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

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Literature Essays

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Interpretation of Ibsen's "A Doll's House"

"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
"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

--rhmmmm, that's a paddlin'


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