The end of the XIX century was marked by the development of the feminist movement. This issue provoked an intense public interest and was the subject of controversy in many families. A Doll House is one of the most popular and criticized plays of Henrik Ibsen, written in 1879. It focused on the issue of the role of women in the family and their status in society. The content of the drama is centered around the analysis of feelings and thoughts arising as Nora’s secret is revealed.
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The main character –Nora realized that in pursuit of family happiness, she committed a crime and as a result lost her self-respect. She became a favorite toy in the hands of her husband. The house built on lies and deceit could not be a real home: like a doll house, it collapsed at the first challenge of fate. Many other social and interpersonal conflicts were depicted in this play. For instance: women’s sacrifice for the sake of love and the deceitfulness of appearance.
However, the position of women in society and the problem of women’s rights grew into a problem of social inequality. This paper will explore the character of Nora and seek for symbolism in the text, as well as explore women representation in the social and cultural context.
For centuries, women are expected to ensure comfort and peace in her household. Females are usually depicted as stereotypically in literature and art. Nora Helmer is a good example of a perfect wife: she truly loves her family, takes care of their children, and is always there to please her husband. But Nora’s desire to be independent of her husband is a distinguishing feature of her character. Working on different jobs, she enjoyed being able to earn money (Balaky and Sulaiman 41).
At first, she seems to be happy with her life. However, her worldview completely changed when instead of supporting and appreciating Nora for her attempt to save his life, Tovald fell into a rage and humiliated her. Nora came to understand that she would always remain a toy for her husband. The pain of realizing the essence of life and disappointment in Torvald awakened Nora’s irresistible desire to be herself and live her life to the fullest (Hossain 6).
She does not want to be treated like a doll that cannot think, and moreover, Nora does not want to be played with. Contrary to established norms of society, Nora dared to leave her family and sought the truth. Hence, Nora’s character challenged the traditional norms of the female’s role in society.
In a patriarchal society, a man decides everything for a woman: the father chooses a husband for his daughter, and then the husband controls his wife throughout her whole life. A woman does not represent a value by herself: she is worth nothing until married. Only from the moment of marriage does a woman gain at least some status in society. But it is still not enough – she should give birth to a son, only then she will be recognized as a legitimate member of society.
Moreover, a woman is expected to please her husband in every way and does not have a right to be independent. In A Doll House, the main heroine Nora sees the meaning of life in the love of her family. Her husband is depicted to be the superior member of their family: his reputation is important, he rarely bothers interacting with his children, and he can forbid or allow something to Nora. Even in the last act when Nora decides to leave, her husband said: “I won’t allow it! I forbid you!”, but from now on he had no control over her (Ibsen, Act III). Meanwhile, Nora is described as irrational, naive, and immature.
Her activities are limited to shopping and socializing with neighbors (Balaky and Sulaiman 39). Other female characters in the play are described likewise. When Nora seemed to be just a foolish, naive “squirrel,” Torvald admired her, loved graciously, and took care of her. However, as soon as Tovald found out that Nora was capable of making an independent decision to save his life, he becomes a despot. Later in the play, Torvald finally forgives Nora, but he again imposes his superiority and offers his protection. This act prompts Nora to get away from “patriarchal system and culture” and live her life independently (Hossain 7). Thus, a stereotypical image of a woman is represented as nothing more than a servant of a man who is even incapable of making a small decision by herself for the sake of love.
Language is a powerful tool for dominant and manipulative communication. Figurative language is masterfully used by Ibsen to emphasize the position of women in A Doll House. Many phrases and lexemes in the play illustrate the male dominance over “silly” females. Since the very beginning of the play, one can notice how Nora is attributed to someone inferior and unimportant, belonging to her husband Torvald as he calls her “my little squirrel,” “my little skylark,” “my little singing bird” and more (Ibsen).
According to Baseer et al., the word ‘little’ attributes to somebody “very tiny, diminutive, miniature and especially the one who can never be self-sufficient and always depends on others for existence” (Baseer 626). Other nouns used to reference Nora, such as squirrel, bird, skylark- indicate that she lacks personality; instead, she is seen as a charming creature that is supposed to amuse her owner (Baseer et al. 626). Furthermore, throughout the play, until her emancipation, Nora constantly tries to gratify the needs of her husband.
For instance, she often says “as you please, Torvald” (Act I) or “I will do everything to I can think of to please you, Torvald” (Act I) or “I will think of something that will please him very much” (Ibsen Act I). Phrases used in this play show how females are seen as objects of pleasure. They are highly mistreated and misappreciated.
The play sparked a public outcry because of the problem of women’s rights at that time prevailed. Nora Helmer’s determination to leave her family was a shock to society with its established standards regarding the role of women in the family and community. For the first time, the woman declared her dignity and desire to be a human, instead of a beautiful doll for a man. The woman does not accept the role of the domestic slave anymore.
She aspires to be on equal terms with a man to live a full life, to love, to bring up children, and feel like a human being. In this drama Henrik Ibsen protested against the established system of social norms, demanding the full emancipation of the women. Ibsen’s play was not just a call for the struggle for women’s independence and self-sufficiency; it defended human rights, protested against deceptive social regulations. This drama was a significant step toward creating a worldview that reflected not only people of its era but also the thoughts and feelings of subsequent generations.
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Balaky, Salah Hassan, and Nafser Abdul Sulaiman. “A Feminist Analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” Beytulhikme An International Journal of Philosophy, vol. 6, no.1, 2016, pp. 31-45.
Baseer, Abdul et al. “The Use of Symbolic Language in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: A Feminist Perspective.” Language in India, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 622-630.
Hossain, Amir. “Re-Interpreting A Doll’s House through Post-Modernist Feminist Projections.”The Indian Review of World Literature in English, vol. 11, no.1, 2015, pp. 1-14.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. The Project Gutenberg, 2008. ASCII E-book. Web.