Little Eyolf is a play by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906).

cleansing through the invasion of nature:

In the opening scene of the play we might be in any typical living room melodrama. Subjective abstraction and nature (both elements of impressionism) have a presence, but they do not yet dominate play. Similarly, poetry and symbolism are only lightly present in the dialog. The characters speak in an almost natural manner, cutting each other off and talking mostly of mundane, logistical things. Eyolf himself seems an ordinary enough boy (if a little stuck up and self conscious due to his disability) A quick read would reveal nothing out of the ordinary.

Still, there are phrases that stand out. Allmers seems to slip into a different state when he speaks of the mountains, but the subject is quickly dropped and the discussion returns to more ordinary matters.

The world is further upset by the entrance of the rat wife. She not only reminds us of the tale of the pied piper in her symbolic role in the play but also, through her language, serves up some disturbing imagery: “Up in the beds clambering and clawing the whole night long. Down into the milk pails they plopped. Over floorboards, scrambling and scuttling this way and that.” It is noteworthy that the image of swarming rats is again tied to the invasion of the natural world.

In the second act we’ve moved outside, though unlike the third act, nature presents little immediate danger.As the plot advances so does the influence of symbolism, nature and poetry on the play. In act two an image is revealed that will come to dominate the play, illustrating the major difficulties of the protagonists (Allmers and Rita) That image is the wide open eyes of the little boy as he sinks into the undertow. The eyes are and accusation that fuels Rita’s madness and Allmers need for atonement and eventually Asta’s desire to escape.

At last we are confronted with not only the presence of nature but with danger (the cliff) by this point in the play poetry is everywhere the mentions of the day to day details are gone. The characters are grappling with the abstract flaw that seems to be at the root of their misery. Strikingly, the invasion of nature and the tragic events of the play have a positive effect in the lives of the characters. You could almost call it a happy ending.

Perhaps, like the impressionists, Ibsen’s aim has been to allow us to re-see the tragedy of the play and in that way discover how a change of outlook (or of light) can transform what we see.

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