“A sort of frost seems to have descended on the souls of the human agents…Every confrontation – and the play is a series of confrontations – instead of thawing the ice, leaves it a bigger iceberg” -R. L. Nigam on Halfway House Critically and commercially acclaimed, Halfway House is a mainstream modern play written by Mohan Rakesh in the year 1969. Mohan Rakesh has contributed significantly in building up the post-independence Hindi literature. In fact, he is known for creating a revolution in dialogue-writing in Hindi drama. Halfway House is a good example of a social play, creating a scenario of a typical modern Indian family (in 1950’s).
This play was written during the time when India was coming to terms with the idea of a modern family. Critics perceived Halfway House purely as a commercial and apolitical play. The play mainly deals with the theme of social alienation and how indifference between the family members keeps on increasing, but also touches upon existentialism, utilitarianism, feminism, man-woman relationship, modern sensibility, gender stereotypes, absurdist element, conventional and traditional ideas of a family created by the society and effect of modern ideologies on families. A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view. ” -Henrik Ibsen Doll’s House is a realistic social drama by Ibsen, written in 1879, portraying a stereotypical submissive wife struggling to break free.
Through this play, Ibsen showcases the idea that “women suffer an inevitable violation of their personalities within the context of marriage. In this play, and even in other plays by Ibsen like “The League of Youth” and “The Lady from the Sea” the society is increasingly seen as a force insidiously hostile to self-fulfillment. The play deals with the idealism of the role of a woman in society and her family, naturalism, feminism, man-woman relationship, gender stereotypes, existentialism, naturalism, modern sensibility and women’s independence. “Most of my stories are about people living through the torture of relationships in their loneliness.
The attempt is not to see the individual and society as mutually opposed and mutually exclusive, and separated from each other, but rather, to see them as related in such a fashion that the individual reflects the dilemmas of the society, and the society reflects the torture of the individual” -Mohan Rakesh The play Halfway House starts off with the description of a “disorderly living room in what was once a fairly well to do middle-class home. ” The furniture is broken, having lost its proper function, adding to the over-crowded effect of the room.
All the description gives a very disoriented and distorted image of the place where the play starts off. It is quite evident that there exists no feeling of comfort or warmth, that normally ought to exist in a “home”. Too much of chaos can be visualized and the degradation of the economic status of the family has already been mentioned (this has played a huge part in the disintegration of the family ties). Another observation that can be made from the setting itself is that there is too much adjustment in the house, and nothing seems to be in its proper place implying that nobody actually cares.
Members of the family are least bothered about how their house is arranged, and they just let things be. If one looks at the settings carefully, one can decipher that the setup is not only shown to describe the physical disorientation but also somewhere points towards the mental instability of all the members in the house. It points towards the lack of mental peace each member faces in the entire course of the play. “A man in a black suit” opens the play describing himself as “amorphous” and says,” This play is as undefined as I am. The reason…but what’s the use of going into reasons?
There is always a reason for everything, genuine or otherwise. Besides, if I myself am undefined, how can I define the reason for anything else? ” This introduces the absurdist element in the starting of the play itself. The man even says that his story might be a story of just another man. He says,”there is something of me in each one of you and that is why, whether on or off stage, I have no separate identity” This sentence might point towards the fact that people have many sides to them or different shades to their personalities. These shades include darker as well as lighter shades ie. Negative and Positive sides respectively.
But some sides are brought up whereas some remain hidden. The man might represent both sides and the audience might be able to relate to those shades of his personality. As far as the undefined element of the play is concerned, yes, the play is an undefined one in terms of its characters and incompleteness of the sentences. Many sentences have been left incomplete in the play, due to which many facts remain hidden, which add to the undefined element of the play. ACT ONE of the plays takes the reader to the living room, where everything is scattered, the books, the journals, magazine cuttings and a pair of pajamas.
The first character to enter the scene is the protagonist, Savitri, the wife of Mahendranath and the mother of Kinni, Binni and Ashok. She is “about to throw them(the clothes and magazines,etc. ) into a corner but then starts folding them. ” This shows how exhausted she is and completely tired of her life. Though frustrated, she controls her anger for the sake of her family, and the way she is “about to throw them” but then “starts folding” shows how she controls herself, her desires and is obliged to be an ideal mother and a wife though she does not wish to be.
Also, she is obliged to fulfill all her responsibilities. The Play Doll’s House starts off in a house “A comfortable room, furnished inexpensively, but with taste. ” “There are etching on the walls, and there is a cabinet with china ornaments and other bric-a-brac, and a small bookcase with handsomely bound books. There is a carpet on the floor, and the stove is lit. ” The starting of Doll’s House acts as a striking contrast to that of Halfway House. The house in “doll’s House” is clean, aesthetically arranged and gives a homely feeling. It has the kind of warmth that is normally felt in an ideal “home”.
