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Interpretation Of A Doll

’s House Essay, Research Paper Interpretation of A Doll’s House “A Doll’s House” is classified under the “second phase” of Henrik Ibsen’s career. It was during this period which he made the transition

’s House Essay, Research Paper

Interpretation of A Doll’s House

“A Doll’s House” is classified under the “second phase” of Henrik

Ibsen’s career. It was during this period which he made the transition

from mythical and historical dramas to plays dealing with social

problems. It was the first in a series investigating the tensions of

family life. Written during the Victorian era, the controversial play

featuring a female protagonist seeking individuality stirred up more

controversy than any of his other works. In contrast to many dramas of

Scandinavia in that time which depicted the role of women as the

comforter, helper, and supporter of man, “A Doll’s House” introduced

woman as having her own purposes and goals. The heroine, Nora Helmer,

progresses during the course of the play eventually to realize that

she must discontinue the role of a doll and seek out her

individuality.

David Thomas describes the initial image of Nora as that of a

doll wife who revels in the thought of luxuries that can now be

afforded, who is become with flirtation, and engages in childlike acts

of disobedience (259). This inferior role from which Nora progressed

is extremely important. Ibsen in his “A Doll’s House” depicts the role

of women as subordinate in order to emphasize the need to reform their

role in society.

Definite characteristics of the women’s subordinate role in a

relationship are emphasized through Nora’s contradicting actions. Her

infatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas gifts

contradicts her resourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap

clothing; her defiance of Torvald by eating forbidden Macaroons

contradicts the submission of her opinions, including the decision of

which dance outfit to wear, to her husband; and Nora’s flirtatious

nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrences

emphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play a dependent

role: finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to these

examples to highlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays

compared to that of her husband. The two sides of Nora contrast each

other greatly and accentuate the fact that she is lacking in

independence of will.

The mere fact that Nora’s well-intentioned action is considered

illegal reflects woman’s subordinate position in society; but it is

her actions that provide the insight to this position. It can be

suggested that women have the power to choose which rules to follow at

home, but not in the business world, thus again indicating her

subordinateness. Nora does not at first realize that the rules outside

the household apply to her. This is evident in Nora’s meeting with

Krogstad regarding her borrowed money. In her opinion it was no crime

for a woman to do everything possible to save her husband’s life. She

also believes that her act will be overlooked because of her desperate

situation. She fails to see that the law does not take into account

the motivation behind her forgery. Marianne Sturman submits that this

meeting with Krogstad was her first confrontation with the reality of

a “lawful society” and she deals with it by attempting to distract

herself with her Christmas decorations (16). Thus her first encounter

with rules outside of her “doll’s house” results in the realization of

her naivety and inexperience with the real world due to her

subordinate role in society.

The character of Nora is not only important in describing to role

of women, but also in emphasizing the impact of this role on a woman.

Nora’s child-like manner, evident through her minor acts of

disobedience and lack of responsibility compiled with her lack of

sophistication further emphasize the subordinate role of woman. By the

end of the play this is evident as she eventually sees herself as an

ignorant person, and unfit mother, and essentially her husband’s wife.

Edmond Gosse highlights the point that “Her insipidity, her

dollishness, come from the incessant repression of her family life

(721).” Nora has been spoonfed everything she has needed in life.

Never having to think has caused her to become dependent on others.

This dependency has given way to subordinateness, one that has grown

into a social standing. Not only a position in society, but a state of

mind is created. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in a

responsible position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she has

none to give. She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her

decision to borrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiority has

created a class of ignorant women who cannot take action let alone

accept the consequences of their actions.

“A Doll’s House” is also a prediction of change from this

subordinate roll. According to Ibsen in his play, women will

eventually progress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw notes

that when Nora’s husband inadvertently deems her unfit in her role

as a mother, she begins to realize that her actions consisting of

playing with her children happily or dressing them nicely does

not necessarily make her a suitable parent (226). She needs to be more

to her children than an empty figurehead. From this point, when

Torvald is making a speech about the effects of a deceitful mother,

until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts the realities of

the real world and realizes her subordinate position. Although she is

progressively understanding this position, she still clings to the

hope that her husband will come to her protection and defend her from

the outside world once her crime is out in the open. After she reveals

the “dastardly deed” to her husband, he becomes understandably

agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her, the

ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence

and self-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to

her doll’s house. Their ideal home including their marriage and

parenting has been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora’s

decision to leave this false life behind and discover for herself

what is real is directly symbolic of woman’s ultimate realization.

Although she becomes aware of her supposed subordinateness, it is not

because of this that she has the desire to take action. Nora is

utterly confused, as suggested by Harold Clurman, “She is groping

sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way of life and a destiny

of which she is most uncertain (256).” The one thing she is aware of

is her ignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to

“prove herself” but to discover and educate herself. She must strive

to find her individuality.

That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by

the role of Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the

domineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and

protector of his family, Nora’s husband is a mean and cowardly man.

Worried about his reputation he cares little about his wife’s feelings

and fails to notice many of her needs. The popular impression of man

is discarded in favor of a more realistic view, thus illustrating

society’s distorted views.

Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact upon

society’s view of the subordinate position of women. By describing

this role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in

contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman’s realization

of this believed inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the

shadow of man, but a person in herself, with her own triumphs and

tragedies. The exploration of Nora reveals that she is dependant upon

her husband and displays no independent standing. Her progression of

understanding suggests woman’s future ability to comprehend their

plight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the play is

representative of the awakening of society to the changing view of the

role of woman. “A Doll’s House” magnificently illustrates the need for

and a prediction of this change.

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