Dolls

Doll’s
House By Henrik Ibsen
“A Doll’s House” is classified under the “second phase” of
Henrik Ibsen’s career. It was during this period which he made the transition
from mythical and historical dramas to plays dealing with social problems.It was
the first in a series investigating the tensions of family life.Written during
the Victorian era, the controversial play featuring a femaleprotagonist seeking
individuality stirred up more controversy than any ofhis other works. In
contrast to many dramas of Scandinavia in that timewhich depicted the role of
women as the comforter, helper, and supporter ofman, “A Doll’s House”
introduced woman as having her own purposes andgoals. The heroine, Nora Helmer,
progresses during the course of the playeventually to realize that she must
discontinue the role of a doll and seekout her individuality. David Thomas
describes the initial image of Nora as that of a dollwife who revels in the
thought of luxuries that can now be afforded, whois become with flirtation, and
engages in childlike acts of disobedience(259). This inferior role from which
Nora progressed is extremelyimportant. Ibsen in his “A Doll’s House”
depicts the role of women assubordinate in order to emphasize the need to reform
their role in society. Definite characteristics of the women’s subordinate role
in arelationship are emphasized through Nora’s contradicting actions. Her
infatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas gifts contradicts her
resourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap clothing; her defiance ofTorvald
by eating forbidden Macaroons contradicts the submission of heropinions,
including the decision of which dance outfit to wear, to herhusband; and Nora’s
flirtatious nature contradicts her devotion to herhusband. These occurrences
emphasize the facets of a relationship inwhich women play a dependent role:
finance, power, and love. Ibsenattracts our attention to these examples to
highlight the overallsubordinate role that a woman plays compared to that of her
husband. Thetwo sides of Nora contrast each other greatly and accentuate the
fact thatshe is lacking in independence of will. The mere fact that Nora’s
well-intentioned action is consideredillegal reflects woman’s subordinate
position in society; but it is heractions that provide the insight to this
position. It can be suggestedthat women have the power to choose which rules to
follow at home, but notin the business world, thus again indicating her
subordinateness. Noradoes not at first realize that the rules outside the
household apply toher. This is evident in Nora’s meeting with Krogstad regarding
herborrowed money. In her opinion it was no crime for a woman to do everything
possible to save her husband’s life. She also believes that heract will be
overlooked because of her desperate situation. She fails tosee that the law does
not take into account the motivation behind herforgery. Marianne Sturman submits
that this meeting with Krogstad was herfirst confrontation with the reality of a
“lawful society” and she dealswith it by attempting to distract
herself with her Christmas decorations(16). Thus her first encounter with rules
outside of her “doll’s house”results in the realization of her naivety
and inexperience with the realworld due to her subordinate role in society. The
character of Nora is not only important in describing to roleof women, but also
in emphasizing the impact of this role on a woman.Nora’s child-like manner,
evident through her minor acts of disobedience and lack of responsibility
compiled with her lack of sophistication further emphasize the subordinate role
of woman. By the end of the play this isevident as she eventually sees herself
as an ignorant person, and unfitmother, and essentially her husband’s wife.


Edmond Gosse highlights thepoint that “Her insipidity, her dollishness,
come from the incessantrepression of her family life (721).” Nora has been
spoonfed everythingshe has needed in life. Never having to think has caused her
to becomedependent on others. This dependency has given way to subordinateness,
onethat has grown into a social standing. Not only a position in society, buta
state of mind is created. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in aresponsible
position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she has none togive. She cannot
possibly comprehend the severity of her decision toborrow money illegally. Their
supposed inferiority has created a class ofignorant women who cannot take action
let alone accept the consequences oftheir actions. “A Doll’s House” is
also a prediction of change from thissubordinate roll. According to Ibsen in his
play, women will eventuallyprogress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw
notes that when Nora’shusband inadvertently deems her unfit in her role as a
mother, she begins to realize that her actions consisting of playing with her
children happilyor dressing them nicely does not necessarily make her a suitable
parent(226). She needs to be more to her children than an empty figurehead.From
this point, when Torvald is making a speech about the effects of adeceitful
mother, until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts therealities of the
real world and realizes her subordinate position.Although she is progressively
understanding this position, she still clingsto the hope that her husband will
come to her protection and defend herfrom the outside world once her crime is
out in the open. After shereveals the “dastardly deed” to her husband,
he becomes understandablyagitated; in his frustration he shares the outside
world with her, theignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her
innocence andself-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to
herdoll’s house. Their ideal home including their marriage and parenting hasbeen
a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora’s decision to leave thisfalse life
behind and discover for herself what is real is directlysymbolic of woman’s
ultimate realization. Although she becomes aware ofher supposed subordinateness,
it is not because of this that she has thedesire to take action. Nora is utterly
confused, as suggested by HaroldClurman, “She is groping sadly in a maze of
confused feeling toward a wayof life and a destiny of which she is most
uncertain (256).” The one thingshe is aware of is her ignorance, and her
desire to go out into the worldis not to “prove herself” but to
discover and educate herself. She muststrive to find her individuality. That the
perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by therole of Torvald. Woman
is believed to be subordinate to the domineering husband. Instead of being the
strong supporter and protector of hisfamily, Nora’s husband is a mean and
cowardly man. Worried about hisreputation he cares little about his wife’s
feelings and fails to noticemany of her needs. The popular impression of man is
discarded in favor ofa more realistic view, thus illustrating society’s
distorted views. Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact
uponsociety’s view of the subordinate position of women. By describing thisrole
of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in contemporary views,
he stressed the importance of woman’s realization ofthis believed inferiority.

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Woman should no longer be seen as the shadow ofman, but a person in herself,
with her own triumphs and tragedies. Theexploration of Nora reveals that she is
dependant upon her husband anddisplays no independent standing. Her progression
of understandingsuggests woman’s future ability to comprehend their plight. Her
state ofshocked awareness at the end of the play is representative of the
awakeningof society to the changing view of the role of woman. “A Doll’s
House”magnificently illustrates the need for and a prediction of this
change.

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