Legendary plays, A Doll’s House and The Cherry Orchard, written in the difference of few years show completely different portrayal of the roles and perception about women. Thus, the certain change of mindset about the role of a woman in the society over a short period of time is the doubt felt about the plot. Also, based in their respective native countries, the plays display an understanding of the culture and tradition of both Russia and Norway from the playwrights’ perspective, which could be the reason of the difference in opinions.
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A Doll’s House was written in the 18th century by Henrik Ibsen focussing on the marriage norms a woman must obey to. Literature has been written by few figures like Ibsen whose entire life was devoted to the theatre; his contributions and remedies have changed the account of the stage. A Doll’s house is one of the very important plays written by this playwright as it displays realistic situations on stage to the audience. Ibsen in the play talks about the life of a family in the Victorian era, the role of women into each member’s life and the importance of relationships in Norwegian families.
On the other hand, the play Cherry Orchard written by Anton Chekhov in the 19th century is presented as a tragedy. Of all the Great Russian writers of literature, Anton Chekhov perhaps is remembered primarily for advancing two forms-the play and the short story. One of the plays is The Cherry Orchard talking about a well-to-do family, who is forced to surrender its home and orchard to a man who began life as a serf, Lopakhin, on their estate. The Cherry Orchard focuses on memories and past incidences which are very special to the Ranvesky’s.
As both the plays have been written in different centuries (1879 and 1904) and focus on the social of gender inequality, two strong and bold women lead the respective plays.
Nora, the female protagonist of the play, A Doll’s House, is married to Helmer and has three children. She has never lived alone, before she was taken care by her father and now by her dear husband. She is the perfect portrayal of a woman in Norway during 19th century, where a woman is treated like a doll, very delicate and fragile. They were meant to sit at home to take care of children and the household chores. Moreover, she is portrayed to be very coltish, a young lady who is restricted to the exposure of the outside world. Nora lives in a dream world, a child’s fantasy, where everything is perfect. She is not yet aware of the changes in the society and what it demands; rather, she is made to believe that women are just housewives. However, towards the end of the play, her character is shown to be an independent one. She has the fortitude to fight Krogstad, whom she borrows money from, for her husband’s need. Then, the audience observes a striking alteration in characteristics of Nora Helmer. Her transformation from doll-like marionette to real-life human being results with her decision to leave her family. By leaving everything behind her, she portrays Ibsen’s idea of women emancipation; they should be free to assert their own identities.
Deception is the foundational basis of A Doll’s House and the character of Nora practices insincerity to save Torvald’s life through money gained from a loan to which she deceivingly signs her father’s name. She continues her daily deceptions inherent in paying back the money. She deceives on large and small things as well, such as the macaroon cookies.
Further, in the play The Cherry Orchard, Madame Ranevsky is the leading character. She comes from an aristocratic family and owns The Cherry Orchard. After her husband died, she went to Paris and fell in love with an abusive man who took away everything from her and ran away. Ranevsky returns to Russia, her home, and is accumulated many debts upon her which are a symbol of her personality. Her character takes a lot of transformation in the course of the play; one moment she cries in fright, stress and despair about how she will manage to pay off her debt and another moment she gives her neighbour a heavy loan to pay his own debt. She feels herself that she can control on spending money and abandon her horrible, abusive lover. However, she cannot keep these fundamental and essentials of resolutions. Even after losing the cherry orchard, Ranevsky continues to surround herself with costly gifts.
This play focuses on the social change and progresses brought in Russia. The serfs such as Lopakhin were set free; on the other hand, Madame Ranevsky is not led towards the path of freedom by the kinds of choices she makes. She has enough assets to control her own fate which is why she becomes a slave to her own passions. She spends exorbitantly and makes poor decisions in relationships. With the amalgamation of economic circumstances and the bizarre weaknesses of the characters, the play suggests that there are two sources which control freedom: finances, which comes from without, and control over oneself, which comes from within.
Both the female characters live somewhat a similar lifestyle; Nora is dependent and controlled by her husband till Act ii and Ranevsky money over rules her character all time. Yet, there are various parameters through which these two women characters can be compared.
When Madame Ranevsky returned from Paris to Russia, she had lost her power and had to make decisions about her precious cherry orchard, which soon was going to get auctioned. Still, Madame Ranevsky continues to be generous with the people around her. She helped her neighbour pay off his debts while she was in financial crisis and continued to purchase expensive items for herself. It is proved that she did not consider the situation she was living in. Later, the audience notices that instead of solving her problems and making full use of left over assets, she runs away from the problem back to her abusive lover, who even robbed her.
However, Ibsen shows a transformation of characteristics with the character of Nora in his play as the play gradually unfolds the highlight. As Torvald gives a lead to his revulsion towards Nora and her crime of forgery, the protagonist recognizes that her husband is a very different person than how she once considered as Torvald has no intention of taking the charge for his wives crime. She had always believed that her only love and support could selflessly give up everything for her. However, when he fails to do this, she accepts the fact that their marriage has been a fantasy. Nora Helmer’s last words are hopeful, yet her final action is less sanguine. She leaves Torvald explaining that there is a slight chance they could become man and wife once again, but only if a “Miracle of miracles” occurred. Just as she says that she exits and slams the door, symbolizing the conclusiveness of their relationship.
These two different traits about these two different characters give the audience a better portrait for comparison. Chekhov shows Ranevsky as a cowardly character that chooses to run away from problem. On the other hand Ibsen shows Nora as a rounded individual character who has grown as an individual throughout the play.
Also, Nora is settled with her husband and children; they together enjoy the peace around. In the beginning of the play, the Helmers are seen as joyful as a family with full comfort and ease. Torvald is about to get promoted and they are financially settled and secured. There is a man in the house to support the family during both good and bad times.
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One the other hand is Madame Ranevsky whose husband passes away many years ago and after that her son, Grish, drowned. She had no one but a lover who abandoned her in Paris. Finally, the only man support she had was of her brother Gaef. Although, he himself was looking for a job definitely wasn’t financially stable. She became dependent on people and especially her emotions. She would incline towards the people who seemed beneficial and sometimes her emotions which controlled her well-being.
It is depicted that one of the differences between the characters is the stability in the family structure. Nora has an established and a mended family life. There is someone around always to protect her. However, Ranevsky is too dependent on other characters of the play, such as her brother and towards the end of the play her deceitful lover in Paris. Thus, the aspect of family life categorizes both the women in different groups.
To sum up, in both plays, the 19th century upper class complacence and disinclination towards yielding to social evolution is evident- in ‘A Doll’s House’ through Nora’s betrayal of her husband and his social values, and in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ through the family’s longing, frustration and disappointment when faced with their unavoidable loss of power.
Despite Henrik Ibsen’s insistence that he was ‘more of a poet and less of a social philosopher’ and Anton Chekhov’s intention to make ‘The Cherry Orchard’ into a ‘light comedy’, both ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ present themes of social change; first through a 19th century woman’s struggle for self liberation, and the latter through the unfulfilled longings and eventual collapse of a Russian upper class family at the turn of the century.
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