Is it right to say that something actually is what it appears to be? Although there is no answer to this question, most people would say that the image someone shows to the outside world differs greatly from his real personality. Indeed, in the real world people play different “roles”, throughout their lives and behave differently according to the situation they are involved in. In A Doll’s House, a realistic social drama play, the playwright Henrik Ibsen criticizes gender performativity and illusionary relationships, issues which were of major importance in the context of the Norwegian society of the 19th century.
For this reason, the theme of appearance and reality is present almost in every part of the play and the impossibility of distinguishing between appearance and reality is obvious not only in the way characters are portrayed, but also in the plot. To begin with, the impossibility of distinguishing between appearance and reality is obvious in the way characters are portrayed. We see this in Nora and her unexpected actions at the end. At the beginning of the play Nora behaves like a typical upper-middle class Norwegian woman of the 19th century.
Her role as a mother and a wife who is responsible for beatifying the image that her household projects to the outside world is obvious in Act I. Her naive, childish and irresponsible character is clearly shown by the way she spends money, says utterly inappropriate things to Ms. Linde and manipulates Torvald through flirting. However, Nora’s “true” character is revealed in the end of the story when she suddenly realizes that all that time she had been in an illusionary relationship. Her decision to leave the house shows what a dynamic and determined person she actually is.
This is made even more intense through the fact that the setting of the play is one room in which Nora spends all her time. Although people keep coming in or out, she always stays in there; in her “doll” house. Therefore, by slamming the door and leaving this room she actually puts an end to her existence as a “doll”. Secondly, the difference we see in Torvald’s character is another proof of the impossibility to distinguish between appearance and reality. In Act I and II he has a sense of superiority and self-importance, and as every man of his era his job is to protect and guide his wife.
He takes the “important” decisions that have to be reached, without listening to Nora, and has everything under his control. Nonetheless, in the end of the play we see a completely different picture of Torvald. He is completely unable to effectively confront a serious issue concerning not only himself but also his “family”. Additionally, the fact that he is too conscious of other people’s perceptions of him makes him seem even weaker. Another man to whom the appearance-reality theme is associated is Krogstad. From the first time he appears, Krogstad, seems to be the villain of the play.
He is the man that blackmails Nora and does not care for anything else, but for his own good. Through his discussion with Nora, Ibsen uses ironic elements to show how Krogstad has influence on Nora and the cruel way that he manipulates her. He conveys information through letters, which symbolize the unwanted secrets and unpleasant facts. This behavior, however, does not last for long, as we see a major change in his character when he is alone with Ms. Linde. We, also, learn about his past, something which justifies his actions. In addition, the theme of appearance versus reality also finds expression in the plot and the way events take place.
For example, in Act I, we see Nora happily playing with her children, seeming perfectly satisfied with her life, her family and her marriage. Later, Nora persuades Torvald to teach her the Tarantella dance, in order for her to be ready for the fancy-dress ball. However, her actual purpose is to distract Torvald from going to the mailbox and reading Krogstad’s letter, which contains the information about Nora’s crime. Again in this part we have irony, as Torvald does not know anything about the letter or the crime Nora has committed.
Ibsen’s purpose is to create a contradiction in the audience’s minds about what is a real and what a fake marriage and also to clearly imply again that Nora’s marriage is an illusion, as well as every other marriage of his era is. In conclusion the central theme of appearance versus reality is illustrated in A Doll’s House both through characterization and plot. Ibsen has cleverly used symbols, ironies and setting to keep the theme intense throughout the whole play. He is obviously heavily criticizing on the Norwegian society of his era, implying that people were what society wanted them to be, and not what they actually were.