‘Ms Julia’ and ‘A Dolls House’ are both late 19th Century plays. In the late 19th Century, England was the most economically powerful nation in the world, with naval supremacy and an extensive empire. There was great social change; the nation was becoming more literate and expressive, giving birth to the expression ‘art for art’s sake’. As a result, controversy and conflict occurred during this time of economic and social change. That caused a knock on effect throughout Europe. A new social class was also formed; this was the middle class, which ‘A Dolls House’, is based on.
During this time of change, men still had family duties which had to be conformed to in the society. Women’s role in society stayed the same. Women were left at home while their husbands went to work. Not much was expected from them, but to provide offspring and keep their husbands satisfied. Family image was very important during this time period and loss of face was unacceptable, a tarnished image would lead to gossip and loss of respect from people of the same social class. Image and social status is clearly brought out in both plays and conflict is apparent when social roles are not adhered to.
In Ms Julia, Jean is portrayed as the ambitious footman who crosses the social barrier to seduce the mistress of the house whereas Torvald remains the stereotypical husband of Nora who fulfills his role as her provider. Both plays ‘A Dolls House’ and ‘Ms Julia’ have dominating male characters. In ‘A Dolls House’ the dominating character, Torvald, plays a middle-class man working as a bank manager. Dr Rank, a well-respected doctor, represents the weaker side of men, both physically through his illness which is probably a sexually transmitted disease inherited from his father and also being susceptible to Nora.
In ‘Ms Julia’ the main male character is Jean, whose rank in society does not exceed one of a footman. Even though he seems well educated and speaks French, his intentions are evil and disloyal. The Count, Jean’s employer, does not appear in any scenes but he is known as a stern authoritarian man and his presence throughout the play is noticeable through references by the staff and the ‘bell’ at the end of the play. Torvald, a man who has a secure source of income and is well respected by his acquaintances, conforms to the society he is placed in.
Towards his wife, he seems only grateful for the company and entertainment that she provides for him and his friends. ‘Nora, I’d gladly work night and day for you, and endure poverty and sorrow for your sake. ‘ This is a typical male statement of that time where women had to rely on the men in that society. When Nora confesses to taking out the loan, to save his life. He does not really love Nora for who she is, but he loves her for what she does to satisfy her. Torvald feels that her actions were outrageous and something he would not expect from a wife. ‘This is unheard-of from a young girl like you’.
This clearly shows how he feels about the position and role of a wife. After confessing, Nora leaves their well-established home under the protection of Torvald, and ventures off into the harsh world. At this moment Torvald is a broken man. His wife has left him with two children and a broken heart. ‘But to lose you – to lose you, Nora! No, no, I can’t even imagine it… ‘. More importantly there is an imbalance in Torvald’s life as his role in society is
But you’re my wife – now’. How will he be viewed by others because his wife has left him? Dr Rank plays a distinctive role in the play ‘A Dolls House’. His name relates to society, Ibsen deliberately put it in to show the importance of social ranking. Rank is a family friend to the Helmers and makes frequent visits to their residence. When Rank and Torvald discuss matters, they confide themselves to a small room that does not welcome Nora and is not seen by the audience. The subject of these conversations are not known by Nora indicating a difference in the roles in society.
When Rank finds death approaching, he confides in Nora, yet Torvald has no that they occur. ‘Well, at any rate you know that I’m at your service – body and soul. ‘ Helmer clearly states that he is at her service, which does not always equal love. Krogstad is an unemployed barrister in ‘A Dolls House’. During the time that Torvald was ill Nora turned to Krogstad for a loan to pay for a much-needed vacation to Italy. This loan was taken out without Torvald knowing. Throughout the play Krogstad always appears at the Helmers residence asking Torvald to hire him.
He visits are not only intended to ask for a job, but also to blackmail Nora for the money that she had borrowed from him and the falsified signature. Near the end of the play Krogstad slips a note inside Torvald’s private letterbox about the loan that he gave to Nora. In ‘Ms Julia’ the dominant male character is Jean. He takes advantage of the Count’s daughter and seduces her. Fear of being caught, they both plan to run away. Jean feels that he should be in a higher social class in society.
He tries to fit in with people in a higher class, but tries to ignore the social class barrier. ‘In my dream, I’m in a dark wood, lying under a tall tree. I want to get up – right to the top, where I can see out over the country in the sunlight. ‘ However, he is unable to do so and is reminded constantly of his position in society by Kristin and finally by the bell ringing on the return of the Count. The Count is the master of the house, but not much is heard or seen of him. However, his heavy presence is constantly felt by the bell ringing. It’s Jean, my lord. ‘
This brings fear to all the servants. From what is shown the Count expects certain standards from everyone including his daughter and shows a strong adherance to the social class system of the time. He lives upstairs and the servants live downstairs each to their altered position in society. In the two plays the men have completely different roles and attitudes to their place in society. Torvald is comfortable about his role and place in society. Yet Jean feels the opposite way as he feels that he deserves a higher position.
Dr Rank feels that his life has not satisfied all his needs for women and he had an unfair chance at life because of his father’s lifestyle. To conclude, Jean’s role in society does not change throughout the play even though he tries very hard to change, he still holds his role as a footman. Dr Rank stays in his role in society as a doctor and a friend, but he tries to bend the rules in his last moments and attempts to flirt with Nora yet he must stay celibate because of his illness. Torvald looses a part of his role and has an increased role of being a single parent and a middle class working man at the same time.
If Jean was to conform to society he would not have considered a relationship between himself and Ms Julia. He would have married Kristin and lived his life as a servant and husband. His dreams of owning a hotel would not happen due to his position as a footman. These men had different ideas and roles, but the end result still remains, society still controls who you are and what you can achieve. The bell in Ms Julia is the main image that restricts what you can achieve. In A Dolls House the sickness that Dr Rank has contracted controls his life and his place in society.