The Importance of Characters’ Past in Realist Drama


In realist drama emphasis is placed on the depth of characters. It is characterized for its non-stereotypical characters that enhance the realism of the play. The past of characters has a great deal to do with defining a character’s personality and conduct. This essay will examine with the aid of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen the way the past of characters enlarges and enriches character portrayal and evaluate the use and importance of characters’ lives prior to the events of both plays to explain or complicate events included in the plays.


In Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche Dubois is presented as a faded, extravagant, flirtatious women of questionable honesty. She is very concerned of the image she is seen by and what others may think of her.


We find out during the play that she has been married very young to an equally young man. She had suffered a great disappointment and confusion because her husband had not wanted her on their honeymoon. Later she discovered her husband to be a homosexual. Her immediate response had been one of pretended ease but later in the evening she told Alan how he disgusted her. He ended up shooting himself over his young wife’s words.


This event may explain why Blanche has such a need for affection from men in any form. She wants to be noticed and desired, “[Men] don’t even admit your existence unless they are making love to you.”[1] She looks for love in all the wrong places with a naive desire to believe that what she was obtaining was love and admiration, not purely an interest in pleasure. She voluntarily escapes to her own reality where she is all she desires to be and all adore and have a high regard for her. This she does during her stay at the flamingo, which gave her quite a reputation that caught up with her in Elysian Fields. She lost her job for her intimate relationship with a student and still at her sister’s house flirts with delivery boys and Stanley’s friends.


Henrik Ibsen’s introduces Nora as a childish compulsive shopper; the value of money seems a non-existing notion in her mind. However, this is customary in a patriarchal society. She appears capricious and somewhat dishonest with her husband. Thanks to Nora’s conversations with Dr. Rank Ibsen transmits to the audience that Nora has always been treated as a doll. She preferred the maid’s company as a child she could act more as herself than her father’s with whom she acted as she was expected to. Later she became Torvald’s doll in a similar way, “I was handed from Papa to you. You organized everything according to your taste, and I picked up the same taste as you.”[2]


As the play develops we find out that Nora is a lot more devious than we thought. Apparently Nora had not only borrowed money without her husband’s consent – which at the time was illegal – but also forged her father’s signature in order to obtain it. The reason behind this act is the health of her husband. In order for Torvald to survive it was necessary for the family to move to Italy. This would not have been possible without the money. She commits this illegal feat out of love and devotion to Torvald.


Later during the play we discover that Torvald is firing the lawyer who lent money to Nora. Krogstad – the lawyer – threatens to inform Torvald of Nora’s illegal deed if she didn’t convince her husband to come back on his decision. Nora attempts to change Torvald’s mind but fails. She begins to fall in her own ideal reality; her loving husband will save the honor of the deceased martyr.


These two characters – Nora and Blanche – have a lot in common. Both lie on various occasions to the ones they love. Blanche however lies almost compulsively such is her involvement in her created reality. Nora had idealized the way her husband would deal with the shame and legal problems of her fraudulous contract and created like Blanche an illusory reality.


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