Comparison of A Doll's House and A Streetcar Named Desire

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Colin Wick

Mrs. Boness

IB HL English: Period 4


Prompt #14: “Important characters in plays are multi-dimensional.  Discuss to what extent this statement is true of important characters in plays you have studied and comment on the techniques of characterization employed by the playwright.”

Multidimensional characters can also be defined as dynamic or constantly changing and developing characters.  These dynamic characters are not simply important to a play, but are arguably the most important characters because what the playwright intends to communicate to his or her audience is communicated through the changing emotions and behaviors of these characters.  Additionally, playwrights use a variety of techniques to highlight the changes an important character may go through.  The dialogue, staging and stage directions, setting, music, lighting, and even costumes can all be used to highlight a multifaceted character’s emotional and physical changes.  In A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, and A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, the playwrights primarily use costumes, which parallel the emotional and behavioral changes of important dynamic characters, and contrast in dialogue to amplify developments and changes in the characters’ relationships and behavior.

Ibsen’s choice of costume design portrays Nora as a dynamic character in A Doll’s House.  Ibsen changes Nora’s costume to parallel her behavioral and emotional changes in the play.  The “Neapolitan fisher-girl” costume, for example, represents Nora’s secrets and their restraint on her autonomy (Ibsen 29).  Therefore, Nora’s want to “tear [the masquerade costume] into a hundred thousand pieces” represents her will to be rid of her lies and to take off of the mask she puts on for Helmer (Ibsen 28).  The costume facilitates this need throughout the second act of play.  When Nora practices the Tarantella dance, she dances wildly and “her hair comes down and falls over her shoulders” (Ibsen 47).  Wild and free hair has connotations of independence and liberation.  Therefore, the costume begins to show the audience her will to free herself from the mask she puts on for Helmer.  However, she remains in the dress at this point in the play meaning that she is still restricted by the disguise she wears for Helmer’s satisfaction.  Again, the dress highlights Nora’s development when it is removed in Act III before Nora gathers the courage to tell Helmer she must leave him to gain her independence.  Nora’s masquerade ball costume conveys how Nora’s lies and mask of happiness restrain her freedom and helps to illustrate her eventual escape from them.  Therefore, the costume design amplifies the characteristics that make Nora a dynamic character.

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        Williams also uses his costume designs to characterize his dynamic characters in A Streetcar Named Desire.  However, rather than connecting a specific costume with a feeling, he associates a general type of costume with specific emotions and actions.  For example, the lavish costuming of Blanche represents the extent of her desire for, and delusion of, an extravagant life.  As the play opens and Blanche enters, her appearance is described as “incongruous to [the] setting” (Williams 15).  She is introduced being dressed as if she believes she should be somewhere and someone else.  Furthermore, her beauty from the “white suit with ...

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