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The theme of gender inequality and the necessity for women to prove and protect their rights is important in modern society, as well as frequently discussed in many literary works. Each author introduces a unique way to understand the impact of subjugation on female decision-making and realize if women can resist the challenges of the world they have to live in. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale contain several literary devices with the help of which the authors send provocative messages to the reader. This paper focuses on the setting in the works A Doll’s House and The Handmaid’s Tale and its impact on the characters and the author’s context through the prism of the chosen historical periods, culture, and the presence or absence of the narrator in the story.
Importance of Setting
The setting in a story is not only a geographical location of the characters. This literary device is usually used to underline the significance of the chosen period and to identify various external factors that may influence the reader’s understanding of the author’s message and characters’ lives. On the one hand, the settings in the works by Ibsen and Atwood vary considerably. The events of A Doll’s House are developed in Helmer’s “beautiful, happy home” where its owners develop relationships with other characters (Ibsen 14). The author does not find it necessary to change the location focusing on people, their hidden and evident intentions, problems, and opportunities. The Handmaid’s Tale does not have one particular place for interpretation but introduces the Republic of Gilead that “knows no bounds” as it is “within you” (Atwood 23). The alternative future deprives women of freedoms or choices and supports the ideas of totalitarianism and the absence of order.
On the other hand, the settings of both stories have many things in common proving that despite the place of living, women continue facing serious problems. Injustice, men’s power, and social obligations bind women hand and foot without any chance to change something without some sacrifice being made. In A Doll’s House, Nora decides to leave the family and break all relationships with her friends, and in The Handmaid’s Tale, it is suicide as the only way out.
Characters and the Setting
The choice of the setting plays an important role in the characters’ lives. Both authors find it necessary to pay much attention to the conditions in which the main characters have to live. In Ibsen’s play, the description of the room before each act helps to deepen the image of the family whose “room comfortably and tastefully, but not expensively, furnished” with a pianoforte, a round table, armchairs, and a small sofa (4). This setting is common for many European suburbs of that period, meaning that the setting does not impact the characters but helps to learn more about them.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the impact of the settings turns to be more significant compared to A Doll’s House. The chosen ambiguity of the places makes the reader stay cautious about the events that may be developed in the story. In the beginning, people have a chance to enjoy that “the lawns are tidy, the facades are gracious, in good repair; they’re like the beautiful pictures… to print in the magazines about homes and gardens and interior decorations” (Atwood 23). At the same time, “the same absence of people, the same air of being asleep. The street is almost like a museum, or a street in a model town constructed to show the way people used to live” (Atwood 23). Such comparison proves that people cannot live the way they want. They have to follow the rules and models imposed on them without their agreement. Instead of enjoying the beauty of places, the characters have to fake their emotions, feelings, and attitudes just to be suitable for the environment.
Author’s Context and the Setting
The used settings determine the author’s context in both stories in different ways. Ibsen suggests investigating the role of a woman in society through the observation of a certain situation in the house. He decides to introduce a story free from judgments and prejudice and provide the reader with a chance to interpret his context, using personal imagination and attitudes to the problem. Atwood, in her turn, provides the main character, Offred, with the right to tell her story. Though the reader cannot know if it is possible to trust this narrator or if the narrator can cover all aspects of the situation, the setting strengthens the author’s context and proves the correctness of this approach.
In general, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale contain examples of strong and helpful settings for understanding characters and authors’ contexts. Gender inequality, including men’s power and women’s weaknesses, is the problem of different societies and many centuries. It is hard to find one common solution for this concern. The chosen authors show how characters may be influenced by the setting and explain that the outcome of inequality is hard to predict. Still, the main idea of salvation from domination remains the same, whether it is a decision to leave everything behind and start a new life or step up and choose the darkness.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.