A Dolls House-Victorian Morals Essay, Research Paper
Victorian Morals, Values, and Ideals
The Victorian Era describes things and events in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Victoria was just 18 years old when she became queen upon the death of her uncle William IV in 1837. Many people today believe that the Victorian Era is really connotations of prudish, old-fashioned, and very traditional. But, the Victorian Era is very paradoxical and very complex.
In religion, the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt. On a large scale, there were many questions into Christianity and the status of society. One of them, was Friedrich Nietzsche s (1844-1900). He saw a civilization so self-confident over its mastery of science, technology, politics, and economics that for it “God is dead,” and that “belief in the Christian God has become unworthy of belief.” Without a theological and religious education, he realized, virtues would become values, social conventions that could be debated and modified whenever convenience wanted. The moral system of European civilization is founded on Judaism and Christianity. He believed, once this foundation is removed, the structure would start to crumble. He predicted, “there will be wars such as there have never been on earth before.” Culture has, Nietzsche argues, hollowed itself out, and men, the last men , are left blinking in a world devoid of all meaning. This is what Nietzsche calls nihilism.
The Victorian time was a time of ideological and scientific agnosticism . The Oxford Movement, a High-Church, anti-liberal movement within the Church of England, in support of tractarianism ; Utilitarianism, which is the teaching that the worth or value of anything is determined solely by its utility; Karl Marx s (1818-1883) ideology, nicknamed Marxism, of dialectical materialism , communism and socialism; Darwinism, Charles Darwin s (1809-1882) entire theory of evolution; Sigmund Freud s (1856-1939) suggested workable cures for mental disorders. Freud s theories were at highly disputed.
Victorian virtues were centered on the home and the family. This is easily evident in a conversation at the top of page 65:
HELMER: It s shocking. This is how you would neglect your most sacred duties.
NORA: What do you consider my most sacred duties?
HELMER: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?
HELMER: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.
Respectability was something Victorians worried about, especially the working class. Mothers of large families kept her children clean and sent them to school. In a day and age without washing machines or refrigerators where food could be stored for more than a couple days, this wasn t easy. Women of the upper class were likely to be volunteer positions in charitable or social service enterprises.
The Victorian period saw the emerging idea of feminism. It emerged mostly through literature. Charlotte Bronte s (1816-1854) Jane Eyre was the first major feminist novel. The book doesn t directly hint of any equality of the sexes, but many literary critics say Jane merely wants recognition that both sexes are similar in heart and spirit .
A quote from Jane Eyre: Do you think I am an automaton? A machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong. I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart…I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are. I don t think anybody would disagree that that is a plea for simple human and gender equality.
In A Doll s House, Nora Helmer went out into the world with a demand that a woman too must have the freedom to develop as an adult, independent, responsible person. Henrik Ibsen portrays such realism in his play. The play shows an individual s opposition to society s oppressive authority. Nora herself says, on page 65, five lines from the bottom, I am going to see if I can make out who is right, the world, or I. Nora metamorphoses into a feminist by the end of the play. One might argue that Nora Helmer is synonymous with Jane Eyre.
Ibsen is very superficial and insecure of Nora finding the freedom and independence she s seeking and of the extreme social antagonism a divorced woman would receive in contemporary society. However, he is only dealing with her moral problems, not economic and practical ones of her surviving on her own.
Nora frees herself from traditional ways of thinking, just like Ibsen. Ibsen is one of the male pioneer s in feminism and new ideology. You might just put him up there with Charlotte Bronte, Fredrich Nietzsche, or Karl Marx. Nora has served as a symbol for women fighting everywhere for liberation and equality. Ibsen breaks the Victorian mold : a woman leaves her children and husband, completely breaking off the most important institution of the Victoria Era the family.
It is uncertain whether Ibsen feels pessimistic or optimistic of Victorian morals and values. Maybe Ibsen feels Nora s freedom and independence, symbolism of gender equality and feminism, will bring about gender equality in the Victorian or post-Victorian Era. Maybe he sees himself as a Nora Helmer, writing agnostic books in order to promote change.
On the other hand, maybe he feels that women have been pushed too far. Nora herself says it is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done in response to Helmer s exclamation that he [wouldn t] sacrifice his honor for the one he loves. (Bottom of Page 66, top of 67) Maybe Ibsen has a pessimistic view in that women will remain at the same social status and continue to be the keeper s of homes, the entertainer s of men, and the bearer s of children. Perhaps he believes that very few women have the courage and integrity that Nora does. Possibly, but less likely, Ibsen might have a nihilistic view that the social structure of families will collapse because women will do (somewhat) what Nora did. They will try and liberate themselves.
We have to remember that the Victorian moral revival could not have been manipulated by political and economic powers of the time. How could they originate it or control it? No one could have conceived where it would lead. Hell, even today we are still playing by Nietzsche’s rules. We talk about establishing values, not discovering virtues. At that time, it was just the same phenomenon. It is doubtful that it was artificial, but actually a movement for reform that manifested itself into various plays, books, and ideologies. People could conjure up some values, morals, and laws to serve their interests. Case in point, the non-rights of women. They may well succeed in conjuring up something, but maybe not exactly what they expect. Case in point, the feminism movement and people like Ibsen s work.