A Doll's House - Language

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Helen Fletcher

A Doll’s House – Language

Towards the end of the 19th century, Henrik Ibsen set out to write a play which represented a realistic society, a play without melodramatic language in unbelievable situations, and a play which attempted to show the realities of modern life. The result was unsurprisingly controversial, yet Ibsen sacrificed audience appeal for the naturalistic language he wanted to portray. The effect of this kind of dialogue meant that audiences were able to relate to the characters they were seeing on stage, and the familiarity of the situations was compelling. People were being shown situations that were possible, and realistic, and for many who preferred to see only the traditional Victorian values society, it was shocking. Unlike many other plays of that time, Ibsen used natural speech patterns and mannerisms appropriate to that time period, but didn’t take realism too far that the dialogue was incomprehensible and overlapping. Throughout the play, Ibsen uses pauses to create a sense of awkwardness as well as using interruptions in the dialogue, in an attempt to portray more realistic conversations.

Nora If you wanted to give me something, could you – could you –

Helmer Say it, say it.

The most naturalistic feature of the language is its ability to change within the play, and within characters. There is a clear difference between the styles of language Nora uses when speaking to different people, and even within one conversation. Nora plays with Helmer, and behaves as a Victorian woman would, using feminine endings to words such as “sweetly” and at the beginning of Nora’s conversation with Mrs. Linde, she is polite, and sympathises with her “No, it was bad of me Kristine. You poor woman, you’ve gone through so much.” Ibsen uses commas and short sentences to break up the passage and emphasise that Nora is genuine, in contrast to her long, complex sentences when she talks only of herself “Kristine, do believe me, I meant so often to write to you then, but I kept putting it off and something always got in the way.” In the latter statement, Nora over-justifies what she is saying with “so often” and “do believe me”, which Nora thinks will make her sound honest, yet has the opposite effect. It suggests she has something to hide, and is not convincing to the audience. Mrs. Linde however, does portray honesty in her language, contrasted to Nora’s, by using short sentences, and she doesn’t exaggerate “Three years ago, yes./Nothing./That does happen sometimes Nora.” Her statements are almost completely factual, and they accentuate her practical view on life.

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Nora’s character is also demonstrated when she contradicts herself while talking to Mrs. Linde, saying “Today I will think only about you”, but then proceeds to do the exact opposite, and inform her friend of her own fortunes. This, combined with Nora’s statement about not contacting her friend in three years, concerning her husband’s death, only heightens the audience’s perception that Nora is self-centered.  Nora is also portrayed as insensitive by Ibsen in this section of the play. She tactlessly mentions how Mrs. Linde has aged, as well as boasting of her “pots and pots of money” without recognizing that ...

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The Quality of Written Communication is also very good. There is a sound use of the English language with every inclination the candidate is confident in using complex sentence structures and punctuation points to create a thoroughly engaging answer that presents itself as well as it reads.

The Level of Analysis of the language is very high. The candidate concentrates not only on specific words and how they reveal character traits (such as Nora's use of "sweetly" and the like to play up to Helmer and the contrastingly patronising "do believe me" as she speaks with Kristine), but they also concentrate on how the tone of the lines spoken can vary from typical melodramatic wailing or sighing to reflect how characters' attitude and temperaments can change instantly and because of with whom they are talking. It is this that gains the candidate high marks - that they recognise the feature of talk in life replicated by Ibsen in his language; the repetition, the overlaps, the false starts and the politeness strategies that, particularly, Nora uses to get something she wants, as well as how Helmer's demeaning attitude to her is completely reversed when she announces she is leaving him. This attention to detail is what is expected of A grade and above candidates.

This is a review of the use of language as a form of naturalistic representation of human life in Henrik Ibsen's controversially realistic 'A Doll's House'. The candidate shows an exceptionally well-informed understanding of the social gravity that revolved around such a controversial play, and also retains an excellent focus on how Ibsen's use of language demonstrates an infinitely more realistic presentation of character than the over-played melodrama that was far more popular at the time. The candidate concentrates on the contextual factors that influenced the play, as well as the social and historical cues that lead Ibsen to want to write such naturalist characters. This is an excellently focused answer.