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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1148

Halvard Solness rose to his high position as a master builder because of a fire that had destroyed the ancestral estate of his wife’s family. On the site he built new homes that won him fame and assured success in his profession. The fire gave him his chance, but he made his own opportunities, too, by crushing all who got in his way.

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Knut Brovik, employed by Solness, had once been a successful architect, but Solness had crushed him, too, and then used him as he had many others. Ragnar, Brovik’s son, is a draftsman in Solness’s office, and it is Brovik’s only wish that before his own death his son should have a chance to design something of lasting value. Although Ragnar has drawn plans for a villa that Solness does not wish to bother with, the builder will not give him permission to take the assignment. Ragnar is engaged to Kaia Fosli, Solness’s bookkeeper, and he cannot marry her until he has established himself. Ragnar does not know that Kaia has come under the spell of the master, as had so many other young women. Solness pretends to Kaia that he cannot help Ragnar because to do so would mean losing her; in reality, he needs Ragnar’s brain and talent and cannot risk having the young man as a competitor.

Solness’s physician, Doctor Herdal, and his wife fear that the builder is going mad. He spends much time in retrospection and also seems to have morbid fears that the younger generation is going to ruin him. Not all of the younger generation frightens Solness. When Hilda Wangel appears at his home, he is at once drawn to her. He had met Hilda ten years before when he hung the traditional wreath atop the weather vane on a church he built. She was a child at the time. Now she tells him that he had called her his princess and had promised to come for her in ten years and carry her off to build her a kingdom. Because he has not kept his promise, she has come to him. Solness, who cannot remember the incident, decides that he must have wished it to happen and thus made it come to pass. This, he believes, is another example of his power over people, and it frightens him.

When Hilda asks to see all he has built, especially the high church towers, he tells her that he no longer builds churches and will never build one again. Now he builds homes for mothers and fathers and children. He is building a home for himself and his wife, and on it he is building a high tower. He does not know why he is putting the high tower on the house, but something seems to be forcing him. Hilda insists that he complete the tower, for it seems to her that the tower will have great meaning for her and for him.

Hilda tells Solness that his need of her is the kingdom he has promised her and that she will stay near him. She wants to know why he builds nothing but homes, and he tells her of the fire that had given him his chance. At the time of the fire, he and his wife had twin baby boys. Although all had been saved from the fire, the babies died soon afterward from the effects of the fevered milk of their mother. Solness knows that his position and his fame are based on the tragedy of the fire and on his wife’s heartrending loss, but he believes also that he had willed the fire to have his chance. Whatever he wills happened, and afterward he has to pay somehow the horrible price for his almost unconscious desires. So he builds homes for others, never able to have a real home himself. He is near madness because his success is based on his and his wife’s sorrow.

Solness seems to have power over human beings as well as events. Brovik is one man who serves him, his son Ragnar another. Solness, afraid of Ragnar’s younger generation, believes that it will crush him as he has crushed others.

Hilda, begging him to give Ragnar and the other young people a chance, says that he will not be...

(The entire section contains 1148 words.)

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