Parallels between Henrik Ibsen’s
A Doll’s House and Ghosts
Henrik Ibsen wrote a variety of controversial literature with many recurring themes appearing throughout each of them. Through his trite yet thought-provoking writing style, Ibsen presents many issues which are still discussed today. One of these controversial themes consistently appears in both A Doll’s House and Ghosts. Ibsen shows the sins of parents being passed on to their children.
Primarily, in A Doll’s House, Ibsen shows the sins of parents being passed on to their children in three different ways: through Dr. Rank’s hereditary health issues, through Nora’s behavior apparently inherited from her father, and through her children’s behavior similarly inherited from her. To start with, the sin of Dr. Rank’s father was passed on to him in a physical way. He “suffers from a very dangerous disease. He has consumption of the spine” (A Doll’s House 31). From birth, Dr. Rank had to live with a venereal disease. This disease was inherited from “his father,” who “was a horrible man who committed all sorts of excesses” (A Doll’s House 31). His entire life, Dr. Rank had to live “with death stalking behind” him. One can infer that Dr. Rank held feelings of hostility toward his father, exclaiming at the unjustness of the terms of his inevitable death. “To have to pay this penalty for another man’s sin! Is there any justice in that? And in every single family, in one way or another, some such inexorable retribution is being exacted” (A Doll’s House 37). This quote shows Dr. Rank’s frustration at the situation. In speculation, Ibsen may have inserted this theme with the personal belief that some sin committed by parents greatly affects their children, even to the point of causing their death. The reasoning behind this theoretical belief is a mystery; one can only guess its origins. Maybe Ibsen had had an experience involving some type of hereditary disease, affecting his life or the life of a loved one, caused by the sin of a parent. Or, maybe he just mused at the idea of an unavoidable death, caused by the people who are supposed to love us the most: our parents.
Not only does Ibsen show the effects of one’s parents’ sin on one’s health, but he also shows how it may affect one’s behavior. This is accomplished through the sin of Nora’s father apparently passing on to her. According to Torvald, Nora’s father was not the best of men. Only six pages into the play, Torvald is already remarking to Nora how she, “very like your father,” always finds “some new way of wheedling money out of me” (A Doll’s House 6). Nora’s father had committed an indiscretion and Torvald, for Nora’s sake, overlooked it. Her father’s mistake, however, does affect the way Torvald views Nora as a person. He says, “It is in the blood; for indeed it is true that you can inherit these things, Nora” (A Doll’s House 6). It is easily assumed that Ibsen intended on showing the absurdity of this theory through Torvald’s ignorance. A certain irony is achieved through the way Nora sees Torvald as similar to her father and the way Torvald, in turn, sees her father as a bad person. Thus, it is as if Torvald is pointing out his own flaws, blaming himself for the source of Nora’s “sin,” and inadvertently holding himself responsible for her actions when he is criticizing Nora’s father. Torvald’s true feelings about him are further revealed upon the discovery of Nora’s secret. Torvald says, What a horrible awakening! All these eight years—she who was my joy and pride—a hypocrite, a liar—worse, worse—a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!—For shame! For shame! I ought to have expected something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it. All your father’s want of principle—be silent!—all your father’s want of principle has come out in you. No religion, no morality, no sense of duty—How I am punished for having winked at what he did! (A Doll’s House 60) This quote shows where...
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