Essay: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
The play ‘A Doll’s house’ is a three act play written by Henrik Ibsen. The play is significant for its critical attitude toward 19th century marriage norms. It aroused great controversy at the time, as it concludes with the protagonist, Nora, leaving her husband and children because she wants to discover herself. Ibsen was inspired by the belief that “a woman cannot be herself in modern society,” since it is “an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.
Henrik Ibsen, considered by many to be the father of modern prose drama, was born in Skien, Norway, on March 20, 1828. He was the second of six children. Ibsen’s father was a prominent merchant, but he went bankrupt when Ibsen was eight years old, so Ibsen spent much of his early life living in poverty. From 1851 to 1864, he worked in theaters in Bergen and in what is now Oslo (then called Christiania). At age twenty-one, Ibsen wrote his first play, a five-act tragedy called Catiline. Like much of his early work, Catiline was written in verse.
In 1858, Ibsen married Suzannah Thoreson, and eventually had one son with her. Ibsen felt that, rather than merely live together, husband and wife should live as equals, free to become their own human beings. This belief can be seen clearly in A Doll’s House.
In A Doll’s House, Ibsen paints a bleak picture of the sacrificial role held by women of all economic classes in his society. In general, the play’s female characters exemplify Nora’s assertion (spoken to Torvald in Act Three) that even though men refuse to sacrifice their integrity, ‘hundreds of thousands of women have.’ At the beginning of A Doll’s House, Nora seems completely happy. She responds affectionately to Torvald’s teasing, speaks with excitement about the extra money his new job will provide, and takes pleasure in the company of her children and friends. She does not seem to mind her doll-like existence, in which she is coddled, pampered, and patronized.
Protagonist, Nora, seems like a bit of a ditz. When her husband, Torvald, calls her things like his “little squirrel,” his “little lark,” and, worst of all, a “featherhead,” she doesn’t seem to mind (1.5-1.16). In fact she seems to enjoy and even play into it. When Torvald first calls her a spendthrift, we’re inclined to agree. So far, we’ve seen her give the porter an overly generous tip, come in with tons of Christmas presents, and shrug at the idea of incurring debt. Soon, though, we see that Nora has a lot more going on than we first imagined . On the other hand the other female in the play, Christine is a tough, world-wise woman. This lady has been through a lot. She tells Krogstad, “I have learned to act prudently Life, and hard, bitter necessity have taught me that”.
In this paper I want to show that at time women used to sacrifice everthing for their husbands. Still then they were not considered to know the aspect of the world. As like nora , she did everything she can for her husband that she can.
SACRIFICE BY NORA
As the play progresses, Nora reveals that she is not just a ‘silly girl,’ as Torvald calls her. That she understands the business details related to the debt she incurred taking out a loan to preserve Torvald’s health indicates that she is intelligent and possesses capacities beyond mere wifehood. Her description of her years of secret labor undertaken to pay off her debt shows her fierce determination and ambition. Additionally, the fact that she was willing to break the law in order to ensure Torvald’s health shows her courage.
Krogstad’s blackmail and the trauma that follows do not change Nora’s nature; they open her eyes to her unfulfilled and underappreciated potential. ‘I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald,’ she says during her climactic confrontation with him. Nora comes to realize that in addition to her literal dancing and singing tricks, she has been putting on a show throughout her marriage. She has pretended to be someone she is not in order to fulfill the role that Torvald, her father, and society at large have expected of her.
Though Nora is economically advantaged in comparison to the play’s other female characters, she nevertheless leads a difficult life because society dictates that Torvald be the marriage’s dominant partner. Torvald issues decrees and condescends to Nora, and Nora must hide her loan from him because she knows Torvald could never accept the idea that his wife (or any other woman) had helped save his life. Furthermore, she must work in secret to pay off her loan because it is illegal for a woman to obtain a loan without her husband’s permission. By motivating Nora’s deception, the attitudes of Torvald’and society’leave Nora vulnerable to Krogstad’s blackmail.