The family has been described as a one who has just enough money for survival, but after some time will become rich because Nora’s husband Helmar has found a new job as a manager of a bank. The family’s economic condition can also be contrasted against that of Halfway House, wherein the family earlier was well off, but now is in a bad condition. In the doll’s House, the family’s economic condition is shown to be improving. Nora, the protagonist, has been portrayed as the ideal wife, with ideal values and ideas. She is shown as the perfect wife and the perfect mother who sacrifices her desires in order to please her children and her husband.
The biggest metaphor, “Doll” has been aptly used in the play, because Nora is no less than a Doll in her house who has absolutely no control over her thoughts and desires because they have always been driven by her husband or her father(when she was unmarried). She is just a “puppet” who earlier was in the hands of her father , and now her husband. The settings of the house suggest that members of the family live in harmony with each other. The female protagonists of both the plays are shown as women who have their own desires but somewhere sacrifice them to fit into the ideal image of the perfect wife and the perfect mother.
Nora in the play perfectly fits into the ideal image and quite keeps up to its reputation. Whereas , as we can see, Savitri tries to become the perfect wife and the mother, but is unable to do so. She is a modern independent woman and is the sole breadwinner of the family. She is the woman who has come out of her times and broken societal norms to some extent. She has been shown to have extramarital affairs with numerous men, namely Jagmohan, Manoj and entertaining her boss Singhania(even though he is a characterless man).
She tries hard to do something for her family, like finding a job for her son Ashok, but is too disappointed when her own children don’t give her due respect. The children are also right in one way, because they are aware of Savitri’s affairs and hence don’t approve of her relationships with other men. This mutual discontentment becomes a part of a vicious cycle which seems to be never-ending. The children don’t respect their mother because she doesn’t respect her relation with their father. It is quite visible to Savitri that her children don’t respect her, even her husband does not respect her, she s bound to get irritated and frustrated with her family and hence looks out of the family for some relief and it acts as a medium of escape for her. But then, her looking out of the family for some escape is also justified in some way as her husband Mahendranath used to beat her up and abuse her earlier. Maybe that was the cause of her infidelity. Basically, all the relations in the family in Halfway House appear to be entangled with each other, with no immediate relief remedy. Each member feels alienated from the other and hence is indifferent .
Everyone has so absorbed in their own matters that no one cares about the other. These broken ties have resulted in each member becoming selfish and that has in turn resulted in some incompleteness in each character. The smallest daughter Kinni is always complaining about her books or uniforms. She is too cranky and rude to her mother, constantly cribbing about the nonavailability of her new uniform or new books, even though she knows that there are not enough financial resources. She even knows that all the burden is on her mother, still she is completely indifferent towards it.
She is seen constantly fighting with her brother Ashok. Her brother, Ashok is no less. He is equally involved in the fights, and is equally rude to his mother. He is seen as an image of his father, just as jobless, lazy, careless and indifferent as him. He doesn’t even appreciate the fact that his mother calls her boss frequently just so that he might get a job through a reference. In fact, in his free time, he is seen cutting pictures from magazines, which actually is a pointless activity. It suggests he has no goal in his life and is even least bothered about himself, if not about his mother.
The elder sister, Binni, is married but is fed up of her marriage and unable to find a concrete reason for the discontentment of her husband. Her husband says,”there is something in your house that makes you the way you are”, so as a way of escapism, she comes to her house again and again but fails to find a reason behind it. She had actually ran away from home, with Manoj in order to marry him. One fact that is revealed in the end of the play is that Savitri, had had an affair with Manoj too, but he ran away with his daughter. Complete disregard of values and societal norms has been displayed.
Savitri definitely breaks off the image of the ideal wife and mother, but this has shown her in a negative light. On the other hand, Nora from Doll’s House too breaks the image of the ideal wife and mother in the end, but in a positive manner. She too transforms into a modern woman, but a one who might not be criticized as much as Savitri would be. Nora , in the play has been called “my little skylark “and “little squirrel” by Helmer, suggesting that he treats her as an inferior being. He feels she is a little and helpless creature who can’t do anything without his help.
But he is actually unaware of the fact that while he was ill, she had borrowed money, so that they could go on a holiday to south, and his health would be recovered. She couldn’t have told this to him because it might have hurt his pride. She was even repaying that amount by saving amount from the money he gave her for her dresses as she felt she should not touch the money given for her children or the household purposes. She even did petty jobs for earning money like copying writing material. Even she has been associated with another man Mr.
