Gender in 'a Doll's House' & the Importance of Being Ernest'

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How Is Gender Represented In ‘A Doll's House' And ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest'?

A Doll's House and The Importance of Being Earnest were both written in the late nineteenth century at a period in time when gender roles in society were not only significant to the structure of society but were restrictive and oppressive to individuals. This was particularly true in the case of women who were seen as the upholders of morals in polite society and were expected to behave accordingly. A Doll's House and The Importance of Being Earnest challenge society and its inclination to categorise and expect certain behaviour of individuals based on their gender. In its historical context A Doll's House was a radical play which forced its audience to question the gender roles which are constructed by society and make them think about how their own lives are a performance for Victorian society. A Doll's House illustrates two types of women. Christine is without a husband and independent at the start of the play whereas Nora is married to Torvald and dependent on him and his position at the bank. Both begin at different ends of the spectrum. In the course of the play their paths cross and by the end of the play each woman is where the other started. It appears that a woman has two choices in society; to be married and dependent on a man or unmarried and struggle in the world because she does not have a man. Women are expected to fulfil the role of ‘angel of the house' which expects a woman to perform a submissive role by standing by her husband and staying faithful whatever he does, Nora survives in her relationship with Torvald by deliberately taking a submissive role. Yet there is a double standard regarding the expectations of men. Men are the dominant figures in any male-female relationship particularly marriage expecting their wife to obey their decisions and their will. By conforming to these roles both man and woman can be sure of securing a respected position in society. Nora engages in a mutually dependent game with Torvald in that she gains power in the relationship by being perceived as weak, yet paradoxically she has no real power or independence because she is a slave to the social construction of her gender. Her epiphany at the end at the play realises her and her marriage as a product of society, Nora comes to understand that she has been living with a construction and refuses to comply any further; ‘you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom' (67). She realises that she has been living with a stranger, since the whole marriage is a charade to fulfil the expectations of Victorian society. Nora's refusal to stay in the marriage, however, does not give us a sense of a liberated woman. By the end of the play we are concerned for Nora as she leaves the warmth of the family home for the cold outside as a single woman since we have seen Christine so desperate to get into the ‘warmth'. This ‘warmth' can be defined as being a person being accepted for fulfilling the gender roles which society constructs for both men and women. Women appear to be reliant on the existence of a husband in their life in order to have a respected status within society and therefore feel fulfilled. Christine feels unfulfilled without anybody in her life: ‘I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for anymore' (9). Christine is an independent woman but we can see that she is unhappy at the fact that she has not met the social stereotype for her gender. She functions to show how difficult it is for a woman to survive on her own. Christine realises she will be far more comfortable and regarded better by society with a husband and we believe that she feels that any husband will satisfy the expectations of her gender better than being single. This explains why she settles for a dubious moral character. Faced with only two possible decisions Christine settles for the lesser of two...
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