When Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House, the institution of marriage was sacrosanct; women did not leave their husbands, and marital roles were sharply defined. The play, which questions these traditional attitudes, was highly controversial and elicited sharp criticism. The character of Nora Helmer, a favorite with actresses seeking a role of strength and complexity, has dominated the play from its inception. She is the one who gains audience empathy, who grows through the course of the play. Some early critics viewed Nora as a prime example of the “new woman,” a breed seeking independence and self-definition, and the play as a polemic advocating women’s rights. Some insisted that although a woman might leave her husband, she would never leave her children. Later critics faulted Nora’s sudden conversion from a sheltered child stroking her husband’s ego to a mature woman seeking independence. Yet, others maintained that Ibsen skillfully foreshadows Nora’s departure in her behavior throughout the play in her gaiety, generosity, and unselfishness. Further, Ibsen himself declared that he was not writing solely about women but instead about issues of his society and about the need for individuals, both men and women, to be true to themselves.
Thus A Doll’s House can be viewed thematically not only as a picture of an innocent nineteenth century woman struggling to achieve self-definition but also as a devastating indictment of a routine marriage between two ordinary people who lack awareness of themselves and who have differing views of right and wrong. Torvald unquestioningly accepts society’s dicta of the husband as the breadwinner and moral authority, but Nora’s attempt to conform as the submissive wife forces her into lies and deception. Both care about what people think; neither consciously considers opposing society’s mores.
The need for communication contributes to the thematic pattern of the play. Nora and Torvald communicate only on the most superficial level; he speaks from the conventions of society but neither sees nor hears her, while she can only play out the role that he has constructed for her. This inability or unwillingness to express themselves verbally leads to unhappiness and pain.
The theme is echoed in the subplot of Kristine and Krogstad, both of whom have struggled with the cruelties of society. Kristine endured a loveless marriage in order to support her elderly mother and young brothers; Krogstad was forced into crime in order to care for his ill wife and children. Although within the plot their union seems somewhat contrived, Ibsen characterizes them as aware of themselves and honest with each other.
One of Ibsen’s masterful touches is the use of concealment as a motif; it permeates the play in several manifestations and reinforces the major theme of the need for openness in marriage. Nora’s first word, “hide,” initiates the motif. Thereafter, she hides the Christmas presents, lies about eating macaroons, continues to deceive Torvald into believing that she is a spendthrift and flighty female, and invents distractions to prevent him from opening the mailbox. Torvald too participates in concealment. Fearing exposure in the third act, he starts and orders “Hide, Nora! Say you’re sick” when the doorbell rings.
The primary agent of empowerment in A Doll’s House is money. Private and public rewards result from its presence. It enabled Nora and Torvald to travel to Italy for his health. Money from Torvald’s new salary at the bank will provide prestige for the Helmers and allow Nora, in particular, to breathe more easily. Yet, all the major figures—Torvald, Nora, Kristine, and Krogstad—have been affected adversely by its absence: from the deception in the marriage of Torvald and Nora to the prior unhappy marriage of Kristine and the criminal acts of Krogstad.
In the complex pattern that Ibsen has created, lack of self-knowledge, inability to communicate, and unthinking conformity to convention affect the institution of marriage most adversely.
Role play seems to be the name of the game in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The main characters in the play pretend to be someone who others would like them to be, instead of being their true selves. The person that stands out the most as a character whose role play is almost impeccable to the point where it seems she leads two different lives is Nora. She is Torvald’s loving and childish wife, and unknowingly, even to herself, a strong, independent woman. As the play progresses, Nora’s persona shifts from that of the everyday playful, trophy wife seen by Torvald and friends, to that of a self-empowering, willing woman. This is a good, clear opening. As is, you are describing the story. You might close with a kind of thesis statement to indicate what you are going to do with theis information.
Nora’s first impression on the audience is of an obedient, money-loving, childish wife. In the first act, Nora seems to just want money from her husband Torvald. In the first encounter with Torvald after showing him what she just bought for their kids, she doesn’t delay [herself] in asking for money. Even when asked what she would like for Christmas, money is her answer. It is impressive how Torvald addresses Nora as she was just a little girl, or even a pet, “my little lark mustn’t droop her wings like that. What? Is my squirrel in the sulks?” (Ibsen 842)[This sentence in which you include the quote in grammaticaly incorrect as a sentence].. It seems as if he is talking to a [little] child. And he says that as he is giving her money, which makes their interaction seem almost of a grown grandparent giving money to his precious, favorite young granddaughter. All of which makes Nora seem more like a prized possession than an equal partner in marriage. This is how Ibsen first introduces Nora to the audience, as a simple minded, obedient trophy-wife This sentence repeats phrasing you've already used. . Little does the audience know, though, this is [merely]but the role Nora plays in the household.
