A tragic character is a character who has made a poor decision which leads to the downfall of that character. The protagonists of Trifles and Doll House are Mrs. Wright and Nora Helmer. At first, these two characters seem different because of the settings and time periods each character is used in. Nora is set in a normal middle-class suburb in Europe during the late 1800s, whereas Mrs. Wright is set in an early 1900s American farmhouse.
With these two places being so far apart from each other, it is expected that the characters in each story will not be alike. However, they are fairly similar to one another. Both characters are in the middle of tough marriages, are experiencing behavior changes, and are looking for independence.
Although the two share similarities, Mrs. Wright is a tragic character, while Nora is not. This is because Mrs. Wright gets her independence only by killing her husband and Nora gains independence by becoming a woman who can take care of herself. At the beginning of the stories both of the protagonists seem to be happy.
Mrs. Hales explains how happy, social, and interactive Mrs. Wright is as a young woman: ‘She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was thirty years ago.’ (158). This time period described by Mrs. Hale is when Mrs. Wright sang in the choir was before she got married.
Nora appears to be happy when first introduced in Trifles. Torvald calls her by nicknames that dehumanize her, but she responds in positive ways to them. Torvald says, ‘Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper?’ (71-73). Nora does not mind being called by these nicknames, making it seem like their relationship makes her happy. Neither one of the women seem to be tragic characters as both of the stories start.
We later find out that Mrs. Wright and Nora are in tough marriages where they do not have much control over their lives and the men in the relationships have much more power and control than the women do. In Trifles, Mrs. Wright is not allowed to leave the house. Mrs. Hale says, ‘Wright was close. I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn’t do her part, and then you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby’ (158).
Mrs. Hale explains how lonely Mrs. Wright must have been without having any friends. In Doll House, Nora realizes she is being treated like a child. Torvald says, ‘Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?’ (40-43). Torvald treats Nora like a child who cannot spend money responsibly. Nora explains how much control Torvald has by saying: ‘Surely you can understand that being with Torvald is a little like being with papa.'(217).
Both women experience a behavior change due to the powerful men controlling their relationships. Mr. Wright’s control over Mrs. Wright causes her to become isolated from everyone but him. Mrs. Hale says, ‘I could’ve come. I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful—and that’s why I ought to have come. I—I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I dunno what it is, but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes.’ (108).
Mrs. Wright’s isolation seems to get worse when Mrs. Hale explains how Mrs. Wright is closed off from the outside world because her house is in a small valley. However, in Doll House, Nora begins to lie to Torvald and become more secretive. At first, Nora only lies about eating sweets. Then, we find out that she has secretly been working and saving money in order to pay off the loan.
The chance of Torvald finding out about all of Nora’s lies is the main conflict of the story. Nora knows that he would not be happy if he found out about the loan. Torvald tells Nora, ”My little songbird must never do that again.
A songbird must have a clean beak to chirp with—no false notes!’ (435). Torvald does not want her to have any imperfections. Nora even keeps up the lying when Torvald is about to find out: ‘What is this? Someone has been at the lock. Here is a broken hairpin. Nora, it is one of yours.’ (198-200). Nora responds by saying, “Then it must have been the children.’ (201).
This change from being happy to sad, secretive, and isolated is a key to becoming a tragic character. As the stories continue to unfold, it becomes apparent that both women want to gain some independence. They want to have more control over their lives and what happens to them. Both characters choose to become independent in different ways. Mrs. Wright thinks the only way out of her confinement is to commit murder.
Mrs. Peters explains how Mrs. Wright killed her husband: “It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him” (130).
This is ironic because this will cause her to be confined once again once she is found guilty of the crime. Nora takes the smarter approach to the situation and is more peaceful when she leaves. Nora decides to walk out the door at the end of the story after finally realizing she can survive without her husband.
She has become an independent, free thinking woman. Although both of these characters share some similarities: being in tough relationships, experiencing behavior changes due to the marriages, and a quest for independence, only one of them is a tragic character.
Mrs. Wright is a tragic character because she may have gained independence from Mr. Wright, but she is still going to be confined in prison. Mrs. Wright’s decision to murder her husband led to her downfall of eventually going to prison.
Although her relationship with Torvald ended poorly, Nora is not a tragic character because she is free from Torvald’s control and still has her freedom in society.