Ghosts Essay, Research Paper
Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll House, from Four Major Plays: Volume 1, Penguin Books, New York, 1992
translated by Rolf Fjelde,
Ibsen?s Use of the ?Masquerade Ball? Theme in A Doll House
In A Doll House, Ibsen presents us with Torvald and Nora Helmer, a husband and wife who have lived together for eight years and still don?t know each other. This rift in their relationship, caused in part by Torvald?s and Nora?s societally-induced gender roles and also by the naivete of both parties to the fact that they don?t truly love one another, expands to a chasm by the end of the play, ultimately causing Nora to leave Helmer. Throughout most of the play, Ibsen continually has his characters prepare for a masquerade ball which takes place at their friends? house.
We are first introduced to the ball in Act Two. ?…[T]here?s going to be a costume party tomorrow evening at the Stenborgs?… Torvald wants me to go as a Neapolitan peasant girl and dance the tarantella that I learned in Capri,?1 Nora says in a conversation with her friend Mrs. Linde. Ibsen has embedded quite a bit in these few lines. First of all, the whole ?costume? theme is a metaphor for the ?costumes? and ?masks? that both Nora and Torvald wear in their everyday lives, making it ironic that Nora would need to dress up at all; she is already in costume. Aside from the problems in their marriage, Ibsen has also slyly revealed to us the infrastructure of the Helmer marriage; Nora does as Tovarld says. Nora is going as what Torvald wants and doing what Torvald wants her to do. This point is further reinforced in the next two lines. In response to Mrs. Linde?s question, ?…[A]re you giving a whole performance?? Nora replies, ?Torvald says yes, I should.?2 Again, Nora?s opinion never enters the picture. Her life revolves around Torvald?s demands.
In the same passage, Ibsen also plants a bit of irony. Seeing Nora?s tattered and worn dress, Mrs. Linde remarks, ?Oh we?ll fix that up in no time. It?s nothing more than the trimmings?they?re a bit loose here and there. Needle and thread? Good, now we have what we need.?3 Nothing could be further from the truth. Nora?s dress is a metaphor for the facade which Nora imposes upon herself every day, which is literally falling apart at the seams. Something as simple as a needle and thread cannot hold together that which is ready to burst apart. Ibsen reveals Torvald?s attitude towards the matter later, through Nora: ?…Torvald can?t stand all this snipping and stitch ing.?4 Read metaphorically, one can conclude that Torvald would rather not have to see, or worry about, things which are going wrong with his marriage.
In preparation for Nora?s dance at the party, we again see Ibsen showing us Torvald?s and Nora?s roles. ?I can?t get anywhere without your help.?5 ?Direct me. Teach me, the way you always have.?6 Nora?s lines reflect the ?costume? that Torvald expects her to wear (and which she wears obligingly), that of the meek, subservient, childlike wife.
After the masquerade ball, the costume is finally described as being Italian and is accompanied by a black shawl (easily associated with death due to the color). While Torvald is showing her off to Mrs. Linde, he finally admits, although he isn?t entirely aware of it at the time, that he sees Nora for who he wants her to be, and not for whom she truly is. ?A dream of loveliness, isn?t she??7 Ibsen?s use of the word ?dream? literally spells it out for the reader. Torvald doesn?t love Nora; he loves a fantasy woman whose only resemblance to Nora is in physical characteristics alone. This is again pointed out on the following page when Torvald refers to Nora as a ?beautiful vision.?8 Again, he is in love with a woman who doesn?t exist.
At last Ibsen has Torvald admit that he truly doesn’t know Nora. ?And then when we leave and I place the shawl over those fine young rounded shoulders?over that wonderful curved neck?then I pretend that you?re my young bride, that we?re just coming home from the wedding, that for the first time I?m alone with you…?9 Not only does Ibsen again use the notion that Torvald 46;s view of Nora is based in fantasy (Tovarld ?pretends?), but he also shows that there has been a lack of growth in the relationship; Torvald admires her for who he thought she was on the night of their wedding and is unable to have romantic thoughts about the woman whom he has lived with for eight years! To him, she is the same person, and here Ibsen truly shows the reader that Torvald does not, in any way, know his wife.
Ibsen brings a close to the ?costume metaphor? at the climax of the play, after Torvald has exploded at Nora. She retreats to her room and later comes out, having changed her dress. Not only has she changed her dress in the literal sense, in that she is now wearing different clothing, but on a metaphorical level, she has removed the ?costume? which she has been dressed in as a result of implicit societal pressure and her own unawareness of the situation.
The use of costumes and the masquerade ball work well in this play to ill ustrate points about the Helmer household, as well as society?s view towards women in Ibsen?s time. With his effective use of the masquerade ball and the circumstances surrounding it, Ibsen creates not only Nora and Torvald; he creates the destruction of their marriage, as well.
1 Ibsen, pg. 74
2 Ibid, pg. 74
3 Ibid. pg. 74
4 Ibid, pg. 76
5 Ibid. pg. 91
6 Ibid. pg. 91
7 Ibid. pg. 98
8 Ibid. pg. 99
9 Ibid. pg. 101