The Master Builder By Henrik Ibsen English Literature Essay


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In the play, The Master Builder, by Henrik Ibsen, a variety of concepts could be drawn, but one concept that drew my attention was the frequently occurring theme, of age vs. youth and a sense of rejuvenation. Halvard Solness, the master builder, rose to become the most powerful architect in his town. However, he has achieved this status partly through tough competition and alienating himself from his family. As time goes on, Solness soon realizes that he might soon be overshadowed by his younger and ambitious assistant Ragnar Brovik, and is losing his creative edge. However, when Hilda Wangel comes into the story and gives Solness a sense of rejuvenation and confidence, which might help or ruin the master builder.

Around the start of Act I, Knut Brovik, Solness's longtime partner and father of Ragnar speaks to Solness. Brovik is very ill and is slowly dying as the days goes by. Brovik tells Solness that his dying wish is to see his son Ragnar, get credit for designing and building a home on his very own account. Brovik feels like he has "begun to have his doubts" about his son Ragnar, and often wonders "what is to become of him" (95). Ragnar sketches and designs a villa for a family that he knows well and they are very pleased with his drawings calling them "exceedingly original", and Brovik asks Solness to look over them and see if they are approvable (96). Solness however, feels differently and does not want Ragnar to want to give his consent to this idea. Solness's pride makes him feel rather indifferent to the younger generation of his profession, stating that he "will never retire…will never give way to anybody" (96). This foolish pride is natural for Solness however, stating that he "cannot help it…and cannot change his nature" (97). In his conversation with Dr. Herdal in Act I, Solness states that "someday the younger generation will come knocking on my door" (108). I believe that this shows an example of the concept of age. Solness is realizing that the younger generation of his profession, especially Ragnar are exceedingly creative, and Solness begins to believe he is losing his creativity due to him simply getting older. I believe that this concept can be applied to many people in the past, and in today's world in any kind of profession. Solness feels like he earned his way to become "The Master Builder" and does not want to see someone under him try to take away his work which is why he does not initially approve of Ragnar's drawings.

Another character that attributes to these concepts is Miss Hilda Wangel. Hilda comes into the play a little after the middle of Act I and appears at Solness's home very unexpectedly. Solness at first does not recognize Hilda, but is soon reminded of where he encountered her before. Ten years prior to Hilda arriving at the Solness home, Solness had built a church tower in her town when she was still a young child. She comes to Solness years later, for him to make good on a promise to her when she was just a young girl. She tells Solness that he had promised her "that you would come again in ten years" and would build her very "own kingdom" (116). She adores the Master Builder and states "If you could build the highest church tower in the world, I thought you must surely be able to produce a kingdom too".  Even though Hilda is old enough to know what she's doing, she carries out her young childhood dreams and ambitions and just marches right into the Master Builder's life, expecting him to carry her off, even though he is married. However, Hilda's presence gives Solness a sense of rejuvenation, another concept that is subtlety displayed. Solness admits to Hilda that he is not really interested in building homes like he used to, and feels like no one appreciates his work. Hilda then tells him that watching him climb the tower in her hometown was "thrilling" and "lovely". She also reminds Solness about how that he had kissed her several times that evening he climbed the tower. These memories give Solness a reemergence in his pride, and also increase his attraction and sexual drive towards Hilda. She reinvents the passion and creativity of his youth and instills in him the belief that he can regain his confidence. I believe Solness views Hilda as a different kind of youth. Not the youth that he is afraid of, but the one that may help protect him from the "other" kind of youth that is out to replace him. Hilda convinces him to build a "castle in the sky" for the two of them with a "tremendously high tower" (162). Hilda's confidence in Solness helps him forget his fear of heights, so he climbs up the tower to place the wreath at the top, thus recreating the scene she had treasured most in her life. As Solness climbs, Hilda sees him as "great and free again" (175). Everyone else who witnessed Solness climbing the tower feared for his life, while Hilda praises her hero "Hurrah for the Master Builder Solness!" (176). Solness, however, loses his sense of rejuvenation, and as his old fears of heights and failure returns. Solness falls off the tower to his death, leaving his wife and others in grief, however Hilda seems to react differently. I believe Hilda watching Solness mount to the top of the tower once again, was the only thing she truly desired.

Ibsen's The Master Builder explored a variety of universal concepts and themes, however the concept of age vs. youth and the concept of rejuvenation were the ones that stood out to me as more subtle or complex. At the beginning of this play, Solness had a sense of pride, but felt very under appreciated by those around him. However when Hilda comes around it gives him a shot confidence and rejuvenation. Solness though takes this reinvented feeling and does not really use it for his own positive change. He rather uses this feeling to reinforce a more glorified view of himself, and pushes himself to climb to the top again in order to have a chance for happiness with Hilda with their "castles in the sky". Solness does not learn anything about being a better human being, and remained alienated from humanity. I believe his selfish pride, clouds his judgment, and he never realizes that castles can't be built in the sky since there is no foundation. Solness never bases his life on solid foundation, and it ultimately leads to his downfall.

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