Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House was an influential and to a certain degree shocking literary work, as it challenged the traditional roles of men and women in society and depicted the poor outcomes of gender discrimination. The major female characters of the play are definitely bold and determined women, forced to comply with the contemporary gendered social practices and social behavior. The present paper argues that A Doll’s House refers to a feminist argument due to the fact that it suggests the intellectual and social equality of men and women by showing how female members of the man-centered society break the stereotypes of women’s dependence on men, psychological weakness and childishness.
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First of all, in the traditional man-oriented societies women normally depend on men both emotionally and economically, as women were assumed to develop stronger emotional bonds with men and perform the unpaid work, associated with housekeeping and childrearing. However, Mrs.Linde and Nora in A Doll’s House appear to be capable of achieving certain economic independence and making their own decisions. In particular, Mrs.Linde seems to have an active life position, as she managed to survive and succeed when her husband passed away and she was forced to provide for herself and her two underage brothers. This ordeal made her a diligent and competent worker and gave her the happiness of personal independence: “The last three years have seemed like one long working day, with no rest. Now it is at an end, Nora. My poor mother needs me no more, for she is gone; and the boys do not me either; they have got situations and can shift for themselves” (Ibsen, p.20). Moreover, at the beginning of the play, Mrs.Linde visits Nora and asks her husband Torvald to help her get a job at his bank, and, surprisingly, Torvald agrees, offering her a place of Krogstad, who has been fired recently. This means, Mrs.Linde, in terms of her abilities and professional experience, is treated as equal to the male employee of the bank, and she can successfully compete with males in the labor market. It also needs to be noted that Mrs.Linde’s role model was not common among the contemporary women, who often had no legal right to paid work and who were prevented from doing paid work, as they were supposed to focus on taking care about home, spouse, and children. However, despite all prejudices against working women, Mrs.Linde enjoyed both financial and professional growth. Nora, the central character of the play, managed to work secretly and pay off the family debt despite the psychological pressure, associated with the threat of the serious argument with Torvald if he learned about the source of her personal earnings. It is also important to note Nora’s emotional independence, which she shows at the end of the play by leaving Torvald after a serious offense of her dignity, so she is also a self-sufficient personality. Despite having strong feelings for Torvald, Nora decides to abandon her controlling and abusive husband in order to quit this humiliating relationship.
The main character of the play also embodies the woman of great spiritual and psychological strength. In particular, her bold undertaking, aimed at saving her husband’s life and keeping secret the details of their trip to Italy required the ability to resist emotional and moral suffering. She was also strong enough to step beyond the frames of her social role, violating the social and moral norms and principles she learned during her traditional upbringing. Nora actually experienced great inner moral pressure, as she committed a crime in addition to acting in a “manly” way. It also needs to be noted that Nora has been living in really constraint conditions, economizing on her own wellness and beauty; in her confession to Mrs.Linde, she states that for many years she has been wearing the cheapest clothes and accessories, thus resisting a number of temptations in which many women are trapped. Middle-class women like Nora are usually expected to spend more money for their lifestyle, and it was probably difficult to Nora to see fashionable dresses on other women and realize she would not afford them for a long time. As one can assume, Nora is strong enough in the spiritual sense to assert her values, principles, and priorities and remain committed to them for many years.
Finally, both Mrs.Linde and Nora represent female maturity and a sense of responsibility. In particular, Mrs.Linde showed outstanding loyalty and dedication to her family by assuming the responsibility for her incurably ill mother and young brothers. When she realized there was no other way of supporting her family financially, she accepted Mr.Linde’s proposal and split up with the man she really loved. Thus, her actions were associated with defending the interests of the significant others, who she believed she must have tended to. Despite being treated by her husband like a “little squirrel” (Ibsen, p.14), or a doll, Nora also showed the ability to take responsibility for her actions; in particular, after taking the loan, she decided to return the money by herself and planned the family’s budget so that nobody except for herself was affected by her saving practices.
As one can conclude, A Doll’s House is an example of feminist drama which destroys the myth that women are not able to survive apart from men. The literary work proves that women can achieve professional success and act independently and responsibly even under the immense pressure of socially constructed “musts”, or males’ principles of women’s behavior, as well as men’s domination.
Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Plain Label Books, 1950.