The Subordinate Woman
2 April 2010
A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen
The Subordinate Woman
In the wake of realism, Ibsen came upon us with an outspoken controversial play that encompassed many realities of the conservative Victorian era. Presenting a genuine image of the societal issues at the time, A Doll House gives us an insight to the world of women in the nineteenth century; it tells us about their struggles and realizations. Nora Helmer’s decision to leave her husband and children to educate and explore herself reflects Ibsen’s hope for a reform in women's role in the society. This necessitates a change in the masculine point of view towards women. Nora’s characteristics pertain to the stereotypical image of the subordinate woman. However, Nora's contradictory actions -such as her spendthrift nature and her attempt to buy the 'cheapest outfits', and her ineffectuality yet her ability to save her husband's life regardless of her methods- shed light on these characteristics and show that they are products of the patriarchal society's superiority and its expectations and misconceptions of women (Jacobus 660, 668).
We first meet Nora as she enters her house after a Christmas shopping spree. We are introduced to Torvald and Nora’s relationship; “is that my little lark twittering out there?” he calls on her, “Is that my squirrel rummaging around” (Jacobus 663). The first noticeable thing about the relationship is Nora’s inferiority to Torvald. As the interaction continues between Nora and Torvald, her childishness becomes evident. Nora wipes her mouth and puts the macaroons away so that Torvald would not know about them. Later on in the play, when Nora and Torvald finally have the first serious conversation in their marriage, Nora reveals how her father treated her; “he used to call me his doll-child” she declares. Obviously, Nora has been pampered her whole life, first by her father and now by Torvald, who treats her the same way, as his doll-wife. This doll-like lifestyle prevented Nora’s maturity and amplified her childishness instead. Therefore, her childishness is a result of the way she was brought up and later treated by her husband. As the audience is introduced to Nora's spoiled nature, it is not surprising to find out that she is a spendthrift. However, this view is challenged once we learn more about Nora's seemingly contradictory behavior. She is depicted as a wastrel from the beginning of the play. As Torvald just got a promotion and a raise, Nora urges him to give her more money for Christmas shopping, “Oh but Torvald, this year we should really let ourselves go a bit” she argues. She even suggests that he take a loan just so that she can let herself ‘go a bit’ (664). Nonetheless, this image is later contested once we find out that Nora found a way to get money to save her husband’s life, regardless of her unorthodox methods of getting the money. Not only did Nora find a way to get the money, but she was also able to make the payments on time by doing some copying to earn money. Furthermore, Nora is also seen as resourceful and money-smart when she mentions buying the ‘simplest cheapest outfits’ for herself (668). In addition, although Nora might have been shown as a squanderer, she is still trying to pay the debt and might have been nagging Torvald for more money to secretly save up for the loan’s payments. This contradiction in Nora’s actions illustrates society’s low expectation of women which reflects on their personalities. If Nora was given a chance from the beginning she could have excelled. She is only after luxury because this is what the society conditions her to be interested in. It is the life style that both her father and her husband provided her with and expected her to embrace. Thus, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that did not encourage her to change. The initial...