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Henrik Ibsen wrote the play A Doll's House. The play is about a woman (Nora Helmer) who is trapped in a societal patriarchal environment and reflects on her self-realization. The author depicts a character who had to leave a repressive marriage in order to achieve her liberty. By reflecting on Torvald and Nora's union, Ibsen introduces many themes into the play while discussing masculinity and femininity in culture. A Doll's House delves into the roles of men and women in Victorian culture.
The stereotypical roles of men and women in society are an important motif in A Doll's House.
A Doll’s House examines the conventional roles of men and women in the nineteenth-century society through the characters of Torvald and Nora Helmer. Nora was a woman who idealized her father and husband, as a result, she became powerless and limited herself to being a wife and a mother as demanded by the patriarchal society (Mahaffey 54). Ibsen paints a miserable picture by using Nora to symbolize a sacrificial role of woman in the society. In the play, there is no protagonist; Nora never leaves the room just to demonstrate the trap of the traditions of being a wife and a mother. All the audience sees is that haer husband only gives the money for buying household equipment. The women in the play could not take control over anything; they all needed authorization from their “owners” who were their husbands and fathers. Ibsen states that the role of women in the society was sacrificial through the life of the protagonist Nora (Jacobs 420). Nonetheless, as the story ends, the protagonist gains the independence from the repressive society.
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Just like Nora, even men in the play were subject to the traditional gender roles because they were to be sole providers for the family, as, for instance, Torvald Helmer. In fact, Torvald was assigned to provide for the entire household because he was the only man in the house. Traditions demanded that Torvald be the dominant partner in the marriage with this making Nora seem just an object in the marriage (Jakovljevic 440). Apart from this issues, Torvald had a very narrow definition of the roles of women in the society, which partly led to the end of his marriage. Torvald Helmer believed that a woman had to stay in the house and perform the role of a doll by being a good mother and wife. He deems women to be helpless creatures that are to follow their husband’s orders and stay at home. This fact is evident when Torvald refers to Nora as “little person,” “little woman,” “little songbird,” “where is my little skylark” and “little squirrel” just to mention a few (Ibsen 968). Anytime Torvald refers to his wife, he mentions that he perceives her as his child or rather as an inferior human being.
Apart from the theme of traditional roles of men and women, Ibsen incorporates the theme of appearance against reality in the play. The play implies that most of the characters are obsessed with how they look because they work so hard to keep or improve their appearances while forgetting their contrary realism. Most of the characters in the story, for instance, Torvald, Nora, and Krogstad are unpleasant and grim persons in reality, but they do not want to accept the truth. Torvald’s marriage to Nora is collapsing after he did not forgive her for her past mistake, but he strives to keep the marriage appearance and hide the truth behind the break up. Moreover, given his appearance, he seems to be a devoted, loving, and generous husband to Nora but in reality, he is just an oppressive man who is mainly concerned with saving his public reputation. Moreover, in the play, Dr. Rank is apparently ill, but he denies his sickness and pretends to be healthy. Overall, the characters in the play are trapped in their untruthful behavior and hypocrisy. Nonetheless, as the play progresses, the veils fall, and the truth about their character is revealed.
Another theme discussed in the play is the issue of self-realization. Nora was a woman who was limited in her future perspectives by the social rules of flaw-ridden masculinity. This fact is evident when she idealized his father and afterwards her husband, Helmer. It is proved by the conversation with Torvald when she says “when I was home with Papa, he told me all his opinions about everything and so I had the same opinions…then I came to live with you” (Ibsen 976). This phrase shows that she had no right in influencing her man’s actions because she was just transferred as a doll from her father’s house to her husband’s house. However, as time went by, Nora began to realize that she needed to be a free and independent woman. As a result, she left her children and her husband to release herself from the traditional confines of the society. She loved her children and abandoning them was an act of self-sacrifice, but she had to find her role in that life (Jakovljevic 436). In the play, marriage was just a trap for both parties, and despite there being a divorce, it came with a social stigma, and this is why it was possible to observe Torvald pretending to be in a happy marriage rather than recognizing the problems. Nonetheless, Nora ignored the social stigma that came with divorce and decided to find her independence away from her arrogant husband saying, "I have another duty equally sacred ... My duty to myself" (Ibsen 979). Templeton notes that Nora represents women who challenge the oppressive society and withdraw from marriage to find their freedom (33).
The theme of materialism is also present in the play A Doll’s House. It is clear that Torvald focuses mainly on material things and money other than his family and the people around him. To him, as a man, his manhood was based on his financial independence and providing for his family. Having been employed in the bank, he believes that he has gained financial independence.
Thus, A Doll’s House is a play that explores the roles of men and women in the Victorian period. Ibsen incorporates several themes in the play to portray how the men and women lived in the Victorian society which include the uneqality of men and women and women’s striving for independence and self-realization, people’s hypocrisy as a flaw of this society and the issue of prioritizing financial values over moral principles.
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Ibsen, Henrik, and Worrall Non. A Doll's House. London: A&C Black, 2008. Print.
Jacobs, Elizabeth. "Henrik Ibsen and the Doctrine of Self-realization." The Journal of Englishand Germanic Philology38.3 (1939): 416-430. Print.
Jakovljevic, Branislav. "Shattered Back Wall: Performative Utterance of A Doll'sHouse." Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002): 431-448.
Mahaffey, Vicki. "Portal to Forgiveness: A Tribute to Ibsen's Nora." South Central Review 27.3(2010): 54-73. Print.
Templeton, Joan. "The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen." Publications ofthe Modern Language Association of America (1989): 28-40. Print.
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