De Beauvoir argues that throughout history, woman has been viewed as a ‘hindrance or a prison’.
Nora’s abandonment of her children can also be interpreted as an act of self- sacrifice. Despite Nora’s great love for her children’manifested by her interaction with them and her great fear of corrupting them’she chooses to leave them. Nora truly believes that the nanny will be a better mother and that leaving her children is in their best interest.
Nora’s understanding of the meaning of freedom evolves over the course of the play. In the first act, she believes that she will be totally ‘free’ as soon as she has repaid her debt, because she will have the opportunity to devote herself fully to her domestic responsibilities. After Krogstad blackmails her, however, she reconsiders her conception of freedom and questions whether she is happy in Torvald’s house, subjected to his orders and edicts. By the end of the play, Nora seeks a new kind of freedom. She wishes to be relieved of her familial obligations in order to pursue her own ambitions, beliefs, and identity.
Mrs. Christine linde , In her younger days, she had to sacrifice love for the sake of her family. Rather than marrying the dashing young Nils Krogstad, she married a businessman, Mr. Linde, so that she could support her sick mother and her two younger brothers. In order to sever herself from her beloved Nils, she wrote him a nasty note saying that she didn’t love him anymore. (A little harsh, Christine.) Now her brothers are all grown up and her mother is dead. Her husband has passed away, too. Mr. Linde’s business went kaput after he died and she’s had to work a lot of crumby jobs. Still, Christine is finally free.
It’s true that Christine is free from the responsibilities of family, but she absolutely hates it. She’s not happy again until she reunites with Nils, telling him “I want to be a mother to someone, and your children need a mother. We two need each other”. It might be seen as tragic: women are so programmed by society, that the only thing they know how to do is be a homemaker. On the other hand, it’s not like Christine is making this decision from a place of ignorance. Unlike Nora, Christine is well aware of what life is like without men. The major difference between Christine’s new relationship and that of the Helmers seems to be that Christine and Krogstad are entering into it as equals. Perhaps, the union of Nils and Christine is Ibsen’s example of “the most wonderful thing of all,” which Nora defines as “a real wedlock”
A Doll’s House ends with the slamming of a door. Nora turns her back on her husband and kids, and takes off into the snow to make her own way in the world. It’s a pretty bold decision, to say the least. Some might even call it foolish. She doesn’t have a job. Not a whole lot of marketable skills. No home. No prospects of any kind. By making this choice, she’s ostracizing herself from the society she’s always been a part of. Most “respectable” people just aren’t going to hang out with her. The comfortable life she’s leading will be totally destroyed. So, why does she do such a thing?
Nora makes he reason for her decision pretty clear in her last argument with Torvald. Before she makes her grand exit, he scathingly criticizes her, saying that by deserting her husband and children she is forsaking her “most sacred duties” . Nora doesn’t see it this way. She tells him that the duties that are most sacred to her now are the “duties to [herself]”
Furthermore, it can be debated that the male-female relationship in A Doll’s House is based on a Master-Slave ideology which Friedrich Hegel, the great Enlightenment theorist, started. The relationship between Torvald and Helmer evolves according to a Master-Slave relationship. Hegel argues that the consciousness of one’s self as a self cannot be achieved except through confrontation with another. Both Nora and her husband Torvald recognized their dependency on each other and that self-consciousness led to Nora’s awakening in the end. Thus, Nora’s character self was made through the dialectical special interrelationship between her and her husband on one side and between her and the patriarchal society on the other. Hegel says that the self ‘through supersession, receives back its own self, because, by superseding its otherness, it again becomes equal to itself; but secondly, it equally gives the other self-consciousness back again to itself, for it saw itself in the other, but superseded this being of itself in the other and thus lets the other again go free.’ First Nora acknowledges Torvald as her master and she dutifully assumes her role as the slave who is dependent on her master. After the confrontation, Nora realizes the master’s dependency on her which leads her to supersede him and be free of him.
