A Doll House is a three-act play that is set in Norway in the nineteenth century. It tells a story about a married couple living in a Norwegian town. At the beginning of the play, the marriage of the main characters is shown in a positive light, but it is gradually degrading, as the story is developing. The main character gets herself involved in a bank fraud, which leads to a series of lies and struggles. The development of her character through difficult experiences makes the heroine reconsider her attitude towards her previous lifestyle. Eventually, the main character becomes disillusioned with the relationship with her husband and the institute of marriage in general. It is leading her to leave her husband and the children and at the end of the play the couple divorce. The story of the main female character illustrates the positions of men and women in society. The purpose of this essay is to study how the author questions the patriarchic structure of the nineteenth century and ultimately raises a question of peoples’ need for personal self-determination and the existing societal boundaries that limit people.
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The way women were commonly viewed in the nineteenth century is shown at the very beginning of the play. In the first pages of the first act, the author describes a scene of an argument between Torvald and his wife Nora — the main characters of the play. Torvald becomes angry with Nora’s idea to take a loan, but later he forgives her, believing that being a woman she does not know what she is talking about (Ibsen 4). It shows that the husband does not take his wife seriously and does not think about her as capable of participating in important decisions. It’s underlined that he denies her this quality for the sole reason of her being a woman.
Moreover, as it can be understood from his words, that is the way the husband wants it to be, and he does not want to see his wife as an equal person. In his conversation with Nora Tarvald mentioned, “I would not wish you to be anything but just what you are, my sweet little skylark (Ibsen 4)”. These words reveal the general attitude towards women in society at that time.
Ibsen criticizes the male-dominated order that existed in nineteenth-century Europe, where women did not have reasonable opportunities for self-determination. Society expected them to be obedient to their husbands and to behave within strict limitations. Nora describes the way she feels about her position in the family in the third act of the play, “I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls”(Ibsen 4). To emphasize the lack of justification for the unequal role women played in nineteenth-century society, the author shows Nora as a strong, intelligent, and capable person. Even though she has been treated like a child her entire life, she shows that she can earn money for the family. In addition to that, Ibsen attacks the symbol of patriarchy —the father (Rosefeldt,84). In the course of the play, the male-dominated structure of nineteenth-century society is shown by the author as corrupt and unfair towards women.
The shift in Nora’s attitude towards her lifestyle is a key point of the play. She becomes aware of the fact that her husband does not love her when he puts his reputation before her, even though she took the money to save him. She accuses her husband of infantilizing her and points out the unfairness of the social structure and the laws that limit the rights of women. At this point, Nora realizes that she needs to educate herself and learn to be independent and leaves her husband behind (Ibsen, 98-121). The scene where Nora slams the door and goes away symbolizes the act of a person taking responsibility and refusing to obey the old rules.
The conflict between the society and an individual manifests itself in the words of the heroine, “I must make up my mind which is right—society or I” (Ibsen, 120). The character of Nora in the last act of the play is drastically different from the way the woman appears in the beginning, seeing a complete transformation from a child-like figure to a confident and self-sufficient personality.
By showing the evolution of Nora’s character from her husbands’ “sweet little skylark” to a strong independent person, Ibsen argues for equal rights for all people to choose their place in the world. He illustrates how prejudice in society leads to unfair rules that create limitations for individuals and hinder their development. It reveals multiple problems and injustices inherent to the patriarchal order of the nineteenth century and puts special emphasis on the human need for equal opportunities for self-determination. Ibsen was among the first authors to discuss these problems and to criticize the institute of marriage, which had been previously considered holy, which makes his work especially significant from a historical perspective.
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Ibsen, Henrik. A doll’s house. A&C Black, 2008.
Rosefeldt, Paul. “Ibsen’s a Doll’s House.” The Explicator 61.2 (2003): 84-85.