Interpretation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House”:
“A Doll’s House” is classified under the “second phase” of Henrik Ibsen’s career. During this period, 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 features a female protagonist seeking individuality. It stirred up more controversy than any of his other works. In contrast to many dramas of Scandinavia at that time, which depicted the role of women as the comforter, helper, and supporter of man, “A Doll’s House” introduced woman as having her own purposes and goals. The heroine, Nora Helmer, progresses during the course of the play and eventually realizes that she must discontinue the role of a doll and seek out her individuality. David Thomas describes the initial image of Nora as that of a doll wife who revels in the thought of luxuries that can now be afforded, who flirts, and engages in childlike acts of disobedience. This inferior role from which Nora progressed is extremely important. Ibsen, in his “A Doll’s House,” depicts the role of women as subordinate in order to emphasize the need to reform their role in society.
Definite characteristics of the women’s subordinate role in a relationship 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 of Torvald by eating forbidden Macaroons contradicts the submission of her opinions, including the decision of which dance outfit to wear, to her husband. Nora’s flirtatious nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrences emphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play a dependent role: finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to these examples to highlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays compared to that of her husband. The two sides of Nora contrast each other greatly and accentuate the fact that she is lacking in independence of will. The mere fact that Nora’s well-intentioned action is considered illegal reflects a woman’s subordinate position in society. However, it is her actions that provide insight into this position.
It can be suggested that women have the power to choose which rules to follow at home, but not in the business world, thus indicating their subordinateness. Nora does not initially realize that the rules outside the household apply to her. This is evident in Nora’s meeting with Krogstad regarding her borrowed money. In her opinion, it was not a crime for a woman to do everything possible to save her husband’s life. She also believes that her act will be overlooked because of her desperate situation. However, she fails to see that the law does not take into account the motivation behind her forgery.
Marianne Sturman argues that her meeting with Krogstad was her first confrontation with the reality of a lawful society. She deals with 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 real world due to her subordinate role in society. The character of Nora is not only important in describing the role of 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, further emphasizes the subordinate role of women.
By the end of the play, it is evident that Nora sees herself as an ignorant person, an unfit mother, and essentially her husband’s wife. Edmond Gosse highlights the point that Her insipidity, her dollishness, come from the incessant repression of her family life” (721). Nora has been spoon-fed everything she has needed in life. Never having to think has caused her to become dependent on others. This dependency has given way to subordinateness, which has grown into a social standing.
Not only is a position in society created, but also a state of mind. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in a responsible position and demand a moral judgment from her, she has none to give. She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her decision to borrow money illegally. The supposed inferiority of women has created a class of ignorant women who cannot take action or accept the consequences of their actions. A Doll’s House” is also a prediction of change from this subordinate role.