After reading ‘A Doll’s House’ by Hendrik Ibsen. I can conclude that there is both a parallel and a contrast structure in the characters of Mrs. Linde and Nora. A contrasting difference in the characters, are shown not in the characters themselves, but the role that they play in their marriages. These women have different relationships with their husbands. Torvald and Nora have a relationship where there is no equality. To Torvald Nora is an object. Hence, she plays the submissive role in a society where the lady plays the passive role. Her most important obligation is to please Torvald, making her role similar to a slave. He too considers himself superior to her.
As for Kristine and Krogstad their relationship is much more open to us. It is apparent that if Kristine and Krogstad were to engage in an argument, it is more likely that that they would come to a compromise.
A strong sign that Mrs. Linde brings us a better understanding of Nora is their parallel in characters.
Both are willing to sacrifice themselves for values dear to their lives. This act of aiding significant loved ones gives us a better understanding of Nora. It gives us an image of who the character Nora really is.
Mrs. Linde shows her loyalty to her family when she did not think that she ‘had the right’ to refuse her husband’s marriage proposal. After taking into consideration her sick mother, her brothers, and Krogstad having money. She married for the welfare of her family.
Which means that in this society family is top priority. To the women is this era, loyalty to their loved ones is highly expected.
Then, we have Nora, who on the same token saves her husband (Torvald’s) life, which portrays again, the trend of women sacrificing for their families. They both (Mrs. Linde and Nora) express their feelings of pride and fulfillment in helping their significant others by sacrificing themselves. Nora’s character is made more obvious to us by Mrs. Linde’s actions. Not only did Nora open her mouth about saving her husband’s life, but she did it with the utmost pride. Claiming to have raised all the money herself she soaks in her self-importance. In Act 1, Nora seems to thrive on the pride she gets from borrowing the money. I suppose that she is feeling useful for a change.
It seems also, that Mrs. Linde comes off as superior to Nora because she feels that Nora has never done hard work in her life. Mrs. Linde is referring to the sacrifice she has made. She makes a remark about Nora still being a child. As if to say that she was inexperienced. She is half-right. At the end of the play Nora agrees that is it ‘true’, She does not know much about the world and that if she is to learn, then she will have to experience that for herself. This remark tells us that Nora is capable of choosing herself over her husband. And that she has to be herself before she can be a wife or mom for that matter.
Norma Helmer is the best illustration of the illusioned woman who lives in a society where the male oppresses the female and reduces to a mere doll or plaything. Nora Helmer is that doll living in her fake doll house, which reinforces the fragile idea of a stable family living under a patriarchal and traditional roof. One can argue that Nora Helmer and the other female figures portrayed in A Doll’s House are the best models of the ‘second sex’ or
the ‘other’ that the French revolutionary writer Simone de Beauvoir discussed in her essay, The Second Sex.
It seems like Nora has gone through a kind of personal awakening. She’s come to the conclusion that she’s not a fully realized person. She has to spend some time figuring out who she is as an individual or she’ll never be anything more than someone’s doll. This would be impossible under the smothering presence of Torvald.
Yet, the doll house is shattered as well as Nora’s illusion. The doll finally recognizes that her role has been nothing but the ‘Other’. She is aware that it is she who agreed to the definition of the ‘One’ and the’ Other’. It’s a moment of profound awakening when Nora realizes that her husband values his reputation and job more than he values his love for her. Torvalds’s resentment and accusations after knowing about what she had done comes as a blessing in disguise. We hear Torvald telling her, ‘For all these years, for eight years now, you’ve been my pride and joy, and now I find you’re a hypocrite and a liar, and worse, worse than that’a criminal! The whole thing is an abyss of ugliness! You ought to be ashamed.’ Simone de Beauvoir says that if the woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about the change. But here we tell De Beauvoir that Nora is willing to bring about the change. The harsh reality smacks her in the face; a wave of disillusionment wakes her up
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