English Comp. II
1 April 2013
“A Doll House: A Living, Breathing Controversy Due to Its Feminism” In 1879, Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen wrote the play A Doll House, which became known as one of his most revered works. The position of women was a strong social issue that preceded, remained amidst, and continued after this literary masterpiece of his. In the nineteenth century, women were very restricted and were considered chattel by fathers and husbands; however, as the century progressed, women began to demand autonomy because they wanted freedom and equal rights. Although Ibsen was not a feminist, there are many elements in his play that represent this ongoing women’s emancipation movement. This essay will analyze how Ibsen displayed feminism throughout A Doll House, and in the end will conclude how these feminist elements impacted their original and modern audiences. Feminist Elements:
One way Ibsen displays feminism in A Doll House is through the outcomes of the relationships of two main couples: the Helmers (Torvald and Nora), and Krogstad and Kristine. Camilia Collett, a feminist activist and author who was a close friend of Ibsen’s, viewed marriage as “a union between two equal partners” (Ørjasæter 24), of which Torvald and Nora’s relationship was quite the opposite. In her relationship with Torvald, Nora was treated like a doll: she lived by doing tricks for him like dancing and playing the tambourine. Thus, when she realizes how poorly she has been treated by first her father and now her husband, Nora leaves Torvald. However, the relationship between Krogstad and Kristine was more along the lines of “a union between two equal partners” (Ørjasæter 24). Unlike Torvald and Nora, Krogstad and Kristine humbly accept the fact that they both need each other. For instance, when Krogstad tells Krisitne that he is a half-drowned man hanging onto a wreck without her, Kristine claims that she feels the same way. Then she goes on to say that they should unite because “two on one wreck are at least better off than each on his own” (Krizner and Mandell 585). And although the play does not end in their marriage, it can be assumed that Krogstad and Kristine live “happily ever after” because Krogstad claims he has had “a happy development in his life” (Krizner and Mandell 590) in the apologetic letter, which also contains Nora’s note, he writes to Torvald in scene three of the play. By the failure of Torvald and Nora’s relationship, and by the success of Krogstad and Kristine’s, Ibsen “seems to … [imply] that a true marriage should consist of two equal partners who treat themselves and each other with respect as equally worthy human beings instead of as dolls…” (Ørjasæter 33); thus, promoting Collett’s definition of marriage, and ultimately feminism by promoting its definition of marriage. The second way Ibsen demonstrates feminism in his play is by having Nora leave her children. Motherhood was seen as a sacred and honored position for women in the nineteenth century, it was “‘the crowning achievement of a women’s life’” (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). Although Collett, as well as other feminist activists, did not oppose the idea that motherhood was a pious task for women, Collett defended that fact that women had to fulfill certain duties before they could become responsible mothers (Ørjasæter 28). Collett argued that “a mother has to develop her self-respect and capacity for rational thinking in order to be a good mother to her children” (Ørjasæter 28). In the same manner as feminist activist Collett, Nora argues with Torvald that she has “other duties equally sacred” (Krizner and Mandell 592) to being a mother in the play’s last act; therefore, portraying the feminist definition of motherhood. The third way Ibsen’s A Doll House exhibits feminism is through Nora’s insolence of Torvald. During the nineteenth century men and women lived in separate spheres, meaning that depending on which sex a...