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A Doll's House

A Dolls House term paper due and don't know how to start it? How about like this?

For scholars of modern theater, Henrik Ibsen's body of work represents an important juncture in the changing dramatic sensibility that would play a significant role in twentieth-century works. Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House illustrates, through the characters of Nora and Torvald Helmer, the subordinate and confining position of women in marriages of the late nineteenth century. Through the character of Nora, Ibsen shows us the following about the view of women, female oppression at this time:

  • A woman was expected to be little more than a child in her own marriage
  • A woman was incapable of taking on serious issues
  • A woman was only useful only for her ability to amuse her husband.

Nora's decision at the end of the play conveys Ibsen's idea that a woman has a duty to herself and that marriage is so confining that she can fulfill that duty only by leaving.

Nora's Relationships

A Doll’s House

Ibsen creates in Nora a woman whose husband sees her first and foremost as a child who lacks the sophistication to understand serious matters and whose will must be subordinate to his. She tells her husband, "I passed out of Daddy's hands into yours," suggesting that she has gone from being her father's child to being her husband's. The truth of Nora's observation is evident in the playful and condescending manner in which Torvald speaks to Nora about money, calling her a "sky-lark," a "little squirrel," and his "little singing bird," and teasing her about the extra money she spends for Christmas. Behaving like a father, Torvald uses her Christmas spending as an opportunity to lecture her about her "frivolous ideas" about money. Despite his scolding, Torvald takes out his wallet and, like a teasing father, says, "Nora, what do you think I've got here?". In addition, the seemingly trivial flow of Torvald's terms of endearments for Nora conveys little expository information, but they are an enormously effective means of conveying Nora's objectification and inferiority within the marital relationship.

Throughout the play, we learn of struggles, secrets, self-deceptions, as we begin to discern Nora’s relationships. After a long, suspenseful development that leaves the audience anxious about the Nora’s safety and well-being, the tension is finally resolved, only to bring about another, unexpected turning point. Because it has been obvious to the audience all along that her husband is treating Nora like a child and does not seem to truly care for her, the suspense is heightened. While the audience is riveted the unavoidable convergence of all these characters, Nora herself is taken completely by surprise, which only amplifies Ibsen’s point that she has been as naive as a child. Suddenly, Nora’s whole world changes when she hears her husband cry out: "I'm saved!" She can’t help but notice that he doesn’t say, "We're saved!" or even "You're saved," just "I'm saved."

In that moment, Nora realizes that he doesn’t really love her or feel he’s sharing his life with her at all. In fact, he is shown to be, in that instant, an uncaring stranger. Ibsen portrays her realization like this:

Helmer: Before all else you are a wife and a mother.

Nora: That I no longer believe. I think that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are‑‑or, at least, I will try to become one. I know that most people agree with you, Torvald, and that they say so in books. But henceforth I can't be satisfied with what most people say, and what is in books.

I must think things out for myself and try to get clear about them.... I had been living here these eight years with a strange man, and had borne him three children‑‑Oh! I can't bear to think of it‑‑I could tear myself to pieces!..... I can't spend the night in a strange man's house. (Ibsen).

Nora's Liberation

Nora was a kind of woman that was unheard of in those days and, as such, she became a symbol that gave a powerful voice to women's rights everywhere.

When Nora leaves the doll's house, she opens a gate for all women. We may be accustomed to the idea in today’s culture, but it is a revolutionary message nonetheless. It declares that a true bond between a man and a woman can only occur when they are “meeting in the open, without lies, without shame, free from the bondage of duty”.

Nils Krogstad takes on a conspicuous parallel with Nora because of the fact that he too tried to make money by forging documents -- as well as being unscrupulous in business. Nils has paid severely for his crimes, which causes us even more concern for Nora and her crimes.

Even Dr. Rank’s sexually transmitted disease serves as an important counterpoint to Nora’s story. If we did not know that he would soon die of the disease, Nora’s sudden departure at the end of the play would take on completely different ramifications. We would presume she could go to Dr. Rank and live a happy life. As it is, when she slams the door to the doll’s house, we know for certain that she is going to have to find a way to make it on her own and may even, one day, return to Helmer.

As Ibsen writes:

HELMER: Nora- can I never be more than a stranger to you?

NORA: Oh, Torvald, then the miracle of miracles would have to happen-

HELMER: What is the miracle of miracles?

NORA: Both of us would have to change so that- Oh, Torvald, I no longer believe in miracles.

HELMER: But I will believe. Tell me! We must so change that-?

NORA: That communion between us shall be a marriage.

In the end, the other characters are seen to support and amplify Nora’s story, just as she amplifies their stories. They each suffer from problems that parallel Nora’s in different ways, but particularly in terms of their relationships. Because of these characters, we come to understand Nora more fully and to appreciate the consequences that she could easily have faced had her life developed along the lines of these other characters.


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