Marriage in “A Doll’s House” Play by Henrik Ibsen


There are several prominent themes raised in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, including the discussion of feminism, freedom, happiness, and dignity. However, a significant topic to analyze within the play is that of marriage and the causes of its failure. Whether Torvald respected Nora due to his views on nobility and honor is one thing. However, the man’s treatment of a woman as a spouse is an entirely different matter. Despite a variety of problems prevailing in Helmers’ marriage, it seems that the imbalance of power was the main reason for its dissolution.

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The perception of Nora as a doll

Although Nora lived in an expensive house and was surrounded by pleasant people and nice things, she was not happy. One of the explanations of the woman’s unhappiness was the lifelong perception of her as a doll. When she was younger, she belonged to her father, who treated her like a “doll-child” (Ibsen 89). Upon getting married, she became a possession of her husband, who called her a “song-bird,” a “squirrel,” and a “little lark” (Ibsen 1, 34, 45). Such ways of addressing a grown-up woman were somewhat insulting and deprived Nora of personality and individuality. Hence, being a “pure and self-sacrificing woman” did not make Nora happy in her marriage (Moi 264). The woman did not feel equal to her husband as an element of their union.

The elimination of Nora’s freedom

Another implication of the imbalance of power in Helmers’ family was manifested not through entitling Nora to the doll-like treatment but through prohibiting her sense of freedom and bravery. As Langås argues, the play is focused on the problems of “personal development and courage” rather than the fight between genders (148). It was the lack of the ability to express her ambitions and exercise her rights freely that made Nora leave Torvald eventually. Furthermore, he accused her of betraying him, although she was only trying to save his life. Hence, the main character felt too much oppression, which could not bear any longer.

The lack of communication between the husband and wife

Finally, the evident dominance of power held by Torvald was revealed in the way he communicated with his wife. The imbalance of power in spouses’ communication was reflected in the husband’s choice of when and how to speak to his wife and when (if at all) to listen to her. As Westlund notes, Torvald enjoyed “showing off” his wife at certain times (564). However, when he did not feel like talking, Nora could not convince him. Thus, the first time Torvald and Nora had “a serious conversation” was only when she informed him about her intention to leave (Ibsen 89). A similar tendency of boasting his wife could be traced in the culmination moment of the play when Nora performed the tarantella dance. At that point, Nora was the “entertainer” whereas Torvald was the “chief spectator” and “producer and director” (Christian 45). All of these instances demonstrate that Nora’s role in the marriage was subdued, and Torvald’s was the dominant one.


Ibsen’s A Doll’s House uncovers several essential topics, the problems of marriage being one of them. The main character, Nora, had no right to express herself, defend her opinion, or even have one. Meanwhile, her husband always made choices and controlled his spouse’s decisions. Because of such a striking imbalance of power, their marriage eventually dissolved, and Nora went on to lead her life the way she had never been given a chance to live.

Annotated Bibliography

Christian, Mary. “Performing Marriage: A Doll’s House and Its Reconstructions in Fin-de-Siècle London.” Theatre Survey, vol. 57, no. 1, 2016, pp. 43-62.

The article dwells upon the reinstructions of Ibsen’s play in the settings of the end-of-the-nineteenth-century London. The author argues that A Doll’s House had a destabilizing effect on England’s society due to blunt exposure of conventional marriage difficulties. A special emphasis in Christian’s analysis of Ibsen’s work is given to the tarantella dance performed by Nora (45). The author remarks that each of the main characters plays a role within the role given to them by Ibsen. Nora, except being the wife, performs the part of an entertainer, whereas Torvald is the director of the show. The source is valuable for the present essay since it discusses the paper’s major theme.

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Langås, Unni. “What Did Nora Do? Thinking Gender with A Doll’s House.” Ibsen Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 2005, pp. 148-171.

Langås’s article concentrates on evaluating the problems of gender in Ibsen’s play. Since this aspect is closely associated with marriage, it is relevant to consult this scholarly paper. When analyzing A Doll’s House, Langås argues that it is focused on the issues of personal development and courage (148). It is evident that it took Nora courage to leave her husband after years of living as a family. The source may be useful when explicating the problems in the main characters’ marriage and the reasons that drove Nora to her final decision.

Westlund, Andrea C. “The Reunion of Marriage.” The Monist, vol. 91, no. 3/4, 2008, pp. 558-577.

The study by Westlund is focused on the issues that Nora herself found problematic in her marriage. Particularly, the author discusses such aspects as the lack of communication between the souses and the lack of freedom in Nora’s life (Westlund 569). Furthermore, the scholar emphasizes that Torvald treated his wife well only at the moment when he wanted to boast her as one of his possessions (Westlund 564). The source is relevant to the essay in its major topics.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Dodo Press, 1923.

Moi, Toril. “First and Foremost a Human Being”: Idealism, Theatre, and Gender in A Doll’s House.” Modern Drama, vol. 49, no. 3, 2006, pp. 256-284.

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