In the texts, A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Nora Helmer and Tita (Josefita) are subject to the paradox of confinement and freedom. Tita is restricted to the ranch and kitchen, and Nora to the house. Concurrently, in the seclusion of the kitchen, Tita is liberated from Mama Elena's control, has freedom of self-expression through cooking, and can openly express her feelings. Josefita is a skilled cook with mystical abilities, and also has some freedom and control in the household. Both characters are victims of role-play. Tita has the role of housewife and Nora is a mother, wife, and dependent. Nora finds freedom in her debt, which gives her a sense of authority and control. The importance of role-play to Torvald (Helmer) challenges the strength of his marriage to Nora. Torvald's façade of a relationship with Nora disguises the lack of depth of his love for her and Nora's recognition of this liberates her. She leaves him and discovers that it is the kind of freedom that she really wants. A Doll's House narrates how role-play and the competition for control co-exist. Consequently, one cannot be discussed without the other. This is also true of Like Water for Chocolate.
In A Doll's House, Ibsen uses debt as a symbol to expose the superficiality of Nora and Torvald's marriage. Ibsen uses Nora's secret debt as a tool for making social comment. It is significant for Nora's realisation of the shallowness of their marriage and it also gives her a sense of pride and control in her daily life. Ultimately, the debt gives her freedom for self-discovery but simultaneously restrains her because she must deprive herself and lie to Helmer in order to repay it. When Helmer discovers Nora's secret debt and forgery, he is so caught up in her crime and his appearances' that he overlooks her ignorance and good intentions. When confronted with the fact that Torvald will discover her secret debt, she believes that if he is the man she thinks he is, his finding will only strengthen their relationship.
Act Three reveals that Helmer clearly does not intend to sacrifice himself for her and accuses her of having
no religion, no morality, no sense of duty
' (Ibsen p221). Then the façade is unmistakable and 'at that moment
[she] realised that for eight years [she] had been living here with a strange man
' (Ibsen p230). Consequently, Nora realises that, before she can become a wife, she must first discover herself by living outside the confines of her doll's house'. She leaves and is determined to become a fuller, more independent person and believes that [she] must stand alone' (Ibsen, p81) in order to do this.
Metaphorically, Nora is a doll in a doll's house, a victim of confinement and patriarchal role-play. Nora merely fulfils Torvald's and society's expectations, neglecting her own feelings and aspirations, therefore, jeopardising her own integrity. By Act Three, Nora realises the falsity of her role and she cannot accept society's laws that she considers wrong. For Nora, forgery would not have been necessary had there not been the barrier of social etiquette. Society dictates that Torvald be the marriage's dominant partner. Nora and Torvald have a father-daughter type of relationship rather than husband and wife. Helmer controls all the money and patronises her. For example; Torvald says
There, here! My little singing bird mustn't go drooping her wings, eh? Has it got the sulks, that little squirrel of mine? [Takes out his wallet] Nora, what do you thing I've got here?' [Quickly turning around] Nora; Money!' (Ibsen,p3)
I suggest that this is why Torvald's rejection of Nora was so heartless, for it undermined his authority as dictated by society. A Doll's House was not intended to represent everyday reality, but to shock the audience into realisation of their own situation. This play is directed towards the nineteenth century Norwegian...
Bibliography: Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll 's House, 1998, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom
Esquivel, Laura, Like Water for Chocolate, 1993, Doubleday, United Kingdom
Enchiladas or Tacos? Families, Frontiers & Food in Like Water for Chocolate, University of South Australia Library, Magill, 2001 (class handout)
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