The Burden of Selfishness in Ibsen's Modernist Plays

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The characters in "A Doll's House" and "The Master Builder" by Henrik Ibsen are so held down by their own selfishness that they can only fantasize that they themselves have the power to lift off the ground and fly. Selfishness lays such a burden upon the characters, even though they do not realize their selfish actions, and in return their actions result in hurting themselves and the ones they loved.

Nora Helmer from "A Doll's House" focuses her energy on the importance of her husband's money and centers her own pride here. Although Nora sees herself as an independent woman towards the end of the play, she never realizes how selfish she has acted through her marriage with Torvald. Nora claims that she has done everything in the power of her husband, and the whole reason she forged a signature was to save his life. She says that all her wrong doings were for the reasonable purpose of love, "I'm not such a fool as that. I did it for love, didn't I?" (29). Nora dumbs down to assure Torvald he is right, and when she agrees he responds with, "There's my little sky-lark talking common sense" (69). Torvald, being extremely selfish himself, refers to Nora as his little songbird and defines his idea of a wife to her. He constantly tells her to continue on chirruping and flying about the house like usual, as any wife should do. When something goes wrong Torvald leaps to make Nora her chirrupy self again, "Now, now, not so wild and excitable! Let me see you being my own little singing bird again" (60). Towards the end when Nora decides to leave him he turns his "singing skylark" perception of her into an innocent dove, pointing out his power over her, "Here you can find refuge. Here I shall hold you like a hunted dove I have rescued unscathed from the cruel talons of the hawk, and calm your poor beating heart" (78). He connects her to flying and being free even though neither of them are.

Hilde Wangel of A Master Builder lays her selfishness upon Harvald Solness....
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