Article Title

Trolls in Ibsen's Late Plays


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark

forces within ourselves.- Henrik Ibsen

Supernatural or paranatural beings haunt many Ibsen plays, from Catiline in 1849 to When We Dead Awaken (Når vi døde Vågner) in 1899. Drawing on Scandinavian folklore, Ibsen used demon characters psychologically as alter egos of certain protagonists to suggest their unconscious level of perception, especially their demonic urges toward evil and/or the irrational. The mad girl Gerd in Brand (1865) and the trolls in Peer Gynt (1867) readily come to mind as symbolic clues to the hero's mental distress. But so far, Ibsen's trolls as alter egos of other characters have not received the attention they deserve. In this essay, I shall be concerned with trolls principally in five of the last seven plays: Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (Fruen fra havet, 1888), Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder(Bygmester Solness, 1892), and Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf, 1894). In the first two these demons are projected as mysteriously motivated Doppelgänger (in human form) of the protagonists themselves. In Hedda Gabler they take animate and inanimate forms, the latter being symbolically present in the flames of Hedda's stove (and standing for the heroine's destructive emotions). Of the remaining four plays, The Master Builder-as well as John Gabriel Borkman (1896) and When We Dead Awaken-is in the second category, with trolls taking human, inanimate, or abstract form or being subliminally, invisibly present. (Even the white horses of Rosmersholm can be accommodated here.) In Little Eyolf, a troll materializes undisguised as a supernatural creature of folklore. In conclusion, I trace a progressive pattern of amelioration in the trolls and consider the significance of their being part of or absent from the action. Can trolls be conquered?

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.