A Doll House as a modern tragedy

Question: Discuss A Doll’s House as a modern tragedy. Or, Discuss A Doll House as a modern tragedy.


Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-1906) was the first major dramatist to write tragedy about ordinary people in ordinary situations and employing simple and realistic prose for dialogues. His renowned play “A Doll’s House” has rightly called a tragedy. At the same, it is also correct to call it a modern tragedy.

The key concept of modernism

The term modernism is widely used to identify new and distinctive features in the subjects, forms, concepts, and styles of literature and other arts. Let’s now examine “A Doll’s House” as a modern tragedy.

The solemn and somber atmosphere

The whole play is pervaded by a lavish and fearful atmosphere. It certainly has some humor in it, but only a little bit, which can be found in the flirtation scene between Nora and Doctor Rank. There is also some joy in the play – mainly when we get Nora in a jubilant mood at the beginning and then when she is playing happily with her kids. There is also some happiness in this scene where Mrs. Linde proposes to marry Krogstad who accepts the proposal with gratitude and with the greatest joy. In addition to these comic and joy elements, the whole drama is serious and tragic. The main action of the play is tragic and so is the ending. Nora is the tragic heroine who has won our deepest sympathy. So, the setting of the play drama is starkly innovative and preserves the quality of modern tragedy.

The modern art of characterization

Previously tragedy dealt with royalty. The middle and lower classes were normally the subject of comedy or entertainment. Ibsen has cleansed up the old artificial conventions on which theatre had depended. The protagonist of the drama “A Doll’s House” is Nora who is the wife of a middle-class bank manager, Torvald Helmer. The play revolves around her. As modernity has given the rights to the writers to compose independently, Ibsen has done it magnificently.

Plot and writing style

The earlier tragedy was usually written in verse and a complex plot is suitable for tragedy according to Aristotle. Ibsen’s plays do not rely on soliloquies, overheard conversation, interrupt letters, or disguises. Even the five-act drama was often cut short of three or four acts. His prose dialogue is generally considered the best. Like the great novelists, he has made the characters to speak naturally. We can quote a conversation here where Torvald throws Nora and the women completely down when he tells his wife:

Nora, Nora, how like a woman! No, but seriously, Nora, you know what I think about over spending. No debts! Never borrow!

Besides, the plot of the tragedy is very simple and straight based on five characters. Even the minor characters lend unity to the plot by providing balance and contrast. The play is structured with only three acts. Thus the play is modern both in its message and technique. Its naturalistic setting and its elaborate stage directions contribute towards making it modern and topical.

Discovery through conversation

As we know that discovery is one of the fundamental facts for a tragedy that provides suspense and sufferings. As a modern tragedy, “A Doll’s House” has an exceptional discovery within its plot. Once Nora tells in detail to her old friend Mrs. Linde about a secret loan. Though this is not Nora’s fault but it was completely against convention and creates a tragic end.

Realism and sufferings

Realism is the main concern for the modernists. Ibsen is unique in the case of representing realism and suffering. Even the lives of the hero and heroine are full of problems. Helmer suffers from a dangerous disease putting him on the verge of death. He had not the means to go to a warmer climate. His wife Nora borrowed money for the trip from Krogstad on interest. For this Nora has to suffer from different kinds of problems including blackmailing by Krogstad and finally decides to break her eight years of married life to fetch out her freedom. Thus, the play shows the tragedy of a woman in a convention-ridden society.

Painful renunciation at the end

Helmer’s outburst after going through Krogstad’s incriminating letter comes as a great shock to Nora. She is now completely disillusioned about her husband. Nora announces she will be leaving him and her children, Torvald says, Before all else, you’re a wife and mother. For what else were women supposed to be doing at this point in history? Nora believes she has another purpose:

“I don’t believe in that anymore, I believe that, before all else, I’m a human being, no less than you–or anyway, I ought to try and become one. I know the majority thinks you’re right…But I can’t go on believing what the majority says, or what’s written in the books. I have to think over these things myself.”

Click here: For more notes of drama


Finally, “A Doll’s House” is a modern tragedy because a wife who has always lived the conventional life of the family took a revolutionary step. The step she took was an eloquent call for the women of the day to rise up and claim their rights. The message of the play has made it modern in the full sense of the word.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
Articles: 380

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