The Failure of Self-Interest and Care Ethics in The Lady from the Sea and Return South

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper


All selfish people are alike, but every caring individual realizes the failure of care for different personal, cultural or political reasons. The social cost of selfishness, greed, and radical individualism prompts many to endorse the vision of caring families and societies, yet care ethics in accordance to the
Norwegian, Confucian, or American model turns out to be deeply flawed. In The Lady from the Sea (1888), Ibsen wants to reconcile the conflicts between individuality and community, and showcases the pros and cons of different subject positions such as the free spirit, the mermaid, or the docile citizens.
Unlike Nora, Ellida chooses to stay with her family out of her own free will and free choice; however, her parochialism means that her decision is a matter of bounded rationality. Besides, if Ibsen—the father of realism—was to be absolutely realistic, what genuine choice could a middle-class woman have in the 19th century Norwegian society? Influenced by Ibsen, Tian Han’s Return South sinicizes the play to question the desirability of arranged marriage and modern, free love in late 1920s, noting that there is hardly any community care in the era of the warlords, but family cares can be equally oppressive. Susan Sontag abandons Ibsenian realism and turns it into a symbolist play that reflects the spirit of Clintonism. The new
man has arrived, but not the happy marriage. There is a preference for helping the poor, or the empowering mode of (domestic) government, but at the end of the day, the political ideology is all about defending the status quo, and not about finding the “third way.”
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2018
EventThe 42nd Comparative Drama Conference - Annie Russell Theatre, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, United States
Duration: 6 Apr 20186 Apr 2018
Conference number: 42 (Link to conference programme and abstracts)


ConferenceThe 42nd Comparative Drama Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'The Failure of Self-Interest and Care Ethics in The Lady from the Sea and Return South'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this