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Tragic Comedy, or Comic Tragedy, Is There a Difference?


 A Doll’s House is a tragic comedy in which Nora leaves her house by slamming of a door to the world of new possibilities. She is going off to know her own responsibilities towards herself. This kind of self- realization, which usually leads to a new beginning, is one of Ibsen’s main ideologies posed in his play. Nora opens her eyes and observes that her individuality and freedom have been taken in living with Torvald Helmer. Nora is a woman who will not go on living her life on illusions and with a strange man anymore. Helmer has lived according to the reasons and rationality of a man, his point of view is arranged based on power and order. For such a systematized, disciplinary man, reputation is more important than sacrificing himself for family life. Now he sees that only the hope of a miracle is left since reason no longer accomplishes anything. Nora’s winning of her individual freedom is for self- development whereby she is to become a person in her own right and also in the sight of others. She has discovered painfully that she has treated as a nullity and that this must be changed.


A Doll’s House is a spotlight on society when people are under the pressure of public opinion about masculine society. This play discusses social problems in general, and individuals’ in particular, women are considered as victims and society as a victimizer. Nora, as a new woman, experiences victory, her journey to self- realization happened as a miracle, unexpected, uncertain, but on time. She is the protagonist of this play who lives in decorative surroundings as a doll and finds out that she is nothing but a precious instrument in her husband’s hands. This knowledge helps her to strive in order to find her lost or neglected values in a conventional society. Therefore she leaves her home and children in opposition to the conventional and majority’s rule, society’s oppressive authority and conventions.

At first glance, Nora lives in a home that seems peaceful. Although apparently Helmer, her husband loves her and Nora is everything for him, it reveals that Helmer is just a proud man who only thinks about his social situation and Nora’s personality has no meaning for him. Nora’s forging to save his life is an illegal action, but she does it, for, she loves him. She supposes that if one day this secret is revealed, Helmer will protect her, but when she sees that it is just a dream, an illusion and she is only like a pet animal in Helmer’s hands, she decides to leave her home and children in a dark night and puts herself in the outside society, inviting insult, destitution, and loneliness.

The play deals with the issue of the position of woman in marriage and in society. In Ibsen’s time, the wife is more a servant than a helper. She only states indirect suggestions about home policies and decisions. Husband is the leader of the family and she is obliged to follow him; hence, she is just like an attractive instrument in her husband’s hands to be loved and cherished but nothing more. She does not share in any family responsibilities or troubles. As Ibsen himself, in Notes for Modern Tragedy, insists “a woman cannot be herself in modern society. It is an exclusively male society”. In this society, a wife, or a woman in general, have no idea about what is right or wrong. There is a dilemma in this kind of society, natural feelings on the one hand, and belief in authority, on the other hand, lead her to distraction.

In such a system of society, the frivolity, romanticizing, and occasional lying that characterize Nora are not so strange because social conventions do not allow her to have a true, deep and serious share in her personal life. The wife must rely on either escapist dreams or petty subterfuges to adjust to her situation; the dream of Helmar’s protection against Krogstad’s accusation. At first glance, Nora is portrayed as a macaroon- eating, sweet- toothed creative. Indeed, society condemns Nora’s decision to abandon her duties as wife and mother: she is unscrupulous, unfeminine, and Ibsen, while creating her, has flouted the conventions not only of morality but of literary composition. Nora resists and rejects the domestic role and acts in opposition to the social conventions and morals. The problem portrayed in the play is about women’s rights, as human’s rights. It is about the need for every woman to find out herself and stand on her feet in order to recognize the truth about herself, her life and her society. Moreover, it is about the need of every woman for self- discovery and acting based on the truth even though that truth is opposed to the social acceptance and for fighting against social conventions in the search of the truth. A woman was considered by society to be a doll because she was expected to be subordinate to her husband’s whims.


