When Nora slammed the door in the face of Torvald, the echo of this estrangement shook the pillars of the male dominated society where women were assigned stereotyped roles and were robbed of any independence and identity. From time immemorial writers and playwrights have written the tales of self-consciousness and revolutions from within wherein the woman was influenced to rebel against the constraints as imposed by the social and cultural beliefs, and dogmas of the society. Ibsen’s “ A Doll’s House” also portrays the character of a woman who rejects her house, husband and children when her consciousness impels her to find her identity in the patriarchal society. This essay looks how her self-consciousness influences the ending of the play, “A Doll’s House” in the light of the major theme, language and characters as employed by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.Order now
Ibsen deals with the theme of identity crisis in Nora’s life, and gives a short description of the way things have been with her. Nora has had a past of her identity crisis when her father, a spendthrift and a dishonest man treated her as a pet. Although the play has often been termed feminist and realist, it is pragmatic as well. It can be seen that Ibsen draws our attention to the way a child is reared in a family, and the heredity and environment that a child inherits. Torvald too criticizes Nora when he says, “I ought to have foreseen it. All your father’s want of principle–be silent! –All your father’s want of principle has come out in you.” Her upbringing, and her marriage to Torvald seal her fate and she just shifts from one father to the other. She is dehumanized as Torvald also addresses her with an umpteen number of epithets, hardly calling her by her name.
Nora’s pride is hurt when he says that her nature is a direct result of her gender. Like other men, he has a prejudiced and a biased viewpoint for women. He often says,” Nora, my Nora, that is just like a woman.” Ibsen’s stress on the pronoun “my” shows how possessive and assertive Torvald is. “My little skylark” and “my squirrel” show that he treats his wife like “little birds that like to fritter money,” It becomes known to the audience that Torvald is a man who sets much value to appearance than reality. His wife is a trophy to him and she must know how to appear in the society. In his eyes Nora does not have any identity more than that she has to do her domestic duties, and beautify her house. He acts like her second father, and keeps her subservient and subjugated to him. Given all this, it is not strange that Nora will one day search for her identity, and by searching for it she makes alive the adage that every woman has a right to equality, liberty and fraternity.
Ibsen blends an element of the Aristotelian theme in the play to enhance the character of Nora. No doubt she is a noble character who sacrifices her integrity and happiness for the sake of her husband and children. She forges a note in order that the self-esteem of her husband is not affected. She hides a number of things from Torvald, as she knows very well that he will not approve of them. For example she eats the macaroons, swears again and again, and flirts with Dr. Rank. She has a tragic flaw, which is also very instrumental in her awakening- her flaw is her blind loyalty. it is only she who is to blame for her willingness to sacrifice her individuality and freedom to see her husband and family prosper and flourish. Like a tragic hero, she suffers from an internal conflict-it is very hard for her to renounce her family or contemplate suicide as she has all the happiness a woman in the Victorian society wishes for. Should she sacrifice all this happiness for her identity or vice versa? Like a Greek tragic play we find moments in her life when she realizes and recognizes the truth, and makes light of her illusion. She cries, ” In that moment it burst upon me that I had been living here these eight years with a strange man.” These words of hers prepare the audience for a tragic end to the play.
Ibsen never wished to write a feminist play but he certainly draws our attention to the society in which a woman has no say in the society. The issue of feminism was in his subconscious. In his words, “in practical life, woman is judged by masculine law, as though she weren’t a woman but a man – a woman cannot be herself in modern society.” The play shows that Nora’s realization does not come in the blink of an eye; it is wrought about by her observation of two more characters: Dr. Rank and Ms. Linde. The two characters strengthen in her the resolve to find a meaning to her life. Dr. Rank rules his life till the very end. And Ms. Linde is a great example of a woman who can not only sacrifice her happiness for her family but is brave enough also to go to Krogstad and propose to him in order to lead a better life. It is the art of characterization with which Ibsen gives a lending hand to Nora to seek her identity.
It does not take long for the audience to anticipate the tragedy in a three-act play. Ibsen is very economical with characters and scenes. The epiphanic moment for Nora is close at hand. She deliberately sticks to the gossamer of her illusion that Torvald will take the responsibility of her crime, and that “wonderful thing,” will be a proof that “when the world falls apart, Torvald will remain a pillar of altruistic self-sacrifice and prove himself a man worthy to die for.” Nora has contemplated suicide and even at the altar of her death she puts her individuality at stake. But that wonderful thing does not happen and Torvald is all fire and fury when he reads of her deceit from Krogstad’s’s letter. Nora’s tragedy is brought about when she realizes that Torvald is an effigy of cowardice- a man who still gives value to appearance and not to the predicament Nora is in. This incident proves a catalyst to give a new meaning to her life. Torvald showers a volley of questions at her, “”You don’t consider what people will say?” “Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?”
“Can you not understand your place in your own home?” But it is all too late. Nora’s transformation has begun and she addresses Torvald; “I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and father have done me a great wrong. It’s your fault that my life has been wasted . . ..” These few words indicate that she always knew of her doll like existence but she still stuck to her illusion thinking that Torvald will make sure “the glorious thing” will take place. But it is not long after that she says. “”I must stand quite alone if I am to understand myself and everything about me.” From here there is no turning back for Nora.
In the words of the critic, Joan Templeton, “Nora is a daughter of Eve-a bewitching piece of beauty who never understood what happiness is”. She never gave value to what her husband lectured her about familial happiness, and she showed the traits of deceit, extravagance and dishonesty just like her dead father. “She is denounced as an irrational and frivolous narcissist; an abnormal woman, a hysteric, a vain loving egoist who leaves her family in a paroxysm of selfishness”. She never heeded his advice how lying and deceit corrupt a household’s children: “nearly all young criminals have had lying mothers.” Torvald rises from a lower position, and he wants the future of his family secured. He is against the practice of borrowing. “There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.” These views are all common when we judge the character of Nora’s. To some extent it appears that her judgment was impulsive and rash. There is no doubt that Torvald was a loving husband who loved her really. There is no end to the plethora of critics who take the transformation of Nora in a negative light. For them her character is no different from Medea’s who killed her children in an impulsive fit of jealousy to teach her husband a lesson.
It is the irony of human kind that once a woman acts as per the voice of her conscience she is considered an aberration to society. But what about her quest for her identity? Would Torvald ever consider her on an equal footing? It does not seem possible. Torvald is shown by Ibsen as a representative of the patriarchal society in whose eyes a woman is no more than an object and a commodity. Torvald is a weak character that lacks moral courage. More than Nora he is worried about what the people at the bank will say of the forgery. He does not realize that it was his duty to perform the “wonderful thing” for a wife who has been an epitome of feminine love and virtues. Therefore Nora’s decision to renounce her family in the wake of her self-consciousness is justified. The ending of the play certainly seems tragic, but as an open ended play, the ending is open to various interpretations. She is a great example to show that “Whatever we treasure for ourselves separates us from others; our possessions are our limitations.” Nora is justified in her decision: she leaves a husband who is morally a coward, and her children “in better hands than hers.” Nora’s character guided by her self consciousness serves a role model for the ages to come. The doll’s house collapses to metamorphose into a modern woman, and this ending is exemplar in that it guides the women that they have a duty to themselves as well besides their husbands and children! The ending takes place on a note of joy and not on tragedy!