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Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women


This paper discusses Henrik Ibsen portrayal of women. Ibsen was one of the finest novelists of Norwegian history. His novels were very controversial about the role of women during that time. Though, he highlights different shades of women characters. This paper discusses his works and highlight how he portrays women character init.

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Ibsen is the outstanding figures in the Norwegian theater. Before the middle of the last century there were few dramatists, and these few not of great significance. The contemporaries and followers of Ibsen are naturally rather eclipsed by these pioneers, have all made interesting contributions to the Norwegian theater.

Ibsen’s international reputation is due, though, not so much to his technical achievements as to his popularization in play form of the social problem. His ferocious individualism, his fearless declaration of a rigid standard of ethics, his defiance of social prejudice and hatred of hypocrisy, has given him repute as a philosopher which he little deserves. He was first and last a dramatist, who chose his subjects (in his later and better known plays, at least) from the life of his time.

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Ibsen portrays women as strong personality. His writing reveal that wives has mental powers make them respectable and not rely for all her happiness on a being subject to like infirmities with herself—independence, not humble dependence on a husband, was the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue. Ibsen discerned the strong side of ‘the doll’s house’, pointing out that women were degraded when men refused to look on them as human beings.

His point in Doll House and other play that women must judge things for themselves, since dependence made them slaves, and slavery degraded the master as well as the abject dependant. In any case, women could not by force be confined to domestic concerns for, however ignorant, they would ‘meddle in more weighty affairs and disturb by cunning the orderly plans of reason that rose above their comprehension’. Sentiments such as these were not unpleasing even to women of conservative disposition.

Though, he was interested in ethical problems, and he renowned the tremendous forces at work upon modern society, but these he professed to be dramatic themes susceptible of effective treatment in plays: he was not so much involved in converting his audience as he was in moving them by arousing their emotions. It is as an artist, and not as a thinker, that he takes rank as the greatest dramatist of modern times.

Henrik Ibsen depicted women facing and resolve dilemmas forced by social stereotypes and their own childhood. Yet he, although able to depict female protagonists as complete human beings, were incapable to imagine a happy resolution to their dilemmas. Ibsen was in no sense of the word a scientist, and that his conclusions on inheritance are open to question, his theme is essentially dramatic.

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Henrik Ibsen in The Doll’s House (1879) allowed Nora to walk out of her home without feeling it crucial to cancel her for having done so with death. Although Edna is more complex than Nora, with greater tendencies toward introspection and coming to terms with life, this surely does not seem a sufficient reason to have her commit suicide and thereby to suggest that living as a liberated woman is impossible.

Ibsen challenges the idea that husbands should be breadwinners upon whom wives depend, not only by examining Nora’s life but also in illuminating Kristine’s past. Forced to marry a man she didn’t love because she required money to support her family, Kristine, now widowed, is free to earn her own living and thus take charge of her life. Ultimately, she will save herself and Nora by proposing marriage to Krogstad, whom she will presumably support. Their pairing, based on empathy and friendship, serves as a foil for the Helmers’ false marriage.

In addition to questioning stereotypical social roles, Ibsen heaves gender-related moral issues. Deciding to forge her father’s signature, Nora acted in the belief that saving her husband’s life acceptable breaking the law. In contrast, Torvald views her as a criminal. Ibsen seems to have estimated ideas about distinct male and female values which were later articulated by Virginia Woolf and Carol Gilligan.

Woolf wrote: “the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex” (1929, 76).

Gilligan interprets this to mean that women’s “moral concerns” are defined by a “sensitivity to the needs of others and the assumptions of responsibility for taking care” (1982, 16).

Nora’s choice to save her husband’s life can be seen as openly related to female values. Students might discuss whether the play suggests that there is a disparity between male and female values, and also whether laws made mostly by men still privilege male interests.

Henrik Ibsen presumed commitment to women’s rights and other radical notions. A Doll’s House, centring as they did on particular, local issues, set the tone and direction of Ibsen denigration for decades to come. For years—in some quarters even today—it was impossible to discuss Ibsen without referring to the position of women in society, although the playwright himself continually stressed that he was less concerned with questions of marriage and suffrage than with the plight of the repressed individual in Victorian society.

