A topic of research: Resistance to Patriarchy in Ibsen’s The Master Builder
This research paper attempts to analyze the Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder from the feminist perspective; how the females are subjugated in a society via different forces of patriarchy, how they are naturalizing those oppressive norms taking them as their responsibilities. Being a realist writer, Ibsen has tried to show the realistic condition of women in a society and gives justice to the females through one of the prominent character Hilda Wangel who is very strong, straightforward and advocates for her rights.
Here, in this play, the writer has presented three different women with different roles: Hilda Wangel, Kaia Fosli, and Mrs. Solness. Kaia Fosli and Mrs. Solness have been presented as traditional women who never question their man and always follow the rules and order of patriarchy as their responsibility. However, on the other hand, the role of Hilda Wangel is different and praiseworthy because she is the only character who dares to challenge the agent of patriarchy Mr. Halvard Solness. She is so bold and courageous because she dares to take retribution from the Master Builder because when she was a12 years old, he used to take her into his lap, used to kiss all over her face promising her to give a beautiful kingdom and make her a princess. She is so determined that she comes exactly after 10 years on the 19th September to meet him and remind his promise to make a castle. She strongly put her demand in the house of Mr. Solness who was refusing to recognize her and that promise. Hilda directly demands her kingdom to the Mr. Solness When Mr. Solness was refusing her to recognize her and she repeatedly makes him remember that day and that promise and straightforwardly demands the kingdom; “I want my Kingdom. The time is up”(38). This strong desire to get a castle symbolically suggests that her main intention is not only to get a castle or be a princess rather she comes to the Mr. Solness’s house for some serious reason and that reason can be a child abuse. When Solness was asking her a hint to remember her when she says that “you came and kissed me Mr. Solness (34). . . you took me in both your arms and bent my head back and kissed me – many times” (35). But again he refuses to accept that and shows his astonishment saying “Did I really?” (40). She again tries to remind him when again he asks her Christian name. She says, “Don’t you remember that? You called me Hilda yourself – that day when you misbehaved” (40). These lines prove that how she was harassed in her childhood by Mr. Solness. This very incident makes her stronger and bolder, even when Mr. Solness was sharing his emotional incident; the death of his twins and a cold relationship between him and Mrs. Solness. She does not feel any sympathy for him and she saves herself falling from the trap of Mr. Solness and remains determinant in her aim to break down Mr. Solness in pieces.
When Hilda Wangel and Mr. Solness were talking about the old sages (epics), they were discussing how women used to capture and treated at that time by men.
Solness. In the sagas, you read about Viking, who sailed to foreign lands, and plundered and burned and killed men –
Hilda. And carried off women –
Solness. and kept them in captivity–
Hilda. Took them home in their ships –
Solness. And behaved to them like – like the very worst of trolls . . .
Hilda. Those women I can understand exceedingly well” (66).
Through the references to mythical books, she is trying to show the condition of women and understands the feeling of those women. She relates their feelings with herself and knowingly brings the women’s issue in the conversation to know the opinion of Mr. Solness, who himself is an oppressor of women in his real life. Here in aforementioned dialogues, we see an irony; the man who is talking about the women’s captivity, himself is a captivator. He controls the life of his wife and his mistress Kaia Fosli and also tries to lure Miss Wangel through the fake promises.
On the other hand, Mrs. Solness seems very weak, fragile and suffering from emotional anemia, does not raise questions to her husband even when her husband engages himself with other women. Though she is very well aware of the love affair between Kaia Fosli and her husband and his infatuation towards the Hilda Wangel, she does not say even a single word to Mr. Solness and always obeys his order and takes those order as her responsibilities. When Mr. Solness was going to the top of the castle in order to impress Hilda Wangel, Mrs. Solness was trying to stop him going there but she could not make him stop. She says to Hilda, “. . . God knows that is my duty” (90). She is trying to save the life of that person who never makes her happy in her whole life.
Furthermore, another female character, Kaia Fosli also seems traditional and surrenders herself in front of males. She lets her body misuse the male figures. Her life is controlled by two males: Ragnar Brovik And Halvard Solness. She is a mistress of Mr. Solness and fiancée of Ragnar. Mr. Solness takes her full advantages before the entry of Hilda. He wanted to keep Kaia Fosli in his office but was not ready to marry her. She was so insecure that she was ready to do anything for him because she was so dependent on Solness and was searching for economic security in her life. She was even agreed to become a part of his conspiracy. Solness let her marry to the Ragnar. He said, “Marry him as much as you please . . . don’t let him throw up his good situation with me. For then I can keep you with me every day”, then Kaia replies, “Oh yes, how lovely that would be if it could be managed” (16). This shows that how Mr. Solness is playing with the life of Kaia Fosli and she also agreed to be a slave of Mr. Solness. This very reason shows that how she is surrendering her whole life to the agent of patriarchy. Therefore, in this play, she represents the traditional woman who follows the patriarchal norms blindly.
