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Literary Analysis of a Doll House

By rutamalsky May 24, 2013 2047 Words
Ruta Malsky
Mrs. Blankenship
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 person was, he or she would adhere to certain functions: men were to possess reason and action, whereas women were to possess submission and selflessness (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). A woman was expected to be all the more submissive when she married, because “[a]fter a woman married, her rights, her property, and even her identity almost ceased to exist…she was under the complete and total supervision of her husband…whatever view he presented was the unquestionable truth” (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). Long story short, as said by Alfred Lord Tennyson, a famous British Poet, “man [was] to command and woman [was] to obey; all else [was] confusion” (“Women in the Middle”). However, in A Doll House, Nora did not obey her husband. One example is when she eats macaroons behind her husband’s back, when he explicitly forbids her from eating them due to fear that they will ruin her teeth. Another example is when Nora takes out a loan from Krogstad, even though she knew how Torvald felt about borrowing money, he “spat” upon the idea. By abandoning the principle of being a submissive wife, and by instead doing what she wanted to do, Nora rebels against the gender role society placed on her, causing her actions to embody the feminist concept of equal rights. The fourth way Ibsen displayed feminism was by having Nora work. Women who were from the middle class were “not to do outside work” (“Women in the Middle”). Their main occupation was to take care of their home, unless they had maids to do so, but they also did things like aid their husbands in their businesses, “be… dabblers in education [,] and … pursue cultural endeavors of drawing, painting, singing or playing the piano” (“Women in the Middle”). It is without a doubt that Nora is a middle class woman, she wears nice dresses and she has two maids: Anne-Marie, who takes care of the children, and Helene, who takes care of the household; however, there are two instances where Nora proves she has worked. When talking with Kristine, Nora reveals that she worked at odd jobs like needlework, crocheting, and embroidery. Later on in the conversation, Nora reveals that the past Christmas she had a copying job that caused her to lock herself in and write from evening till night, of which she lied to her husband and children telling them she was working on the decorations for the Christmas tree. By working, although she was not supposed to, Nora displayed feminism by not only going against the social norms, but by displaying what many feminists fought for: “entry into the professions” (Kashdan). The last way Ibsen displays feminism is through Nora’s flirtation with a close family friend, Dr. Rank. The nineteenth century society was dominated by men; so many things went in their favor, including adultery (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). For example, if in martial relationship a wife committed adultery, a man had the right to divorce her; whereas, if a husband committed adultery, he could only be divorced “if his adultery had been compounded by another matrimonial offense, such as cruelty or desertion” (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). Since men dominated society, and were thus supreme, they “were free to treat women any way they wanted without any shame”; opposed to women, who were to uphold purity so much so that sex with their husbands was solely for the purpose of creating children (“Women as ‘the Sex’”). Although Nora did not commit adultery, she clearly had an intimate relationship with Dr. Rank and was continuously flirting with him. One example in which Nora flirts with Dr. Rank is when she shows him her stockings and gets him to imagine how lovely she will look in them. Then later on, after she shows him her stockings, Dr. Rank tells Nora that he loves her, and to his surprise, Nora politely rejects him. This stuns Dr. Rank because Nora’s enjoyment of him threw him off to the point where he thought that she would rather be with him than with Torvald, her own husband; this further attests to just how intimate their relationship must have been in that Dr. Rank thought that his best friend’s wife would leave him, for him. By flirting with Dr. Rank, Nora pushes along the lines of a pure and innocent woman. She is showing that like men, women can do as they please as well, which is exactly what feminism was about: women having equal rights as men. Feminist Elements’ Impact

Upon its original audience, A Doll House had a negative impact. The play caused many people to think that Ibsen was a feminist activist, and this disgusted them. Feminism in the nineteenth century was not a very popular thing; many people, especially men, “deplored the…emancipation and self-development that brought women out of their domestic sphere and into the larger world” (Kashdan). Like Ibsen, many men and women saw motherhood as women’s proper role, and they held the same opinion to that of a woman’s marriage (Kashdan). Although Ibsen was not a feminist, his play shocked the audience of his time to the point where many actresses did not want to play the part of Nora because they did not want to associate with the unfeminine behavior she portrayed (Ørjasæter 36). Also, the feminism Ibsen’s play exhibited caused a majority of theaters that chose to perform A Doll House to change the play’s ending; this ultimately forced Ibsen to rewrite the play’s original ending in order to prevent anymore theatres from rewriting it on their own. Nevertheless, he called his rewriting of the play’s ending, as well as the other theatres, “a barbaric act of violence against his play” (Ørjasæter 36). On the other hand, A Doll House had a positive effect upon its modern audience. Instead being viewed by as a disgrace, the feminist elements from A Doll House serve as an inspiration to their modern audiences, especially to those made up of females. Nora and Kristine’s roles in Ibsen’s play represented the “…dawning women’s rights emancipation movement…” (Ørjasæter 21), an emancipation movement that is still being fought by women everywhere today. Although the play’s ending was sad, due to the breakup of a marriage and to the abandonment of children by their mother, Nora displayed the inspiring ‘new woman’, which sought independence and self-definition (Henry).The ‘new woman’ inspires the modern audience, because unlike the nineteenth century, feminism is in the limelight; now-a-days a woman can virtually do anything a man does and women are constantly challenging anyone that begs to differ. The inspirational effect of the play can further be attested in that now-a-days, instead of being avoided, Nora’s role in A Doll House is a favorite amongst actresses, especially those seeking a role of strength and complexity (Henry). Conclusion:

Although Ibsen’s A Doll House had a twofold response, it was this piece of literature that brought him from a respected playwright to an international sensation (Kashdan). Whether viewed as positive or negative, as a disgrace or an inspiration, A Doll House has made its mark in this world. To some, it insults the female nature; to others, it symbolizes women’s fight for independence; and yet to even more, it tells the nature of marriage, and what it should or should not be. However, no matter which way it is interpreted, A Doll House has served as Ibsen’s main purpose; it has described the nature of mankind (Ørjasæter 40).

Works Cited
Henrik, Ibsen. A Doll House. LIT. Ed. Laurie G. Krizner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston:Wadsworth, 2012. 562-593. Print. Henry, Joyce E. "A Doll’S House." Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series,Supplement (1997): 1-2. Literary Reference Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. Kashdan, Joanne G. "A Doll’S House." Masterplots, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-3. LiteraryReference Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. Krizner, Laurie G. and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. LIT. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. 562-593. Print. Ørjasæter, Kristin. "Mother, Wife And Role Model." Ibsen Studies 5.1 (2005): 19-47. LiteraryReference Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. “Women as ‘the Sex’ During the Victorian Era.” Pace.edu. n.p. n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. “Women in the Middle Class in the 19th Century.” Clark.edu. n.p. n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

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