Doll’s House Play”A Doll’s House” is classified under the “second phase” ofHenrik Ibsen’s career. It was during this period which he made the transitionfrom mythical and historical dramas to plays dealing with social problems.
Itwas the first in a series investigating the tensions of family life. Writtenduring the Victorian era, the controversial play featuring a female protagonistseeking individuality stirred up more controversy than any of his other works. In contrast to many dramas of Scandinavia in that time which depicted the roleof women as the comforter, helper, and supporter of man, “A Doll’sHouse” introduced woman as having her own purposes and goals. The heroine,Nora Helmer, progresses during the course of the play eventually to realize thatshe must discontinue the role of a doll and seek out her individuality.
DavidThomas describes the initial image of Nora as that of a doll wife who revels inthe thought of luxuries that can now be afforded, who is become with flirtation,and engages in childlike acts of disobedience (259). This inferior role fromwhich Nora progressed is extremely important. Ibsen in his “A Doll’sHouse” depicts the role of women as subordinate in order to emphasize theneed to reform their role in society. Definite characteristics of the women’ssubordinate role in a relationship are emphasized through Nora’s contradictingactions.
Her infatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas giftscontradicts her resourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap clothing; herdefiance of Torvald by eating forbidden Macaroons contradicts the submission ofher opinions, including the decision of which dance outfit to wear, to herhusband; and Nora’s flirtatious nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrences emphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play adependent role: finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to theseexamples to highlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays comparedto that of her husband. The two sides of Nora contrast each other greatly andaccentuate the fact that she is lacking in independence of will. The mere factthat Nora’s well-intentioned action is considered illegal reflects woman’ssubordinate position in society; but it is her actions that provide the insightto this position. It can be suggested that women have the power to choose whichrules to follow at home, but not in the business world, thus again indicatingher subordinateness.
Nora does not at first realize that the rules outside thehousehold apply to her. This is evident in Nora’s meeting with Krogstadregarding her borrowed money. In her opinion it was no crime for a woman to doeverything possible to save her husband’s life. She also believes that her actwill be overlooked because of her desperate situation.
She fails to see that thelaw does not take into account the motivation behind her forgery. MarianneSturman submits that this meeting with Krogstad was her first confrontation withthe reality of a “lawful society” and she deals with it by attemptingto distract herself with her Christmas decorations (16). Thus her firstencounter with rules outside of her “doll’s house” results in therealization of her naivety and inexperience with the real world due to hersubordinate role in society. The character of Nora is not only important indescribing to role of women, but also in emphasizing the impact of this role ona woman. Nora’s child-like manner, evident through her minor acts ofdisobedience and lack of responsibility compiled with her lack of sophisticationfurther emphasize the subordinate role of woman.
By the end of the play this isevident as she eventually sees herself as an ignorant person, and unfit mother,and essentially her husband’s wife. Edmond Gosse highlights the point that”Her insipidity, her dollishness, come from the incessant repression of herfamily life (721). ” Nora has been spoonfed everything she has needed inlife. Never having to think has caused her to become dependent on others. Thisdependency has given way to subordinateness, one that has grown into a socialstanding. Not only a position in society, but a state of mind is created.
Whencircumstances suddenly place Nora in a responsible position, and demand from hera moral judgment, she has none to give. She cannot possibly comprehend theseverity of her decision to borrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiorityhas created a class of ignorant women who cannot take action let alone acceptthe consequences of their actions. “A Doll’s House” is also aprediction of change from this subordinate roll.
According to Ibsen in his play,women will eventually progress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw notesthat when Nora’s husband inadvertently deems her unfit in her role as a mother,she begins to realize that her actions consisting of playing with her childrenhappily or 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 thispoint, when Torvald is making a speech about the effects of a deceitful mother,until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts the realities of the realworld and realizes her subordinate position. Although she is progressivelyunderstanding this position, she still clings to the hope that her husband willcome to her protection and defend her from the outside world once her crime isout in the open.
After she reveals the “dastardly deed” to herhusband, he becomes understandably agitated; in his frustration he shares theoutside world with her, the ignorance of the serious business world, anddestroys her innocence and self-esteem. This disillusion marks the finaldestructive blow to her doll’s house. Their ideal home including their marriageand parenting has been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora’s decision toleave this false life behind and discover for herself what is real is directlysymbolic of woman’s ultimate realization.
Although she becomes aware of hersupposed subordinateness, it is not because of this that she has the desire totake action. Nora is utterly confused, as suggested by Harold Clurman, “Sheis groping sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way of life and adestiny of which she is most uncertain (256). ” The one thing she is awareof is her ignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to”prove herself” but to discover and educate herself. She must striveto find her individuality. That the perception of woman is inaccurate is alsosupported by the role of Torvald.
Woman is believed to be subordinate to thedomineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and protector of hisfamily, Nora’s husband is a mean and cowardly man. Worried about his reputationhe cares little about his wife’s feelings and fails to notice many of her needs. The popular impression of man is discarded in favor of a more realistic view,thus illustrating society’s distorted views.
Ibsen, through this controversialplay, has an impact upon society’s view of the subordinate position of women. Bydescribing this role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a changein contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman’s realization of thisbelieved inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the shadow of man, but aperson in herself, with her own triumphs and tragedies. The exploration of Norareveals that she is dependant upon her husband and displays no independentstanding. Her progression of understanding suggests woman’s future ability tocomprehend their plight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the playis representative of the awakening of society to the changing view of the roleof woman.
“A Doll’s House” magnificently illustrates the need for anda prediction of this change.