To show the reality of women’s status in a society, and to make aware to those females who have naturalized the values of patriarchy, Ibsen has created a character like Hilda Wangle, who compares herself as a wild bird, “The wild bird never wants to go back to the cage” (82). She is the only character who resists the patriarchal values throughout the play. In the Shakespeare’s Antigone, he has also created a character Antigone, who takes stand for the divine law, dares to challenge the king Kreon’s decree. She even she sacrifices her life to give justice to her brother Polyneices. She is so determined in her goal that she becomes ready to go alone for the crematory of her brother. When she asks her sister Ismene for help, she says, “we cannot fight with men (46) . . . to forgive me I am helpless (50) . . . it is a dangerous business (51)”. But Antigone does not stop giving her brother proper funeral process and she says, “but I will bury him; and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy: I shall lie down with him in death . . .” (55-57). This shows that Antigone is also a character like Hilda Wangel who courageous to challenge the ruling power of patriarchy.
Furthermore, in another play of Ibsen’s A Doll House, the main character Nora at the end of the play she dares to slam the door of his husband Torvald’s house leaving him with her three children at home. At the end of this play, she finally bursts out to her husband for treating her as a ‘doll’, like a bird ‘lark’. She takes a decision to live for herself and says to Torvalt:
“Listen, Torvalt – when a wife leaves her husband’s house, as I am doing, I have heard that in the eyes of the law he is free from all duties towards her. At any rate, I release you from all duties. You must not feel yourself bound any more than I shall. There must be perfect freedom on both sides. There, is your ring back. Give me mine” (122).
This proves that Nora also takes a decision on her own to live a life for herself, not only for her husband, and children. She realizes that she should live her life according to her will and takes a step ahead leaves the housebreaking every norm and assigned duties of patriarchy.
Many reviewers have reviewed on the writing of Ibsen and praise with wholeheartedly for the perfect use of feminine issues. In the article “Pandemic and Performance: Ibsen and the outbreak of Modernism”, the writer Katherine E. Kelly has shown the nexus between Ibsen’s writing and the modernist writing and appreciates for establishing the concept of new woman in his writing “Ibsen’s dramas as a cultural tool for shaping the new woman and new family who would break with older forms of domesticity” (26). She has analyzed Ibsen’s writing the modernist perspective and glorifies for the providing new woman in his writing.
Furthermore, another writer, Tanya Thresher has studied on the Ibsen’s writings and she says that “Ibsen’s writing heralds questioning the patriarchal tradition by exploring the complex processes involved in the linguistic construction of the female subject and problematizing the hierarchical stereotypes in western culture . . .” (48). She has studied how the patriarchal tradition is challenged in the Ibsen’s play. The role of Hilda Wangel is so strong that she has a capacity to break down the conventional role of women in a society.
To conclude, in this play Ibsen has successfully portrayed the situation of women of that time and he tries to give justice to those women like Mrs. Solness and Kaia Fosli who were the victim of patriarchal society and presents a strong, straightforward, new, modern woman who fights for/ insists for her rights. By showing the fall of Mr. Solness, the writer has symbolically showing us the death of patriarchal values and waving a white shawl of Hilda Wangel symbolizes the rise of women’s status in a society. Therefore, we can say that this masterpiece of Ibsen has carried the various issues of women and resists the patriarchal values through the character major female character Miss Hilda Wangel till the last scene of the play.
Ibsen, Hinrik. The Master Builder. Translated by Edmund Gosse and William Archer, Douglas E. Levy and David Widger, 19 Jan 1893.
Rex, Oedipus. Antigone. Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, Cambridge translations from Greek Drama, 441 B.C.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Translated by William Archer, Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics, 1879.
Kelly, Katherine E. “Pandemic and Performance: Ibsen and the Outbreak of Modernism”. SouthCentral Review, vol. 25, no.1, Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, spring, 2008, pp. 26. http:
Thresher, Tanya. “Bringing Ibsen’s “Brand” into the Twentieth Century: Cecilie Loveid’s “Osterrike”. vol.74, no. 1, Published by University of Illinois Press, spring 2002. pp. 50.