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Essay/Term paper: Interpretation of ibsen's "a doll's house"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Composition

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"A Doll's House" is classified under the "second phase" of Henrik

Ibsen's career. It was during this period which 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 featuring a female

protagonist seeking individuality stirred up more controversy than any of

his other works. In contrast to many dramas of Scandinavia in 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

eventually to realize 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

is become with flirtation, and engages in childlike acts of disobedience

(259). 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; and 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 woman's subordinate position in society; but it is her

actions that provide the insight to 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 again indicating her subordinateness. Nora

does not at first 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 no 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. She fails to

see that the law does not take into account the motivation behind her

forgery. Marianne Sturman submits that this meeting with Krogstad was her

first confrontation with the reality of a "lawful society" and 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 to 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 compiled with her lack of sophistication further

emphasize the subordinate role of woman. By the end of the play this is

evident 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 her family life (721)." Nora has been spoonfed 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, one

that has grown into a social standing. Not only a position in society, but

a state of mind is created. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in a

responsible position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she has none to

give. She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her decision to

borrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiority has created a class of

ignorant women who cannot take action let alone accept the consequences of

their actions.

"A Doll's House" is also a prediction of change from this

subordinate roll. According to Ibsen in his play, women will eventually

progress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw notes that 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 children happily

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 this point, when Torvald is making a speech about the effects of a

deceitful mother, until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts the

realities of the real world and realizes her subordinate position.

Although she is progressively understanding this position, she still clings

to the hope that her husband will come to her protection and defend her

from the outside world once her crime is out in the open. After she

reveals the "dastardly deed" to her husband, he becomes understandably

agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her, the

ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence and

self-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to her

doll's house. Their ideal home including their marriage and parenting has

been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora's decision to leave this

false life behind and discover for herself what is real is directly

symbolic of woman's ultimate realization. Although she becomes aware of

her supposed subordinateness, it is not because of this that she has the

desire to take action. Nora is utterly confused, as suggested by Harold

Clurman, "She is groping sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way

of life and a destiny of which she is most uncertain (256)." The one thing

she is aware of 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

strive to find her individuality.

That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by the

role of Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the domineering

husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and protector of his

family, Nora's husband is a mean and cowardly man. Worried about his

reputation he 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 controversial play, has an impact upon

society's view of the subordinate position of women. By describing this

role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in

contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman's realization of

this believed inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the shadow of

man, but a person in herself, with her own triumphs and tragedies. The

exploration of Nora reveals that she is dependant upon her husband and

displays no independent standing. Her progression of understanding

suggests woman's future ability to comprehend their plight. Her state of

shocked awareness at the end of the play is representative of the awakening

of society to the changing view of the role of woman. "A Doll's House"

magnificently illustrates the need for and a prediction of this change.

--rhmmmm, that's a paddlin'


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