A Doll House Essay, Research Paper
Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll House examines a woman’s struggle for independence in her marriage and social world. Through the use of character change, Ibsen conveys his theme that by breaking away from all social expectations, we can be true to ourselves. When Ibsen presents Nora Helmer, we see a “perfect” wife, who lives in a “perfect” house with a “perfect” husband and children. The Helmer children have a nanny that raises them. By having the nanny, Nora has the freedom to come and go as she pleases. Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband, will begin a new job as bank manager, so they will be rich, which will make her “perfect” life even better. Torvald even calls Nora pet names like “my sweet little lark” (Ibsen 1567) and “my squirrel” (Ibsen 1565). These names may seem to be harmless and cute little nicknames, but the names actually show how little he thinks of her. “Torvald uses derogatory diminutives to address Nora” (Kashdan 52). Torvald talks down to her. Nora is “regarded as property rather than a partner” (Drama for Students 112). He isn’t treating her like a real person. In Torvald eyes, she isn’t an equal. “Nora is viewed as an object, a toy, a child, but never an equal” (Drama for Students 109). Nora and Torvald seem to be in love with each other though. However, Torvald is very controlling of Nora. Torvald makes little rules for Nora to follow. During the time period when the play was written, a husband controlling his wife and making rules for her was not uncommon. One incident of control is when Nora comes home from Christmas shopping. Torvald knows how much Nora loves macaroons and suspects she has bought some to eat. He comments to Nora, “My sweet tooth really didn’t make a little detour through the confectioner…not even munched a macaroon or two” (Ibsen 1566). Torvald didn’t want Nora to have too many sweets because he didn’t want her teeth to rot. This is his way of letting Nora know he has his eye on her. “Some of these rules, such as no eating macaroons, are petty and demeaning” (Drama for Students 109). If Nora has macaroons every once in a while isn’t a big deal. Torvald is making a huge issue over something small and worthless. This is an example of how much control a man had over a woman. Nora wasn’t suppose to do anything without going through him. Torvald controlled Nora in everyway possible or so he thought he did. Torvald wants his wife perfect and he will except no less. Torvald also watches how much money she spends. Nora likes to spend money. She finds every excuse to get money out of Torvald. For example, she says “This year we really should let ourselves go a bit, it’s the first Christmas we haven’t had to economize” (Ibsen 1565). Torvald states “But you know we can’t go squandering” (Ibsen 1565). Torvald doesn’t like her spending so much. “Nora is enslaved by Torvald in economic terms” (Lutterbie 1639). Torvald only gives Nora want he wants her to spend. When Nora does want something and Torvald won’t give it to her, all she has to do is beg. “If she flirts and wheedles and begs, he rewards her with whatever she asks” (Drama for Students 109). Torvald likes for Nora to beg. It shows he is dominance over Nora. He knows that she is dependent on him and that she can’t survive without him. Nora also has to be perfect for her Torvald. “Nora, Nora” couldn’t act up or misbehave. Torvald gets very upset when she doesn’t act like he thinks she should. One incident is when she is practicing her tarantella dance. “Torvald is critical of Nora when she practices her dance because he wants to keep her passion under control and he is concerned with propriety” (Drama for Students 109). Nora begins dancing too fast and stops listening to Torvald instructions on how to dance. Torvald becomes mad when she doesn’t do like he says. As long as Nora does what Torvald says, everything is perfect. Nora may seem to be this perfect woman, but her life is actually filled with secrets and lies. Nora has several secrets she has been hiding from Torvald. One secret is the loan she forges her father’s signature on. She borrows the loan from Krogstad to save Torvald’s life. “She has committed forgery and she is proud of it, for she did it out of love for her husband, to save his life” (Ibsen “Notes” 1613). A woman borrowing money during this time period is unheard of. As Kristine tells Nora, “A wife can’t borrow without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen 1571). However, secretly Nora does have business sense so she can manage the money and that is how she borrows it. Torvald eventually gets well and Nora is left with paying the loan back. She finds ways to save money. As Nora herself states, “Torvald gives me money for new clothes and such, I never used more than half” (Ibsen 1572). Nora finds other ways to make money. She finds a job where she is lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do. Nora show that she is a responsible person “when she repays the loan at great personal sacrifice” (Drama for Students 112). Thanks to Nora’s deception, Torvald never learns of the job. Another secret Nora keeps from Torvald has to do with the macaroons. Nora comes in from Christmas shopping and she has with her a bag of macaroons. She secretly keeps them hidden in the piano. Whenever Torvald isn’t around she sneaks one. There is also a moment with Kristine and Dr. Rank in the room. She offers some macaroons to Kristine and Dr. Rank. Dr Rank makes a comment about how Torvald doesn’t like for her to eat them. Nora lies and says Kristine brought them too her. As Nora’s secret side is revealed, her life seems anything but perfect. As we look at the character change in Nora, we see two different sides to her. The beginning of the play reveals a woman totally dependent on her husband for everything,. It isn’t until the end of the play that she realizes she can be herself and she doesn’t have to depend on her husband. Nora realizes “that if she wants an identity as an adult that she must leave her husband’s home” (Drama for Students 112). By examining Nora, we see from Ibsen’s theme that if we ignore all the expectations the social world has for a person, our true selves can be revealed.
“A Doll’s House.” Drama for Students. 1985. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House. The Bedford Introduction to Literature.