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A Study of Appearance Versus Reality as Presented Through Characters in a Doll's House and the Stone Angel

By iamIB Feb 26, 2011 1408 Words
A Study of Appearance Versus Reality as Presented Through Characters in A Doll’s House and The Stone Angel

An identity is what allows one to exist. Without an identity, one remains unnamed, unrecognized, and unknown. Mistaking peoples’ appearance for their reality may rob them of identity and even existence. The theme of appearance versus reality is present in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. That an appearance is not reality is discovered through the central characters of both works. In A Doll’s House, all of the characters appear to be one way however, by the end of the story, their real characteristics are made clear. Nora seems to be materialistic, unintelligent, and a “spend thrift.” (Ibsen, 1984) Even her close friend, Kristine Linde, thinks her to “know so little of the burdens and troubles of life.” (Ibsen, 1984, p. 15) While Nora may appear to be the typical homemaker who has no idea of what goes on in the real world, in reality she is an intelligent, motivated, strong-willed, and independent woman. Nora wants to be the ideal wife and mother, and tries to please her husband, Torvald, by looking pretty, making their home neat and clean, and taking care of Torvald by doing whatever he wants her to. Ironically she also has a mildly rebellious nature. Despite being told to not eat macaroons, for example, Nora slips one in her mouth now and then. Torvald constantly tells her to stop being such a ”squander bird” (Ibsen, 1984) and to save her pocket money, but ironically, her most significant rebellion is that she has taken a loan without telling Torvald. Eating sweets, spending extra money (to repay the loan), and having debt are all symbolic actions of Nora’s reality, which is different from what it appears to be. Torvald is another example of how reality and appearance are often opposites. Although playing the part of the strong and benevolent husband, he reveals himself to be a cowardly and selfish man. Throughout the play, Torvald treats her in a loving manner, referring to her as “peaches”, “[his] little squirrel”, and “songbird” (Ibsen, 1984). He guides her through the New Year’s dance that she is supposed to perform at the upcoming party and decides which costume she would look best in for that night. Despite the numerous acts to form an appearance he turns out to be quite different, when he learns of Nora’s forgery and becomes fearful of a scandal. He disowns Nora as he no longer wants to foster a relationship with her. Krogstad too reveals himself to be much more sympathetic than he first appears to be. Although he threatens Nora with revealing the truth to Torvald, his motive is so that he could continue supporting his two young sons. And, he changes his mind about exposing the Helmers. So, he too is different than he appears. The play’s end is mainly a matter of resolving identity confusion: Krogstad is an earnest lover, Torvald is a simpering, sad man, and Nora is an intelligent, brave woman. Hagar Currie, the central character of The Stone Angel, appears to be incredibly strong. However this fear is the result of weakness. She has such a fear of appearing weak that she makes herself rigid; her fear stems from her belief that her mother’s death (in childbirth) was due to her lack of strength. Her hatred of frailty prevents her from communicating with others, from developing loving relationships with those she loves, and from accepting any assistance from anyone: “Leave me, leave me be.” (Laurence, 1964, p. 31) Hagar is afraid of opening up to people because it gives them the impression that she is weak, which would spoil her “proper appearance” of a strong person. But in fact, what she does not realize is that the fear that allows her to overcome her weakness conversely makes her a weak person because she is so concerned about what people think or say about her. Although tough-minded, she is physically frail, often in pain, forgetful, and confused. As Hagar ages her need to be taken care of increases; however, she resists help as much as possible. She speaks impulsively and sometimes regrets her harsh words even as she speaks them. She often surprises herself by crying without warning. Throughout the novel Hagar travels back to the past. Even when she was still a child, being brought up by her father, Jason Currie, a strict disciplinarian, Hagar refused to let him see her tears. She would not let him have the satisfaction of her weakness. As an adult, Hagar marries a man of lower status, Brampton Shipley, in defiance of her father's wishes. This act displays her intolerance of being ruled over by her father and so she goes ahead and marries Bram to show her independence. In reality she is digging herself into a deep hole of misery as Bram can never be compatible with Hager. After giving birth to two sons, Marvin and John, Hagar again is caught up in the appearance rather than seeing the reality of things. Her older son, who she is not very affectionate towards because of his Shipley appearance, turns out to be the better son than John, whom she favours because he looks like a Currie. “You always bet on the wrong horse...Marv was your boy, but you never saw that, did you?” (Laurence, 1964, p. 237) She once again asserts her autonomy by leaving her husband and taking a job in another town as a housekeeper. As Hagar associates herself with having a strong appearance, fears associated with life are continually present in the novel. Hagar is afraid of improper appearance, of what others will think, and is therefore obsessed with how things look. This pride controls every major decision she makes, so while she appears, or hopes that to others she appears, in control, Hagar spends her life afraid of losing control. Unfortunately, because the difference between the reality of her life and the way she wants things to appear, Hagar never enjoys her life. Every good joy I might have held, in my man or any child of mine or even the plain light of morning, of walking the earth, all were forced to a standstill by some brake of proper appearances-oh proper, to whom? When did I ever speak the heart’s truth?

Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear. I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched. Oh, my two, my dead. Dead by your own hands or by mine? Nothing can take away those years. (Laurence, 1964, p. 292) Hagar realizes that she has destroyed anything and everything that she has ever valued or held close to her heart. She is so afraid of failure in life, and so afraid of what others will think of her that she masks her fear with the notion of pride, and develops a tough demeanor. A constant fear of being judged prevents her from communicating with others and expressing her true thoughts. Through character, Margaret Laurence and Henrik Ibsen, the authors of The Stone Angel and A Doll’s House have emphasized the idea that it is important in life to recognize and distinguish between appearance and reality; otherwise one cannot lead an honest life that consists of a true identity. Nora could not live a true life until Torvald made her realize that she was just a plaything to him. Moreover, she recognizes that she does not want to live in a “doll house” but wants to be a free and independent woman. Considering different points of view is equally important in life and can be done by acknowledging the difference between what situations are like and what situations actually are. Hagar becomes aware of what she has lost in her life because of her inability to see past the appearances. Both A Doll’s House and The Stone Angel prove that judging a book by its cover is not the greatest way to succeed in life.

Works Cited
Ibsen, H. (2001). A Doll's House. (M. Meyer Trans). Salt Lake City: Gutenberg EBook. (1984) Laurence, M. (1964). The Stone Angel. Toronto: Mcclelland & Stewart.

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