As the play progresses, the audience comes to learn that due to a sickness Torvald had in the past, Nora, in order to pay for a trip needed to save Torvald’s life, was forced to take a loan from a rich man[a moneylender] known as Mr. Krogstad. There is a little subtlety, Nora not only got this loan behind Torvald’s back, but in the legal process of obtaining it, she was forced, due to the circumstances, to forge a signature so that she could get the money in time to save her husband’s life. It is impressive that Nora was able to get the loan as Nora’s friend, Mrs. Linden, remarks “a wife can’t borrow [money] without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen 848). This implies Nora is not completely a money loving fiend who just follows every instruction given by her husband, but she is a willing and determined individual who does what is needed for the best of her loved ones. Your explication of this aspect of Nora and our understanding is very clear--well presented.
The plot of the play becomes increasingly interesting when the audience finds out that now Krogstad is one of the employees of Torvald, and Torvald plans on firing Krogstad. Krogstad knowing now of theNora's forgery, blackmails Nora on the condition that if she doesn’t persuade Torvald to not fire him, Krogstad would tell Torvald and everyone else that she forged that signature; in which case it would have legal consequences for Nora. Yet most significant to Nora, knowing Torvald’s abhorrence towards dishonesty and debt is her fear of ruining her family’s image. This might be stated more precisely. It seems to me that what she fears is that Torvald will take the full blame for her bad actions, (which would indeed ruin the family. The revelation of this secret to the audience completely changes the perception of who Nora truly is, or at least leaves the audience in a state of momentary confusion without knowing how to label Nora. This secret shows the strength of her character to carry with a burden she shouldn’t have had to carry on her own. Not only is she paying back for a debt that shouldn’t be hers (why not?), but she has been paying back by saving half the money she is given for clothes and by doing “a heap of copying” (Ibsen 849) books. It is admirable what is now known of Nora. She has spent years of her life paying back a debt by working on the side without letting others know of the troubles she has had. Specially the fact that the money she got she didn’t use for clothes or drinks; the money was used to save her husband’s life. Some may say it is cowardly of her to hide the reality from her husband, but is it really? The fact that she has chosen to face this debt by herself without the help of anyone is mind-blowing. (You might look for less slang-y phrses to use in your essay. "is staggering to consider.") Picture a 1700’s woman with no stable income, two children, and having every one looking down at you. Instead of asking for help to pay it back and telling Torvald it was money used on him and for him, she takes the hard road by choosing to work what little she can by earning whatever she can. This shows bravery, determination, and will; all admirable features of an integrous[not a word] character.
Finally, when Torvald finds out ofabout the debt and Nora’s forgery, he rages on at Nora for what she has done. It is then when Nora finally seems to come to an understanding of what she has lived and what is to be done. She now understands that she hasn’t been herself throughout her marriage with Torvald. As she defends her position on her actions she states, “When I look back on it now… I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so” (Ibsen 885). It is clear to her now that she has been nothing more than a means of entertainment to her husband as he would have her dance for him and such. And Torvald, as much as he might have critiqued her in the end for her childish behavior, Nora points out that it is for performing those tricks he loved of her. I think here it would show an extension of your theme to point out the Torvald, too, shows that he is not what Nora expected him to be--instead of heroic self-sacrifice, he shows a petulant and cowardly desire for self-protection.
Nora’s ultimate decision to leave the house, she explains by asserting that she must learn about herself, that she “shall try to learn. I [Nora] must make up my mind which is right - society or I” (Ibsen 886). Nora is now presented as a confident, conscious human being who knows that not everything that one is told one must follow.watch awkward phrasing. "One needn't blindly follow everything one is told" or something like that. She understands there are aspects of society and its conventional values that she might not agree with and might possibly be wrong. Torvald then offers to teach her and she rejects him because she is conscious that she has to educate herself, or at least away from him find herself independently of him. She also points out that they never spoke of serious things, which could be the reason why she believes he isn’t right to teach her; along with the fact that he has been looking down on her since they’ve met.
In the end, Nora comes out as a strong willed, independent woman who knows what she wants. Nora is not only Ibsen’s vessel to show women’s strong character, but serves the purpose of showing women as equal human beings. The character of Nora also helps point out that there might some aspects of society which might be incorrect besides the perception of women as the less sharp sex; the law of those days for example. All of these are shown with Nora’s possession of a secret life. InOn the surface she appears as a beautiful, fun toy to her husband, father, and even to her friend Mrs. Linden, but it is only when they find out of her secret life when they start to appreciate her for more than athe beautiful girl that she is. That second life of hers allows Nora to show that she can work, that she can withstand enormous amounts of pressure, and that she is capable to do things when she is determined. It is this secret life that eventually leads to her being freed from that doll house, as she calls it, and ultimately allows her to leave without being afraid to study and learn about herself and society.
Ibsen, Henrik. "A Doll's House." Damrosch, David and David L Pike. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. William Archer. 2nd Edition. Vol. E. Pearson Education, 2009. 840-888.