Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was written in a time when theatre was changing, and Ibsen was one of the creators of this new style of writing. Henrik Ibsen was born in Norway in 1828. During Ibsen’s childhood his father encountered many financial difficulties and in 1835 the family was forced to move because their property was seized for payment of debts. Ibsen had an unhappy childhood due to rumours that Knud Ibsen was not his father, and despite the physical resemblance Ibsen believed these rumours to be true.
Ibsen moved away from his parents in 1844 and during his early adult years Ibsen befriended members of the socialist movement and a left wing politician. This then led him to write for a radical magazine, where police raided the offices. Two of his co-workers were imprisoned for three years but Ibsen didn’t speak out. Before A Doll’s House Ibsen wrote many plays, but up until 1864 most were unsuccessful but he made his break when he started writing plays designed to be read, the first of which was Brand.
This play created an immediate sensation and established Ibsen’s reputation in Scandinavia. In 1869 Ibsen’s A League of Youth was performed at the Christiana Theatre, it caused controversy because of it’s characterisation of progressive personalities. One of the characters complains: ‘You dressed me up like a doll; you played with me as one plays with a child. ‘ In George Brandes review he suggested such a character would make a good central figure to later work.
A Doll’s House was one of Ibsen’s plays written in his new style of naturalism, a departure from romanticism, the exaggeration of ideas and actions. Naturalism was Ibsen’s way of representing what was real; he used his plays to focus on key issues. By making his plotlines and characters as real as possible Ibsen felt that he could achieve this properly. Naturalism is represented in A Doll’s House mainly through Nora, the main character in the play. Nora is a very realistic character and she expresses views and ideas similar to those that other women would express in the same situation.
Ibsen also uses naturalism in A Doll’s House through the way he focuses on a very controversial issue, and how he represents it realistically rather then watering it down as not to offend audiences, as romanticism does.. A Doll’s House is a play that deals with many feminist issues and it was published around the time the first notions of suffragettes were beginning to arise. The suffragettes were officially formed in 1897 by Millicent Fawcett and under the name ‘National Union of Women’s Suffrage’. However it was around the time of publication that the first ideas for such a group were arising.
The suffragettes were a group of women campaigning for equal rights for all men and women. They worked towards this by protesting in ways such as chaining themselves to fences; setting fire to post boxes but possibly their most famous act was when Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse in the 1913 Derby. Although her aim was not to kill herself but to grab onto the bridle and this led to her death. This act didn’t have the desired effect and all the public worried about was the health of the horse and jockey. A Doll’s House deals with these issues through the character of Nora.
She has spent her life being treated like a doll by the men in her life and she feels she has been suppressed and not allowed to speak out for herself. At the end of the play when Torvald discovers her secret, she expects him to be supportive but he is not and this leads Nora to leave him, saying she feels she doesn’t know him, he is like a stranger and she cannot live with a stranger. In A Doll’s House Nora has suffers many problems and faces several difficulties, most due to an act of forgery. In many ways Nora’s life echoes that of Laura Kieler. She was one of Ibsen’s friends and she lived the life that Nora led.
She borrowed money to save her husband and committed forgery when in debt to ensure he could be saved. Then when found out he declared he wanted a divorce, similar to Torvald’s saying he is angry and ashamed at her. However, different to Nora when her husband found out, Laura was committed to a mental asylum for speaking insane thoughts, when in fact she was stating the truth. , Also different to Nora, When Laura was released she went back to her husband rather then leaving to educate herself. I think that through this play Ibsen could be showing what he thought Laura should’ve one and what he thinks would have been better for her.
There are other clear links to Laura in this play except the plotline, for example Laura’s husband used to call her skylark, as Torvald does to Nora. Another link is the shared disease, Tuberculosis. Dr. Rank is suffering from Tuberculosis of the spine and it was Tuberculosis that Laura’s husband had. This play was very controversial and radical at the time of it’s writing because it held the idea of women standing up to men and questioned whether men really are better then women, or whether they are equal. This is similar to Darwin’s theory on evolution. Darwin was a scientist born in 1809.
He wrote about evolution and how he believed that all animals where not created by God but through evolution. This was a revolutionary idea at the time because such a theory had never been suggested before and it led to wide controversy, and his idea’s were ridiculed my many Christian’s as they went against the bible. Before Darwin’s theories people lived in a male dominated society and most people were Christians. This lead to the ridicule of his theories because not only did it go against the bible, it also suggested females were equal to males, an idea that was lost in a patriarchal society.
Darwin travelled around the world to try and find proof for this theory, including his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands. Through this research he proved that animals evolved to create other species. This is linked to A Doll’s House because this idea meant women were not created from men, but separately. This in turn led to the idea that men were equal to women, and this is what Nora believed, and it was her husbands disbelief at this that caused her oppression and it was the idea that women aren’t equal to men that made him say Nora spoke like a ‘little girl’.
This idea of evolution and survival of the fittest also linked in with the idea that you could determine your own future, something that Nora doesn’t believe at the beginning of the play, but by the end she realises she can, and she does by leaving her husband. A Doll’s house has a very interesting social context. It was published in 1879, A time in which society was very male dominated, and women’s views were suppressed, however, A Doll’s House has the central theme of female emancipation, as shown through the links to the suffragettes. Also interesting is the society at the time Ibsen wrote this.
It was a society that was very brutal, where appearances are the main importance and not what’s inside. From the outside the society looks good, affluent and agreeable, with servants waiting on you, and large rooms to celebrate Christmas and live a happy, middle-class life, but to those living the lifestyle, there is a heavy price to pay. People have to act, not as they would like, but as society would deem ‘respectable’ and this ‘respectability’ is a very superficial one, based on money, business and being ‘average’, conformant to societies rules.
This means that those that enter from outside the society are shunted and mistreated. This society is shown through A Doll’s House in a variety of ways. Firstly we can see it through Nora’s initial treatment of Mrs. Linde-she does not recognise her, because she has aged so prematurely, from stress-something not found within the agreeable middle-class women, making her stand out. We also see this idea of superficiality at the end of the play, when Torvald discovers Nora’s secret. He says ‘As regards our relationship – we must appear to be living together just as before.
Only appear, of course. ‘ This shows how Torvald views appearances so importantly, he wants Nora to remain there, purely so he wont be frowned upon by society as an outsider, even though he will know deep-down, that’s what he will now be. In conclusion there are many different historical ideas and events that build a context, from which Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House and their influences are clear in different ways throughout the play, and they help to give a clearer picture of how the characters are living, and the motivations behind their actions.