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Realism in Uncle Vanya and A Doll's House

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A play serves as the author's tool for critiquing society. One rarely encounters the ability to transcend accepted social beliefs. These plays reflect controversial issues that the audience can relate to because they interact in the same situations every day. As late nineteenth century playwrights point out the flaws of mankind they also provide an answer to the controversy. Unknowingly the hero or heroine solves the problem at the end of the play and indirectly sends a message to the audience on how to solve their own problem.

Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekov both provide unique analysis on issues their culture never thought as wrong. In the play A Doll's House Ibsen tackles women's rights as a matter of importance being neglected. In his play he acknowledges the fact that in nineteenth century European life the role of the women was to stay home, raise the children, and attend to her husband. Chekov illustrates the role of a dysfunctional family and how its members are effected. Both of the aforementioned problems are solved through the playwrights' recommendations and the actions of the characters. In the plays A Doll's House and Uncle Vanya the authors use realism to present a problem and solution to controversial societal issues.

While both plays mainly concentrate on the negative aspects of culture, there are positive facets explored by the playwrights. In A Doll's House Henrik Ibsen focuses on the lack of power and authority given to women, but through Nora we also see the strength and willpower masked by her husband Torvald. To save her husband's life Nora secretly forges her father's signature and receives a loan to finance a trip to the sea. Nora's naivety of the law puts her in a situation that questions her morality and dedication. Nora is not aware that under the law she is a criminal. She believes that her forgery is justified through her motive. She is not a criminal like Krogstad because his crime was simply a moral failing and not for the good of his family. A morally unjustified crime is the only type of crime. Nora's believes that her love for her husband is what propelled her to sign her father's name and pass it off as his own. Nora's motive is to save her husband's life and keeping it secret is to save him from pain and humiliation. If he knew, it would hurt his "manly independence" (p. 22) and upset Nora and Torvald's "mutual relations" (p.22). Nora knows that without forging her father's signature she would not be able to save her husband. Nora uses her wit to find a way to be able to overcome the shackles placed on her by society and get enough money to save Torvald's life.

In Uncle Vanya Chekov ends the play with Sonya and Uncle Vanya returning to their normal lifestyle and forgetting about the upset Serebryakov and Elena's presence creates. Sonya protests that she and her uncle "will bear patiently bear the trials fate sends" (Chekov p. 230) and "work for others" (p. 230). Sonya sacrifices her own happiness for that of her father and stepmother. Sonya exudes every positive trait that society contains. She sacrifices her life to work for her father without questioning his motives for leaving. She dedicates herself to her family and overlooks their flaws to help them. Sonya, Uncle Vanya, and Nora's make sacrifices for the love of their family members and do so without questions.

The sacrifices made by the positive characters are far outweighed by the actions of their counterparts. Torvald sees Nora's only role as being the subservient and loving wife. He refers to Nora as "my little squirrel" (Ibsen p.12), "song-bird" (p. 33) or "skylark" (p. 40). To him, she is only a possession. Torvald calls Nora by pet-names and speaks down to her because he thinks that she is not intelligent and that she can not think on her own. Whenever she begins to voice an opinion Torvald quickly drops the pet-names and insults her as a women. When Nora asks if he can reinstate Krogstad at the bank he claims that she only asks because she fears that he will suffer the same fate as her father. Nora realizes that living with Torvald prevents her from being a real person. He treats her as a doll because that is what he wants. He does not want a wife who will challenge him with her own thoughts and actions. The final confrontation between the couple involves more oppression by Torvald, but by this time Nora has realized the situation he wishes to maintain. Torvald calls her "childish" (p. 70) and "ungrateful" (p. 68) even though she saved his life. Nora expected Torvald to be grateful to her, when this does not happen she decides that the only way to fix the situation is to leave him and her children and find herself independently. Nora wants Torvald to take the blame for the forgery and realize that how he treats her is not the way a husband should treat his wife. When he doesn't take the blame she knows that independence is the only answer and so she leaves. The oppression of women caused many women to believe that their duty in life was only to be a wife. Ibsen provides a narrative on one woman's plight to find her purpose in life.

In Uncle Vanya the wrong that is committed is not directed toward one character, but two. Serebryakov dumps the burden of his lifestyle onto his daughter and brother-in-law. Only at the end of Serebryakov's and Elena's stay at the family estate is it realized that everyone is miserable. Elena who has been married into this family is the only person who at once comprehends her unhappiness. Sonya tells her stepmother that she is "so happy" (Chekov p. 201). Sonya has yet to grasp that her father only leaves her at the estate to help make money so he can finance his expensive lifestyle. Serebryakov is concerned with his position in society. He marries a young and beautiful woman and tries to move ahead in life using money. He ignores emotions, even the misery that he feels. In the late nineteenth century rank was determined by who one married and how much money one's family had. Serebryakov exemplifies this lifestyle by only trying to move ahead in society to the point of sacrificing anything to get to the to top, even his daughter. These two families point out societies flawed traditions and the subsequent effect upon these people.

In presenting these problems the authors end their plays with a solution to the characters' unhappiness. Ibsen was the first author in Europe to tackle the issue of women's place in the world and label it as wrong. Nora's realization of Torvald's part in her misery allows her to leave him. She does not fully blame Torvald for her unhappiness, but she knows that she can't be happy with him. Her expectation of "the most wonderful thing" (Ibsen p. 72) leaves her with the knowledge that Torvald will never change. Nora becomes cognizant of the mistreatment she has endured, and consequently leaves to become someone different. Ibsen encourages women to make a change by taking action and not to watch their life pass by unfulfillingly. Nora becomes a role model for change.

Chekov on the other hand does not solve his characters' problem in Uncle Vanya. He ends the play where it began, without resolution. Sonya and Uncle Vanya take on the burden of running the estate for Serebryakov without reimbursement while he lives abroad and enjoys the riches of life. Uncle Vanya cries while Sonya talks about how hard they will work for her father and expect nothing in return. Unlike Nora, Sonya accepts her life and does not make any change. She does not even try to change the family in which she was born . She believes that if she does what is asked of her she will be rewarded in afterlife. Chekov lets Sonya further entrench herself in the problem. The audience knows from Uncle Vanya's tears that Sonya's decision is not the right one.

In A Doll's House and Uncle Vanya the audience gathers a picture of what it was like to live in the late eighteen hundreds. This picture is not a positive one. More wrongs are committed against the characters of these plays than any sort of reward for the hardships they endure. These plays reflect an accurate representation of the society that existed when they were written. Nora and Sonya find that they are trapped in a world that they do not belong in. Nora finds a way out and Sonya waits for a new world to come along and rescue her. Society oppressed both families by masking the truth of their lives for so long. Chekov and Ibsen contribute to the solution by providing their plays as examples of why Europe was wrong.

Word Count: 1508

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