In this scene, how does the dramatist effectively expose characters, relationships and issues so as to make the audience keen to see the rest of the play?
Act one scene one from ‘a doll’s house’ by Henrik Ibsen is effective in many ways for enrapturing its audience. Henrik Ibsen successfully manages to introduce many themes and issues alone into the first scene. The scene focuses solely on the two characters Nora and Torvald. Our first impressions are that they are a happily married couple but there are many clues, which hint at the marriage Nora and Torvald have. It appears Torvald controls Nora. Ibsen seems to suggest Nora is a vivacious and cheerful character who is very spirited. Her humming and her smiling all add to the gaiety of her character. In contrast her characterisation to Torvald is very different. Ibsen portrays Torvald as an admirable man who is rigidly honest, a hard worker, and a man of high ethical ideals. He is serious and logical whilst Nora is not; she is made to be very feminine whilst Torvald is conveyed as the representative figure of masculine society.
Their behaviour toward each other is affectionate, there does not seem to be any tension between them, Nora appears to be a submissive and dependent character. She exemplifies the roles expected of women and mothers during the time at which the play was set. But who is in control of the relationship is not clear. On the surface it does to some extent show that Torvald is in fact the dominant one in the scene. Torvald lectures Nora on the use of money, while she is left to ‘sulk’. Torvald addresses Nora as one would address her a child.
She is Torvald’s ‘skylark’, his ‘squirrel’ and does not object to the terms he uses over her. In fact she plays up to him, she plays the role of a child and does not act the role of a mature married mother. Her role is soon very clear; while he lectures her gently and treats her as a child she uses the child like faÃ§ade in manipulating him into giving in to her. Though Torvald is in charge, taking the leading male role, adopting a conventionally controlling tone when talking about the rules of money, it is Nora through her cajoling, teasing and asking who gets Torvald without him realizing giving her more money. It is her way of controlling him slyly without causing tension. It is as if Nora is playing a game.
The scene is relatively difficult because it appears in some ways both of them have the upper hand, in the end we refer to the title of the play. The title ‘A doll’s house’ lets us employ a metaphor to the play to see what is happening in the Helmer household as to somehow reflecting a child’s game featuring an artificial life of dolls manipulated by the doll, master or mistress. The title helps us reflect at who is the one in power of the situation. Because the scene shows us Torvald being assertive but also Nora controlling Torvald and making him give in to her. Symbolically Nora appears to be the doll living in a doll’s house. However we as an audience do not really know who is in control, and the confusion effectively makes us want to find out by seeing the rest of the play.
Ibsen raises the issue of truth and deception. Ibsen represents Torvald as honest and hardworking but he has Nora lying. Torvald asks if Nora has been breaking rules and eating macaroons. Nora lies and denies that she has been eating macaroons, declaring that she would never go against Torvald”s wishes.
Torvald believes her. This is dramatic irony, because we know Nora is lying but Torvald does not. Marriage is about honesty and love. As an audience we now have the advantage and therefore feel superior to Torvald who is being deceived. Could it be Nora’s feelings are emphasised through the business with the macaroons? It seems through this apparently inconsequential domestic situation that Nora’s untruthfulness and independence become noticeable. The macaroons come to symbolise the power, which Nora is able to extract from her femininity and use against her husband. Her lying may not be of any important significant but we do wonder why she feels she needs to lie to him. Her lying also makes us wonder if their relationship is honest and sincere. Could the deception symbolise what is to come later in the play? Will something go wrong? Is this an early indication telling us all is not well? As an audience we begin to ask questions. It intrigues us and we want to see if this relationship will work.
Throughout the scene the issue of money is raised often. Money clearly plays an important part in their lives; it is also important because it is clear that the involvement of money plays a part in deciding who is in control of the relationship. The money issue also correlates with the issue of dependence and independence. Torvald’s issuing Nora money reveals he is the breadwinner and Nora has no money of her own, she solely depends on Torvald financially. His money giving represents his financial control over Nora. Yet Ibsen reveals her streak of independency and her ways of overcoming the ways of Torvald’s dominance. Nora’s only financial independence is revealed within the first few lines of the play, at the point where she kindly tips the porter.
When Torvald sees the numerous purchases Nora has made, he chastises her for being a ‘spendthrift’. Nora then turns away from Torvald, giving a sulky ‘whatever you say.’ Her child like way of ‘sulking’ touches Torvald and in effect he gives her some money. So she has succeeded in getting her own way. Yet Torvald also does not trust Nora with money, which illustrates Torvald”s treating Nora as a child. Torvald and Nora’s opinions on money differ. Torvald objects to the idea of being in debt. Torvald believes that ‘if a home builds its foundations upon debt then its beauty and freedom is lost’. Nora’s thinking clashes with Torvald’s it is clear she does not agree with him. Ibsen has exposed tension between them in a subtle but effective way.
Ibsen has been effective in exposing details about the two protagonists Nora and Torvald, he has not given much reason for their actions but enough to provide us with a sense of what is happening and give us at the same time a curiosity to find out what will happen to these two characters, how they will be effected by each other. Ibsen makes it implicit that Torvald is a man who understands how to function in society and he is well aware of what will happen to anyone who breaks the rules. Nora gives the audience a strong impression in the opening, her merriness, her cajoling and her overall sweetness places an impact on the audience, we are somehow on her side and there could be annoyance we feel towards Torvald for nor giving her enough freedom to be herself. By imposing some important and repetitive issues in this scene Ibsen sets about to create tension for what is to come later on in the play. He has laced enough drama in the scene to capture us as an audience.