It has been said that great works of drama have a universality about them, atimelessness all their own. Many important plays have similarities to oneanother regardless of the time in which they were written because of this fact.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Harvey Fierstein’s On Tidy Endings arecertainly no exception to that rule. Although they were written over a hundredyears apart they do show some similarities. An examination of the maincharacters, foil characters and taboo themes dealt with in each play will makethese parities more visible. Themes are universal in nature. A play can havethemes about relationships, family, greed, secrets, among many others, all ofwhich have been around since the beginning of the storytelling tradition. Thethemes dealt with in the plays On Tidy Endings and A Doll’s House have moresimilarities than one might realize. Firstly, there is the fact that both playsdeal with themes controversial in their times.
A Doll’s House deals with thethemes of a woman fulfilling her dreams and her dishonesty towards her husband,infrequently discussed subjects in the late 1800s. On Tidy Endings deals withthe themes of AIDS and homosexual relationships, which, in the late 1980s, wasnot a common topic of conversation. This similarity is an important factor inthe fame of both plays. Another, perhaps more obvious similarity in theme isthat many of them are the same.
Relationships, honesty, family, crises andletting go are all common and major themes to both A Doll’s House and On TidyEndings. In addition to the themes the foil characters reveal similarinformation in the plays. Although foil characters in general reveal similarinformation, the similarities in A Doll’s House and On Tidy Endings are morethan just general. Firstly, the character of Mrs.
Linde in A Doll’s Housereveals Nora’s choices to her, what she can do about her situation, and what sheshould do about it. In On Tidy Endings, the character of June is the parallel toMrs. Linde.
June informs Marion of her options regarding her own situation. Inboth plays, the relationships that Mrs. Linde and June are most interested inare those of the main characters. One could almost think of June and Mrs. Lindeas relationship therapists. Other common foil characters would be Jim andKrogstad. They are both more involved with the main female character than withthe main male character.
An example of this is the secret that Nils and Norashare about the loan in A Doll’s House, and that Jim and Marion obviously sharesome knowledge about one another that others in On Tidy Endings do not know.Similarities on the level of foil characters may seem slightly less important tothe overall comparison of the two plays, but the foil characters are animportant feature. Lastly, the main characters within the plays On Tidy Endingsand A Doll’s House share many common aspects.
The main characters in A Doll’sHouse are Nora and Torvald Helmer, a husband and wife whose marriage is basedmainly on secrets and pageantry. The main characters of On Tidy Endings areArthur and Marion, a gay man and his lover’s ex-wife whose relationship is basedmainly on pleasantries and improprieties. The two main characters of each playall have different views on their relationships. Not only are the relationshipssimilar, but the characters themselves show some likenesses. Torvald Helmer in ADoll’s House, for instance, is ignorant of the fact that his wife, Nora, is nothappy in their relationship. Torvald believes that Nora is as madly in love withhim as he is with her. The character of Torvald is matched in On Tidy Endings bythe character of Marion.
Marion is a sweet and somewhat naive character who isoblivious to the true state of her relationships with almost everyone in herlife. For starters, Marion misjudged the extent of her relationship with herex-husband to the point where she still has not let go of him, even after thedivorce, his new relationship with a man and his death. Also, Marion is somewhatdelusional as to her friendship with her ex-husband’s new lover, Arthur.
Although the characters of Torvald and Marion are alike in many ways, Nora andArthur are considerably more alike. Nora, in A Doll’s House, is a weak-willed,childlike character at the beginning of the play and she believes that she doeslove Torvald and hopes that he will prove himself to her. Arthur, in On TidyEndings, is a grieving widower at the beginning of the play who is not sure howto deal with his emotions. One commonality between Arthur and Nora is thattragedy makes them stronger. Arthur got the courage to confront Marion about hernaiveté only after his husband passed away. Nora confronted Torvald afterhe ranted and raved about her behaviour and conduct.
Nora and Arthur openedTorvald’s and Marion’s eyes to the realities of their relationships by usingcold, hard facts. To digress a little, Torvald and Marion both realize the errorof their ways only after the fact, when the damage has already been done. Marionis given a chance to make up for her mistakes, but Torvald is not. The likenessbetween the plays’ main characters is surprising. In short, the similaritiesbetween the plays A Doll’s House and On Tidy Endings are observable and surelyendless if one took to studying the plays at greater depth. What is it thatmakes these plays great? Is it their dramatic flair? Is it the depth of thecharacters, the seriousness of the issues, the drab settings? What could makeany piece of work seem like it was written by Shakespeare himself? I believe theanswer to all of these questions is to take a theme that people have beenhearing about and living with for ages, modernize it and add a little bit ofshock to get the heart going.
These works are both influential in that they dotake a theme as old as time itself and put a contemporary twist on it. I thinkboth of these plays will be influencing young playwrights and people in generalfor a long time to come. All great works of drama have something in common-theyteach us something profound about ourselves and humankind in general.English Essays