Secession from Society
"A Doll's House" by Henrick Ibsen has a central theme of secession from society. It is
demonstrated by several of it's characters breaking away from the social standards of their time
and acting on their own terms. No one character demonstrates this better than Nora Helmer, the
main character in the play.
During the time in which the play took place, the Victorian Era, society frowned upon
women asserting themselves. Women were supposed to play a role in which they supported their
husbands, took care of their children, and made sure everything was perfect around the house.
Women were supposed to be subordinate and financially dependent of their husbands and never
question their authority. One example of this is earlier in the play when Nora says "Torvald, I
can't do anything without you to help me." <act I> Also work, politics and the decisions of the
household were left up to the males.
Nora's first secession from society was when she broke the law and decided to borrow
money and forge a signature to pay for Torvald's sick treatment. In doing this , she not only
broke the law but she stepped away from the role society had placed on her. Of being totally
dependent on her husband. "You have completely wrecked my happiness and my future" <act
III> That is what Torvald had to say about the whole situation. Nora proved herself not to be
that "poor helpless little creature" that Torvald implied. <act II>
Nora's second secession from society was shown by her decision to leave Torvald and her
children. Society demanded that she take a place under her husband. This is shown in the way
Torvald often spoke down to her saying things like : "worries that you couldn't possibly help me
with." <act I> , "Nora, Nora, just like a woman." <act I> Torvald almost considered Nora as
property of his by stating such things as "Mayn't I look at my dearest treasure? At all the beauty
that belongs to no one but me- that's all my very own?" <act III> Nora eventually realized that
she needed to seek her own individuality and when she decided it was time she basically smashed
the hierarchy that Torvald believed in. She was asserting herself as being his equal. She might
have successfully became his superior.
By walking out on her family, Nora takes that position equal to her husband and breaks
society's expectations. Nora also breaks society's expectations of not staying in a marriage, since
divorce was frowned upon during that era. Nora's decision was a secession from all expectations
put on a woman and a wife by society. Her secessions are very deliberate and though out. She
realizes what society expects from her and doesn't care. She continued to do what she felt was
right despite the restrictions placed on her. I feel that her secessions are used by Ibsen to show
faults of society. In the first secession Ibsen illustrates that despite Nora's doing the right thing
for her husband it is deemed wrong and not allowed in society because she is a woman. While the
forgery can be considered wrong, Ibsen is critical in the fact that Nora is forced to forge. Ibsen is
also critical of society's expectations of a marriage. He illustrates this by showing us how Nora is
forced to play a role rather than to be herself and the eventual deterioration of the marriage.
Throughout the play Nora is looked down upon and treated as a possession by her husband. She
is something there to please him and something for show. He is looked up at as the provider and
the decision maker. Society would have called this the perfect marriage. Ibsen definitely showed
us how the marriage lacked love and understanding, and gave us a good example when Torvald
got very angry with Nora for basically saving his life.
"A Doll's House" central theme of secession from society was made to be critical of
society's view on women and marriage. Ibsen used Nora's secessions as an example to show that
society's expectations of a woman's role in society and in her marriage were incorrect. I feel that
her decision to leave being the end of Ibsen's play was his exclamation point on his critical view