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Employment Of Irony In A Dolls House English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1366 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Irony arises due to an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. The word irony is derived from the Latin word ‘ironia’ meaning feigned ignorance. Dramatic Irony is commonly used as a device by playwrights. Irony may produce a tragic effect, or a comical effect depending upon the circumstances in the play or the novel. There are many different types of irony including dramatic, verbal and situational irony. Dramatic irony is one which is used extensively in both these works. In this essay I will examine the employment of dramatic Irony as a tool by Henrik Ibsen in his modern tragedy, ‘A Doll’s House’ and by Isabel Allende in her novel on love, magic and family pride ‘The House of Spirits’.

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Henrik Ibsen, in A Doll’s House uses the speakers to employ both conscious and unconscious irony whereas Isabel Allende uses irony along with magical realism. Allende, similar to Ibsen, uses irony to define the love between Esteban Treuba and Clara. She also uses irony in the play to bring to light the position of women in that society and to expose the society’s flaws in those times.

Henrik Ibsen’s use of irony in his play is quite unique. Henrik Ibsen focuses mainly in the employment of irony in the marital relationship of Nora and Helmer. Irony is established early on in the play during Nora’s chat with Mrs. Linde, where she says “d’you know what a stroke of luck we’ve had?” [1] where she talks, or rather brags about her husband getting promoted as the manager of the bank. She says, “To have no more worries, all one needs. Isn’t it wonderful?”2 and also “Not just all one needs, but lots of money too”3. Here, Nora visualizes a happy and blissful life with Helmer along with an implied meaning about her loan. However, there is unconscious irony in what she says because later on in the play, her marital relationship will be shattered and she will leave her husband and all the ‘money’ that she had visualized, for an uncertain future in the wide world realizing that the world she was living in was exactly analogous to the world of a puppet, or rather, a doll. Hence, the title “A Doll’s House” is an apt one. Another instance of unconscious irony is in the words of Mrs. Linde during this conversation with Nora. When she says “Nora, Nora have you still not grown up? You were an extravagant little thing at school”4, she still considers Nora to be the little child she had known, but would later realize Nora’s transformation, from the child-like girl she had known to an accountable and conscientious woman.

This instance can be compared to that in Allende’s ‘The House of Spirits’ where Clara transforms from a care-free woman living in her own world to a responsible woman who decides to make Tres’ Marias a better place to live in. When Blanca comments “Mama, you have changed”5, Clara replies “It’s not me who’s changed, it’s the world.”6 Comparing these instances, we see the differences as well as the similarities between the employments of irony of these two writers. While Ibsen has used irony as a tool to portray the human rights which he thinks are ideal, whereas, Allende has used irony in the same context along with the instances portraying human pride and nature.

Allende also focuses on the aspect of poverty during the passage of time along with other issues addressed around the world such as Marxism, Bolshevik ideas and Socialism as well as the conflict between them. The importance of pride and respect in society is discernible very early on in this novel. Losing respect in the society was something that would not go down with anyone well, especially Esteban Treuba. He was ready to give up his daughter to a man whose history was unknown to him and also that he would be paying him for keeping this marriage intact shows how desperate Esteban Treuba was to get his daughter married to someone of the upper classes to uphold his respect in the society. On the political front, Esteban Treuba’s confidence in his party and his oblivious attitude towards other parties would lead to his downfall. When Senator Treuba says, “This is a different country. Here the Conservative Party wins clearly and openly, and we don’t need a general to keep things orderly and calm, not like the neighboring dictatorships.”7 This would indeed turn out to be ironical because the exact opposite of what is quoted would take place as his Party would end up losing the elections denting his pride all. [2] 

Comparisons can also be drawn between the employment of irony regarding the respect and position in the society. Ibsen has used Helmer as a model for the arrogant man of the 19th century in which he has nothing else to think of but his own respect in the society. Helmer here talks about how his respect in the society means everything to him and his hope to keep this respect on track. All this is portrayed when he says “Your father wasn’t a respected public official. I am. And I hope I’ll always be so, as long as I stay in the office.”8 Here, he refers to Nora’s father when he, as a young lawyer, had been commissioned by the city authorities to look into allegations that Nora’s father had mishandled public funds. Here, there is unconscious irony as his image as a respected official in the society will be shattered when Nora leaves Helmer and moves on to be her own person in the future. Ibsen has portrayed in his writings what he has quoted: “for me it has been a question of human rights… my task has been the portrayal of human rights.”9

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Ibsen and Allende have also used irony to illustrate the love existing in the marital relationships of Nora and Torvald and Esteban Treuba and Clara. In “A Doll’s House”, Torvald considers Nora to be a feeble-minded woman and their relationship was similar to that between a father and a daughter. Another example of unconscious irony is in the final act of the play where Torvald talks lovingly to Nora saying “I imagine you’re my new young bride, we’ve just come from the wedding”10 given that Torvald would never have thought that in a short span of time, Nora would leave him to venture into the cruel world outside to be her own person. The relationship between Clara and Esteban Treuba is a contrast to the relationship of Nora and Torvald. Esteban Treuba, though very caring and compassionate towards Clara, she remains very indifferent to him. “She had already made up her mind to marry without love.”11 [i] This quote is directed towards Clara, who is like a celestial being above all others in her world. “She was a charitable and generous woman, eager to make those around her happy- everyone except me.”12 The speaker in this quote is Esteban Treuba and talks about the love existing or rather, according to him, the love that existed between him and Clara conveying his thoughts that Clara’s desire and love for him has expired. This is extremely ironical because Clara’s desire and love for him had never existed.

In this essay, we have seen how irony has been used as a dramatic tool by Henrik Ibsen and Isabel Allende. Both the authors have used irony in their texts to highlight the flaws in their societies also addressing different issues in the world especially the male chauvinism. They also bring to light the love existing in the marital relationships in their works. All in all, through their works, they have stirred the foundations of their societies.


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