Henrik Ibsen wrote the play A Doll’s House. The play is about a woman (Nora Helmer) who discovers her true self after being enslaved by patriarchal standards. The author depicts a character who had to break free from a controlling marriage in order to achieve freedom. By concentrating on Torvald and Nora’s union, Ibsen combines many themes in the play when discussing masculinity and femininity in society. The play A Doll’s House explores the roles of men and women in Victorian society.
The typical roles of men and women in society are a major theme in A Doll’s House. A Doll’s House is a play that examines the conventional roles of men and women in the nineteenth-century society through the character on Torvald and Nora Helmer. Nora was a woman who idealized her father and husband, as a result, she became powerless and confined herself to being a wife and a mother just as the patriarchal society demanded from her (Mahaffey 54). Ibsen paints a miserable picture through Nora about the sacrificial role of women in the society. In the play, we never see the protagonist; Nora never leaves the room just to show how she was trapped in the traditions of being a wife and a mother. All we see is that she is given money by her husband Helmer to buy household stuff. The women in the play could not take control over anything; they all needed authorization from their “owners” who were their husbands and fathers. Ibsen shows the audience that the role of women in the society was sacrificial through the life of the protagonist Nora. Nonetheless, as the story ends, we see the protagonist finding her independence away from the repressive society.
Just like Nora, even the men in the play were trapped in the traditional gender roles as women because they were to be sole providers for the family and an example is Torvald Helmer. In fact, Torvald was burdened to provide for the entire household without fail because he was the man of the house. Tradition demanded that Torvald was to be the dominant partner in the marriage and this made Nora seem just like an object in the marriage (Jakovljevic 440). Apart from being trapped in the gender roles, Torvald had a very narrow definition of the roles of women in the society, and this partly leads to the end of his marriage. Torvald Helmer believed that a woman was to stay in the house as “doll” by being a good mother and wife. He sees women as helpless creatures that are to follow their husband’s orders and stay at home. This is evident when Torvald refers to Nora as “little person” little woman” little songbird,” “where us my little skylark” and little squirrel just to mention but a few (Ibsen 968). Anytime Torvald refers to his wife as little, and this means that he sees her as his child or rather as an inferior human being.
Apart from the theme of traditional roles of men and women, Ibsen incorporates the theme of appearance versus reality in the play. In the play, we see that most of the characters are obsessed with how they appear because they work so hard to keep or improve their appearances while they forget their ugly realism. Most of the characters in the story, for instance, Torvald, Nora, and Krogstad are ugly and grim in reality, but they do not want to accept the truth. Torvald’s marriage to Nora is collapsing after he rejected her for her past mistake, but he strives to keep the marriage appearance and hide the truth/the reality in his life that the marriage is based on lies. Moreover, in his appearance, he faults to be a devoted, loving, and generous husband to Nora but in reality, he is just a domineering and shallow man who is mainly concerned with saving his public reputation. Comparably, Nora and Krogstad know the mistakes they committed, but unfortunately, they are trying to pretend to be good people by hiding their deeds. Moreover, in the play, Dr. Rank is unwell, but he goes ahead to hide the truth by pretending to be healthy. Overall, the characters in the play are trapped in their lies, yet they obsessed with making a good appearance. Nonetheless, as the play progresses, their veils fall, and the truth about their ugly character is revealed.
Another theme is the play is the theme of self-realization. Nora was a woman who was confined by the societal rules with flaw-ridden masculinity. This is evident when she idealized his father and afterward her husband, Helmer. This is evident in her conversation with Torvald when she says “when I was home with Papa, he told me all his opinions about everything and so I had the same opinions…then I came to live with you” (Ibsen 976). This shows that she had no say in what the men had to do with her life because she was just transferred as a doll from her father’s house to her husband’s house. However, as time went by, Nora began to realize that she needed to be a free woman from her arrogant husband and the rules of the society of being just a mother and a wife. As a result, she left her children and her husband to become a free woman from the traditional confines of the society. Nora broke away from the domination of his arrogant and overbearing husband, and she had to pay the price of breaking from tradition. She loved her children and abandoning them was an act of self-sacrifice, but she had to find her dependence (Jakovljevic 436). In the play, marriage was just a trap for both parties, and despite there being a divorce, it came with a social stigma, and this is why we could see Torvald choosing to pretend to be in a happy marriage than to get a divorce. Nonetheless, Nora ignored the social stigma that came with divorce and decided to find her independence away from her domineering husband and the confines of the repressive society. This is evident when she says, “I have another duty equally sacred … My duty to myself” (Ibsen). She wanted to be free from the societal norms that required to be a wife and a mother as a woman and nothing else. Templeton notes that Nora represents women who go against the oppressive society and marriage to find their freedom (33).
The theme of materialism is also present in the play A Doll’s House. We see clearly that Torvald focuses mainly on material things and money other than his family and the people around him. To him, as a man, his manhood was reliant on his financial independence by providing for his family especially his wife Nora and the children. Since he was unsuccessful as a barrister, he goes ahead to take a job at the bank where Torvald mainly deals with money, and this makes him believe that he has gained financial independence.
A Doll’s House is a play that explores the roles of men and women during the Victorian period. It is a story about a woman (Nora Helmer) who fought for independence in a patriarchal society. Ibsen incorporates several themes in the play just to portray how the men and women lived in the Victorian society.
Ibsen, Henrik, and Worrall Non. A Doll’s House. A&C Black, 2008. Print.
Jacobs, Elizabeth. “Henrik Ibsen and the Doctrine of Self-realization.” The Journal of Englishand Germanic Philology38.3 (1939): 416-430. Print.
Mahaffey, Vicki. “Portal to Forgiveness: A Tribute to Ibsen’s Nora.” South Central Review 27.3(2010): 54-73. Print.
Templeton, Joan. “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen.” Publications ofthe Modern Language Association of America (1989): 28-40. Print.
Jakovljevic, Branislav. “Shattered Back Wall: Performative Utterance of A Doll’sHouse.” Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002): 431-448.