In the play, A Doll House, Henrik Ibsen plays both comedy and tragedy well within his play. For once, a woman, Nora Helmer, is the main character, aside from Aristophanes, Lysistrata. Although Nora and the rest of the characters have their own humorous side, they also have their own tragic side, which makes 'A Doll House' an interesting read.


How I see comedy within this particular play is just how Ibsen creates Nora. She gets overly excited when she hear, think, or even speaks about money. On page 215, the conversation between her husband, Torvald Helmer and her goes like this:


Helmer:... We've made a brave stand up now, the two of us; and we'll go right on like that the little while we have to.

Nora: Yes, whatever you say, Torvald.

Helmer: Now, now, the little lark's wings mustn't droop. Come on, don't be a sulky squirrel. Nora, guess what I have here.

Nora: Money!


To me, I thought that little tidbit between the two was quite funny. Nora had become a bit sad when she and her husband were talking about never borrowing money or going into debt because of the borrow. Torvald does not want to be seen as a person who cannot make ends meet by borrowing money and not making it on his own. By flashing money to Nora, she becomes happy once again, because she knows that they are in the line light and that they are set for life because of Torvald's new job.


I find it also humorous how Nora lies to her husband about NOT eating the macaroons when it's clear that she has. The fact that Torvald had them banned from the house because he did not want Nora's teeth to fall out is kind of going overboard because if you ban or take away something from someone, they are just bound to go behind that said person's back and do or get what they please, knowing the consequences, if any.


It was also funny how Nora backs up how she got the macaroons by pinning them on her friend Mrs. Kristine Linde, and 'treats' them to herself because she sees fits.


How tragedy falls into this place begins when Nora starts to meet her downfall when she talks to Krogstad. If she was not in a rush to get her husband to a doctor and to go on her little vacation, she probably would have been more careful by forging her father's signature and putting the wrong date on the papers. The fact that she even admitted to Krogstad that she forged the signature just placed her in a deeper situation. Her husband stated that he did not want to be the man to borrow money and to be in debt to that person, but since Nora was mainly thinking of herself, she went behind her husband's back, borrowed money from a bank, LIED to her husband where she actually got the money from and tried to play it off as if nothing happened.


It gets to the point that Nora tries to blind Torvald so that he can only see her and only her so that he does not see the truth that she has hidden from him. Her greatest tragedy is Torvald eventually finding out what she has done, and in order to free him of her own doing, she leaves him. She even makes Torvald into a stranger so she sees him nothing more. If only she was honest to him, they both would not have been in the situation they were in. But in the end, Torvald sees it, this is how I interpret it, that by his wife leaving him and taking her burden with her, that is his greatest miracle; he doesn't have to worry about being slandered because of her doing. I may be wrong, but that is how I saw it.


The play is more simply a tragedy for Torvald Helmer. It is tragic for him because he suffers the consequence of his tragic weakness of ego, pride, and falsity in his love and professed ideals. To some extent, we sympathize with this character because he has done his best so far as his society has taught him to. We should not forget that he is perhaps one of the most loving and caring husbands to belong to those times. By the standards of his society, he may be laudable as a most gentle husband. But, in his tragic

downfall, there is full poetic justice, like in any traditional tragic drama.

 A Doll’s House is a tragic comedy in which Nora leaves her house by slamming of a door to the world of new possibilities. She is going off to know her own responsibilities towards herself. This kind of self- realization, which usually leads to a new beginning, is one of Ibsen’s main ideologies posed in his play.



In a sense, the play is a tragedy of traditional society. It is a tragedy for the society represented by Torvald because that society had been confidently dealing with women in that manner which is regarded as correct and just. Now that a woman has suddenly given it a blow at almost its bases — the religion, traditional values, education, the institution of marriage, and so on — the society is facing a crisis or a tragedy. If all the women, who are of course treated no better than this, do the same, the whole of the social system would collapse. And the impact would be basically the tragic destruction of the man's basis of happiness.



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