Rank, wherein he confesses his love for her, but she being an ‘ideal wife’ had to disregard him. Though it’s not specified in the text whether she also loved him or not. This incident reflects on the type of societal norms that were prevalent at that time, where even the idea of another man loving her apart from her husband, would be thought of as disgusting. Another contrast between Savitri and Nora. Savitri, in fact, is involved with not only one but two men outside her marriage. She is not even afraid of this fact, whether society would accept it or not.
Savitri is an ambitious and rebellious woman. She has this trait from the beginning of the play. Nora, on the other hand, is a very submissive wife, submitting to everything her husband says and always putting up the facade of being cheerful and lively, though actually, she is not content, rather has sacrificed her choices, hidden her opinions so that it does not hurt the pride of her husband, or her father(before marriage) . Even the arguments in the play seem to be light and playful. Though in the end, she sheds the image of an ideal woman and emerges as a powerful, independent, modern woman.
One reason for this difference is the time period when both the plays were written. Halfway house was written almost a century after Doll’s House was written. In fact, it is considered that the Halfway house was a response to Ibsen’s Doll’s House. During the time Doll’s House was written, society was more conservative than it was at the time Halfway House was written. In halfway house, incomplete sentences and dialogue repetition play a major role. The constant need of tidying things up signifies some restlessness and instability in the mind of Savitri.
It also shows that she is trying to run away from problems instead of facing them. They represent the cyclical redundancy of everyday married life. The arguments seem to have become a part of their daily routine and they have become used to it. The father and the boy are seen expressing their anger physically, through actions. Shutting the drawer loudly, breaking the necklace, making noise while reading the newspaper are some examples. The incomplete sentences represent the incompleteness that exists within the family, the loneliness that resides in the heart of each family member.
It shows how a corrupt the human mind leads to corrupted language. Also, they keep things inside themselves and never really speak up. They have preconceived notions about each other and are not ready to drop those notions. These notions, then create a problem because even if the other person tries to change, the attempt is neither noticed nor appreciated. Incomplete sentences also show how everyone in the family interrupts what the other is saying, just because they need to tell what “they themselves” have to say.
They are more concerned about their opinions, ideas and feelings and might even impose them on the other. This, again shows their indifference towards each other. This emphasizes the utilitarian aspect of the play. They have also been seen putting the blame on each other on petty issues. Sarcasm is very evident in Halfway House. It can be seen that somewhere, there is a juggle between concern and ignorance. In the hearts of their hearts, they do care for each other, but they are so irritated by the circumstances and each others’ deeds that they feel it would be better to remain ignorant.
On the other hand, in Doll’s House, Nora cares a lot for her family, to this extent that she has lost her own identity. Here creeps in the concept of existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. It means questioning one’s own existence and identity. In the entire play, Nora feels that her identity is formed through her husband or her father. Whatever they think, she agrees with them and hence becomes a shadow of them.
But what she loses in the process is her own self, because even when she has a different opinion, she is afraid to reveal it as it her father might feel bad or offended and her husband might feel she is not supporting him. The ending takes an interesting turn, wherein she sheds her image of being the ideal wife and the ideal mother. She loses her faith in the love of her husband and hence decides to break off from her marriage. She doesn’t care about what society might think. She wants to go on a trip to self-exploration and identity formation.
Education is one of her priorities now. During the tiff in the end, she even points out that she has not been able to make anything of her life just because of her father and her husband. She had been a doll child to her father and now a doll wife to her husband. She says,”I believe that before everything else I am a human being just as much as you are-or at any rate, shall now try to become one” She even tends to question all that has been taught to her by her religion and even the societal norms that have been forced onto them.
She even says she would decide everything for herself on her own and does not need anybody’s help or favor. Handing over their engagement ring, she leaves the house, even the children, the reason being that she could not live with a stranger anymore. Her husband is shocked and shattered, but through this play emerges the ideal image of the modern woman who can break all ties and one who lives for herself too and not just for others. Savitri, though, from the beginning has been struggling to make ends meet, and tries to find peace of mind outside marriage, but is unable to do so.
Even in the end, she has been shown as a helpless woman, because her husband comes back to her, and she has no choice but to stay with him. The play has been left open-ended and even if Savitri leaves her house, things might not change. It is her inner dissatisfaction that disturbs her, and prevents her from finding the right man, even outside marriage. Savitri would always remain dissatisfied, regardless of the path that she now chooses. Naturalism also plays a small part in both plays. In Halfway house, it is seen that Ashok has inherited many attributes from his father.
He is as lazy, careless and ignorant. Both are jobless too. Binni too has a failed marriage, same as her mother Savitri. Kinni can be seen portraying Savitri’s rebelliousness in her pre-teens. In Doll’s House, Nora has been accused of inheriting some bad qualities from her father. We can thus conclude that both the modern plays Halfway House and Doll’s House have many similarities, though some minor contrasts are also present. Both of them represent the rise of a modern woman, in their own unique ways.