Written during theVictorian era, the controversial play featuring a female protagonist seekingindividuality stirred up more controversy than any of his other works. Incontrast to many dramas of Scandinavia in that time which depicted the role ofwomen 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 mustdiscontinue the role of a doll and seek out her individuality. David Thomas describes the initial image of Nora as that of a doll wifewho revels in the thought of luxuries that can now be afforded, who is becomewith flirtation, and engages in childlike acts of disobedience (259). Thisinferior 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 emphasizethe need to reform their role in society. Definite characteristics of the women’s subordinate role in arelationship are emphasized through Nora’s contradicting actions. Herinfatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas gifts contradicts herresourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap clothing; her defiance of Torvaldby eating forbidden Macaroons contradicts the submission of her opinions,including the decision of which dance outfit to wear, to her husband; and Nora’sflirtatious nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrencesemphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play a dependent role:finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to these examples tohighlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays compared to that ofher husband.
The two sides of Nora contrast each other greatly and accentuatethe fact that she is lacking in independence of will. The mere fact that Nora’s well-intentioned action is considered illegalreflects woman’s subordinate position in society; but it is her actions thatprovide the insight to this position. It can be suggested that women have thepower 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 thatthe rules outside the household apply to her. This is evident in Nora’s meetingwith Krogstad regarding her borrowed money.
In her opinion it was no crime fora woman to do everything possible to save her husband’s life. She also believesthat her act will be overlooked because of her desperate situation. She failsto see that the law does not take into account the motivation behind her forgery. Marianne Sturman submits that this meeting with Krogstad was her firstconfrontation with the reality of a “lawful society” and she deals with it byattempting to distract herself with her Christmas decorations (16). Thus herfirst encounter with rules outside of her “doll’s house” results in therealization of her naivety and inexperience with the real world due to hersubordinate role in society. The character of Nora is not only important in describing to role ofwomen, 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 ofresponsibility compiled with her lack of sophistication further emphasize thesubordinate role of woman. By the end of the play this is evident as sheeventually sees herself as an ignorant person, and unfit mother, and essentiallyher husband’s wife. Edmond Gosse highlights the point that “Her insipidity, herdollishness, come from the incessant repression of her family life (721). ” Norahas been spoonfed everything she has needed in life.
Never having to think hascaused her to become dependent on others. This dependency has given way tosubordinateness, one that has grown into a social standing. Not only a positionin society, but a state of mind is created. When circumstances suddenly placeNora in a responsible position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she hasnone to give.
She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her decision toborrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiority has created a class ofignorant women who cannot take action let alone accept the consequences of theiractions. “A Doll’s House” is also a prediction of change from this subordinateroll. According to Ibsen in his play, women will eventually progress andunderstand her position. Bernard Shaw notes that when Nora’s husbandinadvertently deems her unfit in her role as a mother, she begins to realizethat her actions consisting of playing with her children happily or dressingthem nicely does not necessarily make her a suitable parent (226).
She needs tobe more to her children than an empty figurehead. From this point, when Torvaldis making a speech about the effects of a deceitful mother, until the finalscene, Nora progressively confronts the realities of the real world and realizesher subordinate position. Although she is progressively understanding thisposition, she still clings to the hope that her husband will come to herprotection and defend her from the outside world once her crime is out in theopen. After she reveals the “dastardly deed” to her husband, he becomesunderstandably agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her,the ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence andself-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to her doll’shouse. Their ideal home including their marriage and parenting has been afabrication for the sake of society.
Nora’s decision to leave this false lifebehind and discover for herself what is real is directly symbolic of woman’sultimate realization. Although she becomes aware of her supposedsubordinateness, it is not because of this that she has the desire to takeaction. Nora is utterly confused, as suggested by Harold Clurman, “She isgroping sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way of life and a destinyof which she is most uncertain (256). ” The one thing she is aware of is herignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to “prove herself” butto discover and educate herself.
She must strive to find her individuality. That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by the roleof Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the domineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and protector of his family, Nora’shusband is a mean and cowardly man. Worried about his reputation he careslittle about his wife’s feelings and fails to notice many of her needs.
Thepopular impression of man is discarded in favor of a more realistic view, thusillustrating society’s distorted views. Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact upon society’sview of the subordinate position of women. By describing this role of woman,discussing its effects, and predicting a change in contemporary views, hestressed 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 sheis dependant upon her husband and displays no independent standing. Herprogression of understanding suggests woman’s future ability to comprehend theirplight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the play is representativeof the awakening of society to the changing view of the role of woman. “ADoll’s House” magnificently illustrates the need for and a prediction of thischange.–rhmmmm, that’s a paddlin’