A Doll House: a Feminist Approach to the Play by Henrik Ibsen

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A Doll House
A feminist approach to the play by Henrik Ibsen

The Feminist movement is an ongoing reaction against the male definition of woman. In most western civilizations men have dominated politics, society and the economy of their worlds. They have suppressed the voices of the women so that they could mold it the way they wanted it. Thus they defined what was feminine as insubstantial, subservient and devoid of will. Femininity was further emotion driven, illogical, naive and ought not be taught to be anything else. Feminism has been changing the world for more than a century and the new viewpoints it has brought give a new insight into literature. Feminist critics siphon the male perspective from a piece and look carefully at what the feminine aspects of the work are saying to the world. It is a way of showing the interweaving male and female influences in writing to make it function. In the play "A Doll House" this oppressive male presence manifests itself in the form of Torbald Helmer. He treats his wife as a child to be treated as a lesser being than he. He humbles and upbraids her every time he addresses her, trying to correct her into submitting entirely to him. Nora welcomes this attitude and in fact, uses it against her husband on more than one occasion. She tries to delay his reading of the note in the mailbox thus: Nora- "I can't get anywhere without your help. I've forgotten the whole thing completely." Helmer- "Ah, we'll soon take care of that."

Nora- "Yes, take care of me, Torbald, please! Promise me that? Oh, I'm so nervous. That big party- you must give up everything this evening for me. No business, don't even touch your pen. Yes dear Torbald, promise?

She plays his game to get him to play hers, but like the plight of the feminists, it did not work the way she had expected. The mindset that she had been given had lead her to believe that Torbald would take care of everything. He was the only thing she had been given to believe in and he did not satisfy her need for the miracle she had so desperately believed in when the moment came. Torbald tries to love his wife in the best way he understands how. He has many little pet names for her, but they are really literally that. He speaks to her as though she is a naturally disobedient dog that he must train. He wants her to be a ‘lark' or ‘songbird' so he can enjoy her music, or a ‘squirrel' who will skitter about to please him. He doesn't seem to want a being that thinks and acts for herself. She must, without his guidance, become a ‘spendthrift' or a ‘Sweet tooth,' which she ought not to be because he has forbidden such behavior in his wife. When she disobeys him he calls her ‘goose' or ‘little bundle of stubbornness' to get his point across to her without offence. He wants her to be his frightened dove, easily malleable to his will and in need of his guidance and protection. Nora's character is comparable to the evolution of feminism itself. She subjected herself to the influence of her husband for a long time before she got the idea that maybe she could do something on her own. She decides that she can try to branch out from him and become important to him. As would have been an obstacle to her in looking for a loan, feminists needed to work through systems approved by men. Both found ways around the system, and for a while were proud of their endeavors. When their beautiful fruits began to rot before them both, the feminists and Nora reached out for the safety net of the masculine and found that it would not hold them. They could not have a place in a society thus structured by the masculine and had to break away. Nora left her husband and all of his control over her life to find her own place in the world, and in France the feminists broke away from even the masculine language structure. Only in this complete break were Nora and the Feminists able to become something real and stand on their own mixed among the works of men in the world....
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