Act I Analysis: a Dolls House

Topics: A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen, Suicide Pages: 6 (2571 words) Published: June 2, 2001
Act I Analysis:
Act I, in the tradition of the well made play in which the first act serves as an exposition, the second an event, and the third an unraveling (though Ibsen diverges from the traditional third act by presenting not an unraveling, but a discussion), establishes the tensions that explode later in the play. Ibsen sets up the Act by first introducing us to the central issue: Nora and her relation to the exterior world (Nora entering with her packages). Nora serves as a symbol for women of the time; women who were thought to be content with the luxuries of modern society with no thought or care of the world in which they lived. Indeed, there is some truth in this (the extent of this is debatable). As the play reveals, Nora does delight in material wealth, having been labeled a spendthrift from an early age. She projects the attitude that money is the key to happiness. By presenting this theme of the relationship between women and their surroundings at the beginning, Ibsen indicates to the reader that this is the most basic and important idea at work in the play. However, it is also clear that Nora's simplistic approach to the world is not entirely her fault. Torvald's treatment of Nora as a small helpless child only contributes to Nora's isolation from reality. Just as Nora relates to the exterior world primarily through material objects, Torvald relates to Nora as an object to be possessed. The question becomes who is more detached from reality? Though Torvald's attitude pervades every word he speaks to Nora, his objectification of her is most evident in his use of animal imagery. He refers to her as his little "lark" and "squirrel"‹small harmless animals. Similarly, Torvald repeatedly calls Nora his "little one" or "little girl", maintaining the approach of a father rather than husband. Nora is fully dependent on Torvald, from money to diet (the macaroons); and, because she is so sheltered, her perception of the world is romanticized. Nora's skewed vision of the world is most evident in her interactions with Mrs. Linde. Whereas her old school friend is wizened and somber, Nora is impetuous. Her choice to tell Mrs. Linde about her secret seems to be more of a boast of a small child than a thoughtful adult; in fact, Nora only reveals her secret after being called a child by Mrs. Linde. Similarly, in her talk with Krogstad, Nora seems unable to accept that what she sees as acts of love could be seen as illegal and wrong. She refuses to believe that she is just as guilty as Krogstad. However, it is apparent that Nora is at least partly aware of the falseness of her life. When pressed as to whether she will ever tell Torvald about the loan, she replies that she would, but only in time. For now, she believes that it would upset the lies that have built her home: Torvald's "manly independence" and even the basis of their marriage. This suggests that Nora is at least vaguely aware that Torvald's position as the manly provider and lawgiver is just as fabricated as her role as the helpless child-wife and mother. Indeed, it is important to examine the language of the opening scene between Nora and Torvald and realize that Nora's words can be read as both sincere and insincere; the text suggests an ambiguity in Nora's awareness of her situation. However, though Nora is somewhat aware, she does not want to face the implications of this reality, believing that material wealth will render her "free from care", allowing her to play with her children, keep the house beautifully, and do everything the way that Torvald likes. The lie can be preserved. Moreover, it seems that it is her lie, her knowledge that she has done something for Torvald that keeps Nora happy. Mrs. Linde's complaint that she feels unspeakably empty without anyone to care for reinforces the importance of this role for women in general in the text. Consequently, Nora is content to continue to act as a child, romping with her children as if she is one of...
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