The Plot Construction in A Doll's House

Unlike the traditional five-act plays, A Doll's House is written in three acts. The plot is also constructed on the basis of retrospection, going back into the past for information and understanding. Besides, the plot is also designed with extreme care for the economy and other dramatic effects.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

The dramatist has maintained the unities, though not strictly, and he has sustained credibility and interest.

The three acts in which the plot of the drama is constructed may be analyzed as acts of exposition, complication and resolution respectively. The inciting event happens side by side with the exposition in the first act; the second act includes rising action along with complication; and the last act performs the function of resolution as soon as the reversal and catastrophe take place.

The plot-construction of the play is also characterized by economy and focus. Nothing is repeated, and nothing is too elaborate. The past is revealed in the dialogues, especially in the first act. But, what is unique about the exposition of this drama is that the necessary revelation of the past is done almost until the end of it!

Another technique in the plot-design of this play is its retrospective technique of exposition. This means that the dramatist has revealed the reality of the past as the drama develops. The dialogues in the play reveal to us the story of the last eight years in the life of the main characters. If the dialogue between Nora and Helmer in the opening scene informs us of the basic situation of their romantic-looking married life, it also builds an atmosphere of slight tension, because Helmer is rather too possessive towards Nora. The conversation between Nora and Mrs. Linde is mainly there for the revelation of their past lives: Nora has done something secretly, and Linde has suffered due to poverty. The entry of Krogstad and his talk with Nora opens up the secret of her pride as a threat to her happiness, because she has committed a forgery in her ignorance. That becomes the inciting event and it builds sufficient dramatic tension. This secret is fully revealed when Nora talks to Mrs. Linde in the second act. The third act also has some minor pieces of information about the past, like the love affair between Krogstad and Mrs. Linde.

The dramatist has maintained the three unities to some extent. There is full unity of place because all the actions take place in the house of Mr. Helmer. We are only told that some of the actions, like the ball dance, take place off-stage. But Ibsen has made the time-scheme flexible. The play takes a little more than two days to complete. If the first act takes place on the eve of (the day before) Christmas, and the second act takes place in the evening after the celebration of Christmas, the third act takes place later that night. The action has less unity. The main line of action in the play is related to the married life of the two central characters Nora and Torvald, but there is another sub-plot related to Krogstad and Mrs. Linde. Their story is almost separate and complete in itself. But, Ibsen has cleverly incorporated the sub-plot with the main plot: the happiness in Krogstad life brought about by Mrs. Linde's proposal for marriage brings the most important turning point in the life of the main characters, and thus in the main plot of the play.

There are many other techniques and features in the construction of this play. Some of them are as follows: the rapid pace of actions, the intensity of feelings aroused by them, the power of language, of the dialogue, the natural action and setting, the use of the comic scenes, the use of symbolic images and actions, and a very dramatic ending.

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