Middle Class Morality Essay, Research Paper
MIDDLE CLASS MORALITY
Values and morals of the Victorian era are quite different than those that our society upholds today. The satirical plays, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, and Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, examine the problems with certain beliefs held by the people, both men and women, of the Victorian age. Furthermore, the people in general didn’t not just hold certain morals, but the different classes in the Victorian society also held their own beliefs on moral code. Of which, the middle class beliefs are most closely examined in both plays. Men and women were expected by others in Victorian society to uphold certain moral behaviors. These expectations caused many problems for the individual that upheld them by limiting their behavior, and overshadowing how the person really thinks he or she should act or what he or she really believes.
Men in the Victorian era were anticipated by women and other men to do certain things that would ‘qualify’ them to be an accomplished masculine figure. The first ‘requirement’ is that the man must support and protect his woman. In A Doll’s House Torvald, Nora’s husband, most definitely feels his obligation to protect his wife, whether she likes it or not. “Do you know, Nora, I have often wished that you might be threatened by some great danger, so that I might risk my life’s blood, and everything, for your sake”(Ibsen 58). Torvald hopes that one day he will be able to show his manly and virtuous side by protecting his wife, most likely so he will be praised for it. Torvald also feels that his woman must be protected because she most definitely cannot fend for herself. “Aha! so my obstinate little woman is obliged to get someone to come to her rescue?” (Ibsen 27). This is the exact, narrow-minded view many Victorian men displayed. Also, in Pygmalion men have the obligation to protect women. This time the women are seen expecting the man to care for them, like in Freddy’s case. “You really are very helpless, Freddy. Go again; and don’t come back until you have found a cab”(Shaw 574). Because Freddy is a male, he is expected by his mother and sister to find a cab for them in the rain when there are none in sight. Even on the streets men will defend women who they don’t even know. “What business is it of yours? You mind your own affairs….Nice thing a girl cant shelter from the rain without being insulted,”(Shaw 576). Bystanders noticing the flower girl is upset by the note taker, they defend her, if she were a man they would have expected her to fend for herself. The second requirement that makes a man a man in Victorian times is his perfect family. “There they are!…Look at them, Christine! Aren’t they darlings?”(Ibsen 19). Nora is showing off her perfect little children to her friend Mrs. Linde. “Yes, take a good look at her. I think she is worth looking at. Isn’t she charming, Mrs. Linde?”(Ibsen 53). Torvald is now showing off his prize trophy, his wife, as if Mrs. Linde really cares. With a perfect wife and children Torvald can be seen as a true hard-working, good man.
Yet, many times these seemingly good values are flawed underneath. There are many problems with these values imposed on men in Victorian times. In the case of protecting his woman, we see Torvald’s true ‘colors’ in the end of the play after he discovers Nora’s criminal act. “All these eight years-she who was my joy and pride-a hypocrite, a liar-worse, worse-a criminal! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen”(Ibsen 59-60). Torvald himself is really the hypocrite, wasn’t he longing for something to protect his wife against? Now that the time is come he blames her for burdening him to have to make the situation right. Nora has real guts, guts more than her overbearing husband, in that she never has really needed his help, she, in fact, has helped him a great deal and has never asked to be glorified for it, as her husband does. And poor Freddy, he simply followed his mother’s orders unquestioning. When he returns with a cab to rescue his mother and sister they have found another way home! If he would have refused to retrieve a cab he would have been looked at as selfish by them, “And what about us? Are we to stay here all night in this draught, with next to nothing on? You selfish pig-”(Shaw 574). How ironic that the women turned out to be the selfish ones. As far as women and children as trophies go, they are worth nothing if they turn on you. Torvald treated his wife too much like a trophy. “…I set you free from all your obligations. You are not to feel yourself bound in the slightest way,”(Ibsen 67). Nora is leaving Torvald because of his over bearing, father-like attitude toward her. These values are usually two-sided; the man may expect it of himself to uphold his morals when the woman doesn’t expect him to, or the woman may expect the man to uphold the morals when he doesn’t expect himself to.
Women, too, have the burden of great expectations from men and other women during Victorian times. First, a woman is obligated to find a wealthy husband to support her because she isn’t supposed to work, she is supposed to polish herself and the other trophies like the home and children. Mrs. Linde’s first marriage is a perfect example of this belief. “And all this-only for the sake of money!”(Ibsen 50). Mrs. Linde was forced to marry a man who could support her and her family because she couldn’t on her own. This belief is also held by professor Higgins in Pygmalion. “I should imagine you wont have much difficulty in settling your-self somewhere or the other,…You might marry, you know”(Shaw 615). Liza is upset because she doesn’t know what she will do now that the experiment is over, Higgins suggest the logical Victorian answer of marrying a wealth man to support her. Second it was thought that a woman’s greatest satisfaction comes from the service to her family. Mrs. Linde definitely longs for this satisfaction. “,I am like a shipwrecked woman clinging to some wreckage-no one to mourn for, no one to care for”(Ibsen 50). She wishes that she had someone to be of service to. As for Nora she is obligated to serve and please her family, especially Torvald. “I will do every-thing I can think of to please you, Torvald!-I will sing for you, dance for you-”(Ibsen25). She makes a wonderful trophy for her husband.
Just like in men’s values, the women’s values have a shadier side also. Because Mrs. Linde was forced to marry for money she left her real true love, Krogstad. “-a heartless woman jilts a man when a more lucrative chance turns up?”(Ibsen 49). Krogstad’s love life was ruined by the thoughtless values of Victorian times. Liza, on the other hand, is aware of the problems with this seemingly simple value. “I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself”(Shaw 616). After Higgins presents the solution of marriage for security, Liza expresses that that is not her idea of a solution. Liza is kind of the heroine against the evils of Victorian values. Yet, Mrs. Linde shows the virtue of service to family as a wish, or blessing, she finds if you are not obligated to service, like Nora was by Torvald, you will enjoy caring for your husband and children. “Nils, give me someone and something to work for”(Ibsen 51). This is what she wishes to happen between her and Krogstad. But, in Nora’s case, her statements of service are only there to cover up her dark secret, and prevent Torvald from discovering it. Throughout the play Nora act as Torvald’s doll, and in the end she turns all her Victorian values upside down. It seemed as though her service to family was important, but she overlooked something more important, herself. In the end she does put herself first, she makes the decision to dance for Torvald no more and walk out on him. What makes the ending even more powerful is that she is walking out on the children too, in true opposition to Victorian morals.
In conclusion, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion revealed the flaws of Victorian society’s values, which most likely, did effect the people of the time indefinitely because its criticism was so true of their very own lives. The expectations of men and women during Victorian times has since changed, for the most part, in our modern society of the Twentieth century. Perhaps, definitely, this change in attitudes toward men and women’s role has come largely because of these very works of literature. If they had not been written perhaps our world would be a great deal different.