Tragic Hero in Modern Drama

Modern drama tends to combine faith of the character and reality in one play. There are many plays where tragic heroes manage to survive, but they fail to cope with their inner passions and ego. I think that this idea is central to Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, especially to Nora’s character. In the novel the author shows the changing nature of Nora stressing that relations with her husband have resulted in miscommunication and misunderstanding. Therefore, the paper discusses the character of tragic hero in relation to Nora and her opposing characteristics to such a definition. The objective of the paper is to prove that Nora is not a tragic hero because she is able to enact toward her own fate. Plato’s idea of tragic hero will be incorporated to provide the platform for the argument of the paper.

Ibsen incorporates Plato’s ideas about morality and free will in the play. Morality, according Plato, is the reason why a person does something in particular way. Ibsen allows Nora to leave dull life with Helmer. Nora has a freewill choice and she decides to become strong person, rather than tragic hero. Nora doesn’t feel strong and confident when she lives with Helmer and she realizes that she is morally obligated to herself and the existing universe to change her life. She decides to escape from life of common housewife in order to explore real, yet unknown world.

For example, Ibsen writes about Nora: “Maybe.  But you neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to.  As soon as your fear was over-and it was not fear for what threatened me, but for what might happen to you-when the whole things was past, as far as you were concerned it was exactly as if nothing at all had happened.  Exactly as before, I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gently care, because it was so brittle and fragile.  Torvald – it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children—.  Oh, I cannot bear to think of it!  I could tear myself into little bits!  Ah, Torvald, the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen” (71-72).

Modern drama is interested in human nature. Actually, it defines human nature as the nature of reason. It means that it is not strictly associated with human feelings and passions. Ibsen is willing to represent reality truthfully. Morality then, becomes the crux of playwriting.  Morality is reason.  However, it doesn’t mean that classic Greek writers were ascetic. Instead, they portrayed passion, emotions and feelings in their works. They argue that ethics of humanity leads character to happiness at the end of the modern play. Plato defines such situation as eudemonism, which means blissful.

In the final scene of the play this word is used to describe correctly Nora’s state of mind when she leaves her husband. For example, one analysts – Johnston – argues that Nora’s decisions are similar to Antigone’s tragedy. He writes: “It is, by contrast, a tragedy, and Nora has (for me) far more in common with, say, Oedipus or Antigone than she has with Major Barbara or the Goodbye Girl.  Her exit, thus, is much more a self-destructive assertion of her uncompromising and powerful ego…”. (Johnston Paragraph 5) Simply saying, when leaving the husband, Nora proves that she is a strong person who is willing to shape her own life outside her husband’s path. Nora makes her decisions by free will and, therefore, she is of heroic nature, rather than of tragic one.

One more point to mention is that character should be discussed in terms of choice which is rooted in virtue. Modern plays are not only written obsessively about virtue, but also about the reality of an individual when they are presented with their own humanity.  Heroes in the played are defined according their respond to state of humanity.  Thus, Nora has to be considered a hero as she realizes that she has to change her life herself and not to wait for someone’s help. Moreover, she doesn’t become upset about her chances or circumstances in contrast to Torvald. Ibsen, in such a way, should be treated as optimistic writer.

Plato believed in human nature and he was both an optimist and realist. Plato had his own ideas about the evil in the person stating that that a person only does evil in ignorance, for he believed everyone, just as himself, wants only what is good. Nora seeks for new life, to express her true identity and personality, to express her emotions and feelings. He doesn’t want to fulfill her husband’s wishes and desires any more. However, Helmer can’t understand why Nora decides to leave him. Helmer is presented as truly egotistical character whose selfish nature refuses to allow his wife to leave him for any reason and in this thought his tragedy is revealed. In modern drama the lesson is how to make a free choice, not how to escape from reality. And Nora shows that every person is able to make his choices.

In modern drama choices can be either good or evil. They can be dichotomized into heroism and a state of succumbing to one’s own humanity. The tragic hero may perform badly, but in the end of the novel good always wins. When character does evil things, he/she is driven by unlimited desire. The person becomes obsessive and he simply is willing to do something evil to receive satisfaction – as Torvald expected Nora to be his constant ‘doll’. Such situation emerges when appetitive part of the soul overtakes the rational part making person weaker. In other words, when natural desires are on the first place, then the person isn’t interested in revealing the truth or the reason.  Nora and Torvald are to extreme characters in the play and in modern drama: Nora is the hero who manages to take control of her life and to make free will choice instead of simply following her husband’s life, whereas Helmer fails to make his own choice and he doesn’t want Nora to leave him and to go her own way. His denial is likely to be based on ignorance and lack of control over his own life. (Wientraub 68)

Modern drama, as Ibsen shows in his “A Doll House”, is the truth of life and self reflection through characters. Realism is used by the author to explain Nora’s free will decisions. The borders between good and evil disappear when the audience decides to justify Nora in her choices. Nora has to leave her husband to develop her own standards, not her husband’s. Surely, Ibsen is realist who states that circumstances play crucial role in human contingencies. This is especially true for Nora. The author represents with life at human entire naked state. For Helmer his ‘naked state’ is when he realizes that he can’t to take control over his life and his wife anymore and the life he used to is ruined when Nora leaves. Helmer lacks control and it is a direct reflection of Nora’s choice. In his lack of control the audience or reader may see that Helmer is a man whose actions are determined by a set of rules and, moreover, he does not believe in surprises. He is shocked that Nora is leaving and the audience can see that life was not what Helmer expected.

The climatic scene in the play is when Nora decides to leave her life, as her husband defines, and it makes the play’s characters multi-dimensional. The promise of modern drama is veracity which takes control over depression of life and deception toward everyman. Ibsen was honest in his writing, and he doesn’t depict heroic standards in his play as everyone has his own Achilles heel. Despite the fact that the play ends with a sad note, the central idea is that every person has to make his own choices going through life. The realism of choice allows the audience to believe they may follow the fate or to change their lives. Modern drama doesn’t give no illusions about harsh reality, but she gives the difference between fate and circumstance.