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“A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen

Introduction

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is considered one of the most prominent works of this influential Norwegian author. It tells the story of Nora Helmer, a young woman who goes from sacrificing her and her father’s reputation for her husband, Torvald, to becoming independent and free from her abusive marriage. Traditionally, this play has been viewed as a feminist statement that disavows patriarchy and highlights all the emotional suffering it entails. Although, Ibsen himself did not associate his work with the women’s rights movement and stated that this play dealt with human rights in general (Forward 24). Yet, apart from the theme of emancipation of women, the play explores the topic of the effects of wealth and poverty on individuals. In A Doll’s House, Ibsen demonstrates how money can have a significant impact on people’s lives and their relationships and uses the bank as the symbol of finances’ power over the human mind.

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Characters of the Play

Nora is the main character of the play, and money occupies the central role in her transformation, at first, it drives her to despair but eventually teaches her a lesson about the importance of self-respect. She takes out a loan to help her husband recover from his illness, yet when he discovers it, he becomes furious and calls her a criminal (Ibsen 85). This shows how problems related to money can affect the behaviors of spouses who have lived together for many years and have children. Even the marital bond is not strong enough to sustain the damage inflicted by the wife’s decision. Nora realizes that the Helmers’ household is the game of pretending to be a happy family and that she thoughtlessly performs her part. This forces Nora to come to an understanding that she has duties beyond being a wife and mother, namely, the duty to seek her true “self” (Forward 25) Thus, money becomes a factor that causes Nora to see her condition and the true character of her husband, and finally, recognize that she should not continue living in a doll’s house.

The significance of Nora’s choice to leave behind her husband and children also rests in her intentional rejection of all the financial advantages Torvald provides. Ibsen shows how a woman can break out of the vicious circle of being subject to her husband’s will and embrace her new identity of a free person. For Nora, it also means overcoming her addictions, including one excessive spending, for which she asks Torvald to give her money (Ibsen 4). Gradually, she becomes cognizant of her subordinate position in society and family, which contributes to her final decision. Nora rebels against the established view of women as the opposite of the male and decides to become a subject rather than an object (Rekdal 160). Thus, Nora is an example of a “new woman,” the one who refuses to accept all the gender norms and cannot be controlled even by the financial benefits of patriarchy.

Torvald Helmer is the ultimate villain of the play, and money directly influences his conduct towards his wife, as it enables him to act as a master and treat Nora as an object. This manifests itself in the form of belittling endearments he calls his wife, such as “my little song-bird” (Ibsen 34). His wealth allows him to do this since he provides for the whole family and ultimately maintains Nora’s financial dependence. Torvald encourages his wife to act childishly and not be responsible for any major decisions in her life, which demonstrates the nature of a patriarchal society (Galens and Spampinato 109). He feels that his wife is obliged to satisfy any of his desires since he is the one who gives her money. Torvald symbolizes the establishment because he is the one who possesses power over his wife and manipulates her into submission (Metzger 1). His power is a collection of different factors, his male privilege, social standing as a banker, and, most importantly, money, which is his main tool of controlling Nora.

The story of Mrs. Linde and Krogstad also rests on the premise of money since they could not marry each other in the past because Krogstad could not provide for Mrs. Linde’s family. This situation is still relevant for many people who face financial obstacles to becoming married and living together without significant concerns. Here, Ibsen once again demonstrates how money affects individuals’ relationships in societies where wealth constitutes a prerequisite for a happy life. Money forces people to marry not those towards whom they feel affection but those who can provide them with enough resources. This creates a tragedy that often remains unresolved, leaving a person, more often a woman, forever bound to a spouse who does not evoke any emotions in them. Krogstad becomes the only character who regrets his behavior, which shows that love has the potential to cure people who have lost themselves in their desires for greater power and money.

The bank in A Doll’s House is not only the workplace of Torvald and Krogstad, but it is also a symbol of the power of money to control people’s actions and numb their human qualities. The best example of this is Krogstad’s behavior before and after reuniting with Mrs. Linde, in conversation with whom he states that his work was his “only pleasure” (Ibsen 72). When he voices his intention to replace Torvald as the chief of the bank to Nora, he is completely controlled by his desire for more resources (Ibsen 60). Yet, the love of Mrs. Linde makes him change his ways and leads him to stop his blackmailing of Nora. The bank’s image is the absolute physical embodiment of greed and immoral behavior, which is conveyed through the activity of characters who work there. Ibsen’s choice of the job for the main negative characters was motivated by the public’s perception of financial institutions as the root of all evil.

Conclusion

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen shows that money plays a major role in the life and interactions of people and utilizes the bank’s symbol to highlight how finances can subdue a person’s will. In the case of Nora, the main character of the play, money becomes both a factor in her final decision to leave her family and a vulnerability which she has to overcome to become independent. For Torvalds, money means power, which he uses to keep his wife subservient and dependent on his rare donations, this allows him to treat her body as his property for which he has to pay. The relationship of Mrs. Linde and Krogstad is also inhibited by the financial struggles they face, which prevent them, two individuals who love each other, from getting married and affect Krogstad’s future unethical conduct. Ibsen chose to make all the main negative characters employees of the bank, thus turning it into a symbol of the power of money to influence human behavior.

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Works Cited

Forward, Stephanie. “A New World for Women? Stephanie Forward Considers Nora’s Dramatic Exit from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” The English Review, vol. 19, no. 4, 2009, p. 24+. Gale Literature Resource Center.

Galens, David M., and Lynn M. Spampinato, editors. “A Doll’s House.” Drama for Students, vol. 1, 1998, pp. 106-122. For Students (Complete Collection).

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Dodo Press, 2005.

Metzger, Sheri. “An overview of A Doll’s House.” Drama for Students, pp. 1-2. Gale Literature Resource Center.

Rekdal, Anne Marie. “The female jouissance: an analysis of Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (1).” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 74, no. 2, 2002, p. 149+. Gale Literature Resource Center.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, July 6). “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-dolls-house-by-henrik-ibsen/

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