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It is quite probable that the course taken by Ibsen’s reaction in England, and thus thinking about his drama in later years, would have been markedly different had London’s first taste of his unexpurgated work been, say, An Enemy of the People or The Pillars of Society. As it was, his critics, both for and against, chose to do battle over the issue of women’s rights; and particularly over the specific event of Nora’s having deserted her children.

Nora’s complex series of insights (‘her pride has been wounded’), shifting the drama’s prominences until they accord with a scale of values he can deal with. It is precisely because Nora’s ‘maternal instincts’ are completely developed, because she cares about her children’s future and her own, that she leaves home.

Ibsen’s later plays are regarded as models of technical women economy.” The so-called “social plays,” from “The League of Youth” to “Hedda Gabler,” develop from first to last as rapidly and logically as the subject permits. But it is not only in these prose plays that Ibsen reveals his craft.

The opening of “Hedda Gabler,” is much more compact, possibly too much so; in that play it is doubtful whether the audience can take in all that is offered, because practically every word is of the first importance. In “Peer Gynt” there is sufficient matter of extraneous interest — such as the built-in beauty of the lines and the situation itself — to attract the reader or auditor, so that he will pay strict attention to all that is said and done. In the exposition of “Hedda Gabler,” what in fact happens is of comparatively little interest. Take any play, read the first few pages, and see how much the author has told, noting carefully whether it is attractively served, as it were, or merely thrown at him haphazard.

Hedda Gabler was destined because, the stage ran with blood and mounds of corpses blocked the view. Rosmersholm presented nymphomania to the public gaze and Ghosts advocated suicide, incest and other sexual indecencies. The substantive moral issues Ibsen raised were characteristically ignored or caricatured.

In “Hedda Gabler,” the climax is Hedda’s burning of the “child,” Lövberg’s MS.; that is the concluding point of those events, or crises, in her life with which Ibsen, either in the play, or before it, is concerned. From that point onward, we see only effects; never again does the action rise to so high a point. Heddas death itself is just the logical outcome of what has gone before, and that was presaged in the first and succeeding acts.

“Hedda Gabler” is at times played as a comedy. True, the laughter is bitter, but the audience have, at excellent performances, considered not only George, but Hedda, comic figures.

Though in Doll house, Nora’s departure, presented with the dramatist’s approbation and as the obvious moral of the play, was viewed by a shocked public as a direct attack on the institution of marriage. Nora became a monstrous, an unnatural woman, a Victorian Medea capable of deserting home, husband and children in search of a specious ideal—the immoderation of self. What particularly stuck in contemporary throats was her remark, ‘We have been married eight years, and we are strangers. I have borne three children—to a stranger. I cannot remain any longer under the roof of a strange man. ’ (Ibsen, Henrik., 1879).

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The hostility—and the adjectives—spilt over on those audiences who applauded, or who at least failed to condemn, these sentiments. They were unnatural-looking women, long-haired men, and a socially and sexually perverse collection of atheists, socialists and positivists who had accumulated to gloat over Ibsen’s revolting ideas.

In Ibsen “Doll’s House,” Nora’s change of mind covers less than a week, but Ibsen takes good care to sustain her final act by credible motivation. If a dramatist introduces a certain character early in the play with the idea of changing the mind and spirit of that character, he should motivate each action and account for the character at the end of the play. If Ibsen wished to show Nora as a doll in the first act of “A Doll’s House,” and a mature and thinking woman in the last, he should adduce convincing proofs that the change would occur.


While Ibsen claimed that he knew little about women’s rights and feminism, he clearly understood the base of the nineteenth-century women’s movement: that a patriarchy which turns women into dolls obviously denies their humanity.

Ibsen portrayals of women are willing to understand and accept their own potential despite the impediments of social roles, of childlike dependence, of threatening insanity, of inescapable aloneness–which makes them figurative of humanity’s hope for a future in this absurd world. If male characters are fascinated, with death and escape, women embody our commitment to life. Ibsen supposed to be directed in their treatment of situations and characters by mental rather than emotional considerations.

Work Cited

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House [1879]. Introduction to Literature. Ed. Alice S.Landy and William Rodney Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 822–78.

Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. Four Major Plays. Trans. James Arup. Ed. James McFarlane. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, 1929.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 7). Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women.

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"Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women." StudyCorgi, 7 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women." November 7, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women." November 7, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women." November 7, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Henrik Ibsen and His Portrayal of Women'. 7 November.

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