ELA AP 20
March 29, 2018
The Role of Doctor Rank in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
Henrik Ibsen’s Victorian era play, A Doll’s House, was written in 1879 and depicted a typical Victorian marriage. Ibsen presents Torvald and Nora Helmer, a married couple with three children. On the surface this arrangement seems almost perfect, yet their lives are clouded by lies and deception. The primary secret that Nora is hiding from Torvald is that she has acquired a loan from Nils Krogstad, a known loan shark, to fund a trip that saved Torvald’s life. To expose the falsehood of the Victorian marriage, Ibsen uses characters that contrast Nora, Torvald, and their relationship. One of these people is Doctor Rank, a close family friend and a secret admirer of Nora. Throughout the play, the Doctor’s role within the play evolves, going from simply a friend of Nora and Torvald, to much more, including genuine love and respect. Doctor Rank is used as a foil to both Nora and Torvald and is also used in many ways in order to expose the flaws of the Victorian ideology of marriage.
At the beginning of the play, Rank is a family friend of the Helmers and Torvald’s “Most intimate friend” (Ibsen 31). He is constantly at the house, talking with both Nora and Torvald, although his relationships with the two are very different. First, his bond with Torvald is very mutual between the two of them and one of the main instances the nature of their friendship is exhibited is how Doctor Rank wishes to handle the matter of his death. Having now discovered that he is almost certainly reaching his final days, he explains to Nora that he “won’t have him [Torvald] in my [Rank’s] sick-room” (37). Rank cares very much for Torvald, and knowing that his “Refined nature” (37) would be disrupted by his own dissolution, he wishes not to have Torvald worrying about him. Essentially, the relationship between Torvald and Rank is a very well structured one and one that fills their mutual needs of friendship.
Contrary to the previously mentioned relationship between Torvald and the Doctor, the one between Rank and Nora has many more levels. When Rank is presented in the play, he has a conversation with Nora and Linde. When Christine introduces herself he states, “I have often heard [your] name mentioned here” (15). This shows that the friendship between Nora and Dr. Rank is much more open than that of Nora and Helmer based on Torvald’s reaction after having been introduced to Linde. He has this response “Christine? ~ I’m sorry but I don’t know[you]” (17). This is one way that Ibsen is showing that in Victorian marriage not everything was shared between husband and wife, although it should be. One should not have needed “people one loves best, and others whom one would almost always rather have as companions” (41). What Ibsen was trying to get the audience to realize, is that in a “Real marriage” (71), one should not need to have someone that they love and a separate person to whom they have a normal open communication with, this should be the same person. Throughout the play Ibsen deepens the relationship between Nora and Rank, leading to more contrast and discovering the true nature of both people.
Although Nora sees Rank solely as a friend, he has always seen her as the one he loves. Relating back to the idea of having separate people that one loves and one that someone would talk to about everyday life, this is what throws Rank into believing that his feelings for Nora are shared between the two. Nora, who had seen Rank as such a good friend, that she was prepared to ask him for money, to repay Krogstad, despite Rank being Torvald’s closest friend, and likely telling him. After discovering that Rank “thought that you [Nora] would almost as soon be in my [Rank’s] company as in Helmer’s” (41), she immediately decides not to ask Rank to aid her in her situation because she does nit want Rank to feel that he has to do something like that, to say, get her to love him back. Nora believes that Torvald “would never for a moment hesitate to give his life for [her]” (40) and she is likely going to ask Rank to help her to do the same for Helmer until Rank asks, “Do you think he [Torvald] is the only one?” (40). Rank had been looking for a way to tell Nora of his feelings for her and used this opportunity to tell her. He wants her to “trust him as you would trust no one else” (40). This frightens Nora and ironically, drives her away from letting Rank in on her secret, despite what he had planned. In his last few lines in the play, as he is preparing to leave after their night of partying together he says goodbye to Nora and Torvald, and at the door, says to Nora “Thanks for the light” (59). This is in a way, summing up all the great times that he has had with Nora and a last time to tell her he loves her.
Continuing with Ibsen’s goal to debunk the tolerance of Victorian age marriage, Rank is not only used while he is living, but his impending death is massively impactful on the theme and lessons learned after the play is over. While attending the play, many of the men in the audience would have been expecting that Nora eventually be chastised for her actions. When that obviously does not happen, and they hear the “sound of the door shutting “(71) many of them looked for various ways that Nora could end up being “saved” yet Ibsen had accounted for all the means of that happening. The simplest solution that one could have found would have been if Nora had returned to Torvald, yet there is no fourth act in the play. The other direction that some of the audience may have opted for is the thought that because Nora knew Rank loved her, she may have gone running to him once she left. To keep this from being a possibility, Ibsen made sure, that with “absolute certainty” (58) that Rank’s death is imminent, and it would be useless for Nora to get involved with him as “within a month [I shall lie] rotting in the churchyard” (37). Ranks unavoidable death is one of the reasons Ibsen can convey that Nora is truly leaving to be on her own and take on what is in her future by herself, no matter how hard it may be.
Among many of the characters in the play, Rank’s previous life experiences gave us insight into what may happen if Nora were to leave Torvald. Compared to the life of Nora’s nurse and how even though the had to give her daughter up for adoption, her child had been confirmed and is now getting married. Ibsen’s strategy regarding Doctor Rank’s backstory is to not show that he has been successful despite something his mother did, we see that his health is being affected by his father’s life choices. Although a person could say that a child’s health cannot be affected in such an extent by their father, at the time of Ibsen writing A Doll’s House they did not have nearly as much knowledge of medicine as we have today. The idea that Ibsen was trying to convey is that despite what the common Victorian ideology was, a child whose father does not lead a proper life as their role model, can pay for it dearly later in their lives. Although it may not be in the literal way of tuberculosis of the spine, yet it could be conveyed in the lack of life teachings and certain skills a child may learn from their father growing up.
In Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, Doctor Rank contrast Nora and Torvald in many ways both during the play, along with events in his life from the past and in the foreseeable future. Doctor Rank gives a clear understanding of what a husband’s relationship with his wife should be, based on his love and treatment of Nora, despite him never getting a chance at having a romantic relationship with her, he contrasts Torvald in the way he is with Nora. Both his death and his fatal disease are also used as ways for Ibsen to drive his point to the audience alongside many of the other characters in A Doll’s House.