Readings in the Humanities
Professor Tovey Van Aulen
March 23, 2010
Societal Influences in 19th Century Europe
During the Victorian Era, living in the middle class, many people were strongly influenced by society, especially in Europe. People felt that they needed to look perfect in the public eye and everything they did had to be something that society would approve of, otherwise it was out of the question. Henrik Ibsen uses the main characters of Nora and Torvald, in his play, “A Doll’s House” just as Leo Tolstoy uses the main characters of Ivan and Praskovya, in his novel, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, to convey what it was like to live in a middle-class society in nineteenth century Europe. By showing that society is what drives these characters to make their decisions, that these characters have values purely based on society’s values, and that society shapes their identities by telling them where they fit in the world based on their gender.
Society specifically drives Nora, Torvald, Ivan and Praskovya to make all of their decisions. Nora stays at home and doesn’t work, while Torvald holds a respectable job at the bank because that is what society has shown them is right. Nora even acts a child toward Torvald and they never have a serious conversation throughout their whole marriage. Nora does not know any better and society has shown her that she does not have to be anything but a “doll” for her husband. Although Torvald is an intelligent and successful man, Nora feels that it is good to act this way because it gives him a feeling of power. Torvald feels the same way and encourages her behavior by calling her pet names all the time. In the beginning scene of the play Torvald gives Nora money almost as a parent would give to their child, he calls her over by saying, “Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? Nora, what do you think I have got here?” (Ibsen 7). Ivan and...