Doll’s House By Insen It has been said that great works of drama have a universality about them, a timelessness all their own. Many important plays have similarities to one another regardless of the time in which they were written because of this fact. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Harvey Fierstein’s On Tidy Endings are certainly no exception to that rule. Although they were written over a hundred years apart they do show some similarities. An examination of the main characters, foil characters and taboo themes dealt with in each play will make these parities more visible.
Themes are universal in nature. A play can have themes about relationships, family, greed, secrets, among many others, all of which have been around since the beginning of the storytelling tradition. The themes dealt with in the plays On Tidy Endings and A Doll’s House have more similarities than one might realize. Firstly, there is the fact that both plays deal with themes controversial in their times. A Doll’s House deals with the themes of a woman fulfilling her dreams and her dishonesty towards her husband, infrequently discussed subjects in the late 1800s. On Tidy Endings deals with the themes of AIDS and homosexual relationships, which, in the late 1980s, was not a common topic of conversation. This similarity is an important factor in the fame of both plays.
Another, perhaps more obvious similarity in theme is that many of them are the same. Relationships, honesty, family, crises and letting go are all common and major themes to both A Doll’s House and On Tidy Endings. In addition to the themes the foil characters reveal similar information in the plays. Although foil characters in general reveal similar information, the similarities in A Doll’s House and On Tidy Endings are more than just general. Firstly, the character of Mrs.
Linde in A Doll’s House reveals Nora’s choices to her, what she can do about her situation, and what she should do about it. In On Tidy Endings, the character of June is the parallel to Mrs. Linde. June informs Marion of her options regarding her own situation. In both plays, the relationships that Mrs.
Linde and June are most interested in are those of the main characters. One could almost think of June and Mrs. Linde as relationship therapists. Other common foil characters would be Jim and Krogstad. They are both more involved with the main female character than with the main male character. An example of this is the secret that Nils and Nora share about the loan in A Doll’s House, and that Jim and Marion obviously share some knowledge about one another that others in On Tidy Endings do not know.
Similarities on the level of foil characters may seem slightly less important to the overall comparison of the two plays, but the foil characters are an important feature. Lastly, the main characters within the plays On Tidy Endings and A Doll’s House share many common aspects. The main characters in A Doll’s House are Nora and Torvald Helmer, a husband and wife whose marriage is based mainly on secrets and pageantry. The main characters of On Tidy Endings are Arthur and Marion, a gay man and his lover’s ex-wife whose relationship is based mainly on pleasantries and improprieties. The two main characters of each play all have different views on their relationships.
Not only are the relationships similar, but the characters themselves show some likenesses. Torvald Helmer in A Doll’s House, for instance, is ignorant of the fact that his wife, Nora, is not happy in their relationship. Torvald believes that Nora is as madly in love with him as he is with her. The character of Torvald is matched in On Tidy Endings by the character of Marion. Marion is a sweet and somewhat naive character who is oblivious to the true state of her relationships with almost everyone in her life.
For starters, Marion misjudged the extent of her relationship with her ex-husband to the point where she still has not let go of him, even after the divorce, his new relationship with a man and his death. Also, Marion is somewhat delusional as to her friendship with her ex-husband’s new lover, Arthur. Although the characters of Torvald and Marion are alike in many ways, Nora and Arthur are considerably more alike. Nora, in A Doll’s House, is a weak-willed, childlike character at the beginning of the play and she believes that she does love Torvald and hopes that he will prove himself to her. Arthur, in On Tidy Endings, is a grieving widower at the beginning of the play who is not sure how to deal with his emotions.
One commonality between Arthur and Nora is that tragedy makes them stronger. Arthur got the courage to confront Marion about her naiveté only after his husband passed away. Nora confronted Torvald after he ranted and raved about her behaviour and conduct. Nora and Arthur opened Torvald’s and Marion’s eyes to the realities of their relationships by using cold, hard facts. To digress a little, Torvald and Marion both realize the error of their ways only after the fact, when the damage has already been done.
Marion is given a chance to make up for her mistakes, but Torvald is not. The likeness between the plays’ main characters is surprising. In short, the similarities between the plays A Doll’s House and On Tidy Endings are observable and surely endless if one took to studying the plays at greater depth. What is it that makes these plays great? Is it their dramatic flair? Is it the depth of the characters, the seriousness of the issues, the drab settings? What could make any piece of work seem like it was written by Shakespeare himself? I believe the answer to all of these questions is to take a theme that people have been hearing about and living with for ages, modernize it and add a little bit of shock to get the heart going. These works are both influential in that they do take a theme as old as time itself and put a contemporary twist on it.
I think both of these plays will be influencing young playwrights and people in general for a long time to come. All great works of drama have something in common-they teach us something profound about ourselves and humankind in general.