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Empowering the Unempowered: Character Analysis

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Empowering the Underpowered: Social Commentary in Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard and Ibsen's "A Dolls House" Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," a controversial, Norwegian play focusing on a couple's marriage has quite remarkable similarities and differences with Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," a captivating, Russian play about an aristocratic family and their inability to face change. While the first set the foundation for modern realism in drama, the second, 20 years later, presented a unique union of naturalism and symbolism. Ambiguity has always lain around the genre of both plays though, because of the various emotions evoked in the audience throughout the two plays. Another striking similarity in the two plays lies in their disordered portrayal of the social power structures. In a society highly critical of women, Ibsen significantly empowered the central female character, Nora, while Chekhov, from a society highly critical of the serfs, significantly empowered the peasant character of Lopakhin. Close scrutiny and careful analysis of the two plays reveals Ibsen and Chekhov's characterizations of Nora and Lopakhin, respectively to be social commentaries designed to provoke through contradictions of social structures. Essentially, it is by developing Nora and Lopakhin's characters realistically, by giving them human dimensions, that the playwrights first establish these characters' strong rapport with the audience. Instead of the stereotypical, calm, weak female character of that time, Ibsen captures the female psyche, through various emotions that Nora displays. ...read more.


(Chekhov, p.333) At the same time though, his personification and description of the cherry orchard as "happy, rich, luxuriant" also shows his artistic personality. He has, as Trofimov puts it, "a soul of an artist." (Chekhov, p. 381) Further adding dimension to his character is the fact that he is comically inept, particularly around Varya. The line directions of a "pause" (Chekhov, p. 358), the misquotation of Shakespeare: "Aurelia, get thee to a nunnery..." (Chekhov, p. 359) and the ellipsis thereby, also further his awkward impression in front of Varya. Lopakhin is thus portrayed as neither the perfect, composed businessman nor a dim-witted fool; it is essentially the combination of his reasoning, artistic sensitivity and the comedy that he brings, that makes him a multi-dimensional character that the audience believe and even like. It should be noted that both the characters have a binary half, against whom they are starkly contrasted: i.e., Helmer for Nora and Lyubov for Lopakhin. However, a significant difference in the two characters lies in that among their respective pairs, Nora's character is demeaned by her childish, subservient qualities while Lopakhin's character is elevated through his logical reasoning and ability to think without being too emotional or nostalgic. Further, Nora is Helmer's "little squirrel" (Ibsen, p. 2); his "skylark" (Ibsen, p.49); and his "nibbly cat" (Ibsen, p. ...read more.


(Ibsen, p. 39) This explicit similie elucidates Nora's true feelings for Helmer which consist of a fatherly love and admiration, rather than a romantic love and attraction. Similarly, Lopakhin looks up imploringly to Lyubov. He remembers with gratitude her kindness to him as a boy: "[Lyubov] is a fine person...I remember when I was a boy of fifteen, my late father...gave me a punch in the face and made my nose bleed...[Lyubov] led me to the washstand in this very room..."Don't cry, little peasant," she said, "it will heal..." " Moreover, Lopakhin even assists Lyubov financially, which is ironic considering their social statuses. Overall, due to the audience's close rapport with Nora and Lopakhin and the established contrast between these characters and others, it is evident how undeserving the recipients of Nora and Lopakhin's love are, at least to the modern audience. For the audience of their respective time periods though, such outright role reversals as that of Nora and Helmer at the end where Helmer transforms into the child and looks up to Nora's determination with admiration and pleads for her to stay with him, and that of Lopakhin and Lyubov where the peasant buys the aristocratic household was shocking. However perhaps it was to lessen this outrage that the playwrights instilled in the two characters a respect for the empowered persons. The audience would therefore be more likely to tolerate if these characters still followed societal norms ideologically, and knew their place in the social structure rather than being outright radical. ...read more.

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