-inflicted. Torvald is the only one who has suffered any real tragic loss. Therefore, it can be said that Torvald is the tragic hero, that his ill-judgement of his wife is his tragic misinterpretation, and that the influences of society that he accepted are his tragic flaw.

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