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“A Doll’s House” is a play written by the dramatist Henrik Ibsen in three acts. Throughout the play, his effective use of minor characters such as Dr. Rank, his illness, death and relationship with the main protagonist, Nora Helmer serves a symbolic purpose towards Nora and her husband’s relationship. The play is set in the 19th century which makes it out to be controversial and critical of the marriage norms of the time due to the way Ibsen portrays certain characters’ values and morals. Ibsen critiques the cultural norms through the play and its characters by asking more questions than answering them. As “A Doll’s House” progresses, problems associated with obligations, values and gender roles which took place in a typical upper-middle class society of the time arise.
At a first glance, Torvald’s best friend, Dr. Rank comes across as one of the minor characters in the play who shows to be unconcerned with what others think of him. What shows significance in Dr. Rank’s character is when he is noted for his calm and stoic acceptance towards his ill-fate, of how he is incurably diseased and is dying. This characteristic of Dr. Rank also shows to be in contrast to most of the other characters in the play such as Nora and Trovald. He also is portrayed as honest and sincere.
Dr. Rank comes across as an extraneous character in as he does not further into the plot as much as Nil Krogstad and Mrs. Linde. However, he may be portrayed as a symbolic figure for many messages that Ibsen wished to illustrate throughout “A Doll’s House” regarding the social and cultural expectations of the 19th century.
Firstly, Rank’s character may symbolize moral corruption within society. On the other hand, because of the many sincere and humble aspects of his character, that view upon him is highly debatable. Furthermore, although Ibsen’s use of Rank does not meddle with the main conflict or climax, this minor character plays a role which is also symbolic towards Nora and Torvald’s marriage, which is the main aspect and focus of “A Doll’s House”.
Moreover, Ibsen’s use of the name “Rank” may be a clever technique which creates irony as his name creates contradiction towards the way his character is shown in the play as none of the other characters consider him of high thought. Dr. Rank’s presence in the play also creates a contrast between the way Trovald and himself treat Nora through the way he acts towards her.
Dr. Rank first appears during Nora and Mrs. Linde’s conversation and there is an obvious contrast between the way he treats Nora and the way Torvald treats Nora. Rank’s treatment of Nora is that of an adult, whilst Torvald’s is of a child. Further into the play, it can be seen how Nora feels comfortable in Rank’s presence and shares insight on personal details about herself that she would think twice before sharing with Torvald. At one point in the play, she admits to Dr. Rank: “Torvald is very like being with papa.” (196), which shows how Nora is completely herself around Rank’s company-and how Rank treats her with dignity, something that lacks in Torvald’s treatment of her. This quote also contributes to the theme of honour as she does not wish to further dishonour Torvald any more than she already has, as honour is of overwhelming importance to Torvald and it is what motivates his behaviour towards Nora in the first place. Therefore, Nora does not feel comfortable enough to share the same thoughts with her husband that she is able to share with Rank. Nora also states at one point, “In the early days [Torvald] used to get quite jealous if I even mentioned people I’d like back at home, so of course I gave it up. But I often talk to Dr. Rank, because, you see, he likes to hear about them” (184) this shows how Dr. Rank and Nora’s very friendly relationship with one another also allows further understanding of Nora and Torvald’s marriage as it shows the distance that lies between them. Rank is also able to help Nora in understanding her self-worth, which contributes to the theme of growth and development of her as a character as he indirectly influences her future decisions on whether or not being with Torvald is the right decision to make albeit the social pressures and expectations of society she is a part of at the time.
Another significant aspect of Rank’s character is he is important in revealing things about other characters as the story progresses. At one point in the play, he tells Nora, “Helmer’s too sensitive to be able to face anything ugly-I won’t have him in my sick-room” (191). This shows how Rank does not trust Torvald to be there, but he trusts Nora. This also shows how Rank is well aware of how Torvald reacts to certain unfortunate situations, and it shows a paradoxical shift in the role that Nora had been portrayed in with how Torvald is being portrayed at this point in the play, because Torvald is the one who is being shown as a child-like character. Statements like this made by Rank about Torvald also shows how Torvald may have been the sheltered one in his marriage from Nora, which contributes to the theme of deception.
Dr. Rank’s progressive illness may also plays of a symbolic purpose to interpret Nora and Torvald’s relationship as ceasing. At the same time, Nora faces conflict with herself and in her marriage with Torvald as she is restricted from being herself. Rank tells Nora, “I shall send you my card with a black cross on it and then you’ll know that my disgusting end has begun”, (191) which shows foreshadowing towards not only the end of Dr. Rank’s life, but also towards the end of Nora and Torvald’s marriage.
Although Dr. Rank may be portrayed as a minor character in “A Doll’s House”, his role as his character is crucial in terms of understanding the plot. This is because the functions that Dr. Rank performs as a character allows the play to progress and develop whilst including connections with him and other factors which allow the readers a fair view on the personalities of the characters, specifically Nora and Torvald. The most significant function of Dr. Rank in the play is when he influences Nora to evolve and grow by breaking down the pressures of society that Nora is conflicted against-this is linked to one of the main themes of “A Doll’s House”, which is growth.
Dr. Rank is not only a symbolic figure for Nora and Torvald’s ceasing relationship, but his illness also symbolises the corruption of society. Towards the end of the play, when he sends the letter to Nora and Torvald, it is received at the same time as Krogstad’s letter. This is a clever technique used by Ibsen as it shows a connection between Dr. Rank’s death and Nora’s ceasing relationship with Torvald, because right after the letters from Dr. Rank have been read, she lets Torvald read the letter from Krogstad which foreshadows the end of their marriage. This wraps up the entire play well as Dr. Rank’s death is not only symbolic for the deterioration of society, but Ibsen uses him as a strong symbolic representation for the “death” of Nora and Torvald’s marriage.
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