Analysis Of Women In 'a Dolls House'

1514 words - 7 pages

Women were valued very little by nineteenth century society. The treatment of these women was also extremely negative; they were stereotypical housewives, expected to stay home and fulfill domestic duties. Literature of this time embodies and mirrors social issues of women in society. Henrik Ibsen uses Nora Helmer in "A Doll's House" to portray the negative treatment of all women throughout society during the nineteenth century. In this play we see Nora begin as fragile, nieve creature and progress to an individual, independent woman.Written during the Victorian era, the controversial play featuring a female protagonist seeking individuality stirred up more controversy than any of his other works. In contrast to many dramas of Scandinavia in that time which depicted the role of women as the comforter, helper, and supporter of man, "A Doll's House" introduced woman as having her own purposes and goals. The heroine, Nora Helmer, progresses during the course of the play eventually to realize that she must discontinue the role of a doll and seek out her individuality. From the very first lines of the play, we notice the status quo between Torvald and Nora. Torvald is the stereotypically strong, dignified husband while Nora is "little skylark twittering" (Hurt and Wilke 1327). Torvald's continual reference to Nora using bird names parallels Nora's image of herself. For example, in the first act, Torvald continually refers to Nora as his "little featherbrain," his "little scatterbrain," his "squirrel sulking", and most importantly his "song bird." These images of weak birds characterize Nora as a weak person. The simple twittering, little birds we see every day are very susceptible to cold weather and to dying and so is Nora. The image of a "little featherbrain" and a "little scatterbrain" indicate stupidity. Nora can't think for herself because her thoughts are scattered and unorganized. Clement Scott describes the initial image of Nora as that of "a doll wife who revels in the thought of luxuries that can now be afforded, who is become with flirtation, and engages in childlike acts of disobedience "(TCLC 221). This inferior role from which Nora progressed is extremely important. Ibsen depicts the role of women as subordinate in order to emphasize the need to reform their role in society. Definite characteristics of the women's subordinate role in a relationship are emphasized through Nora's contradicting actions. Her infatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas gifts contradicts her resourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap clothing. Her defiance of Torvald by eating forbidden Macaroons contradicts the submission of her opinions, including the decision of which dance outfit to wear, to her husband. Lastly, Nora's flirtatious nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrences emphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play a dependent role: finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to these examples to highlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays compared to that of her husband. The two sides of Nora contrast each other greatly and accentuate the fact that she is lacking in independence of will. The mere fact that Nora's well-intentioned action is considered illegal reflects woman's subordinate position in society; but it is her actions that provide the insight to this position. It can be suggested that women have the power to choose which rules to follow at home, but not in the business world, thus again indicating her subordinateness.This leads me to my next position that Nora fulfills through her journey to independence. The character trait of naivety is expressed when she doesn't believe that she has done anything wrong. Nora does not at first realize that the rules outside the household apply to her. This is evident in Nora's meeting with Krogstad regarding her borrowed money. In her opinion it was no crime for a woman to do everything possible to save her husband's life. She also believes that her act will be overlooked because of her desperate situation. She fails to see that the law does not take into account the motivation behind her forgery. William Archer submits that this meeting with Krogstad was her first confrontation with the reality of a "lawful society" and she deals with it by attempting to distract herself with her Christmas decorations (231). Thus her first encounter with rules outside of her "doll's house" results in the realization of her naivety and inexperience with the real world due to her subordinate role in society. The character of Nora is not only important in describing to role of women, but also in emphasizing the impact of this role on a woman. Nora's child-like manner, evident through her minor acts of disobedience and lack of responsibility compiled with her lack of sophistication further emphasize the subordinate role of woman. By the end of the play this is evident as she eventually sees herself as an ignorant person, and unfit mother, and essentially her husband's wife. Edmond Gosse highlights the point that "Her insipidity, her dollishness, come from the incessant repression of her family life (220)." Nora has been spoon-fed everything she has needed in life. Never having to think has caused her to become dependent on others. This dependency has given way to subordinateness, one that has grown into a social standing. Not only a position in society, but a state of mind is created. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in a responsible position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she has none to give. She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her decision to borrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiority has created a class of ignorant women who cannot take action let alone accept the consequences of their actions."A Doll's House" is also a prediction of change from this subordinate roll. According to Ibsen in his play, women will eventually progress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw notes that when Nora's husband inadvertently deems her unfit in her role as a mother, she begins to realize that her actions consisting of playing with her children happily or dressing them nicely does not necessarily make her a suitable parent (226). She needs to be more to her children than an empty figurehead. From this point, when Torvald is making a speech about the effects of a deceitful mother, until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts the realities of the real world and realizes her subordinate position. Although she is progressively understanding this position, she still clings to the hope that her husband will come to her protection and defend her from the outside world once her crime is out in the open. After she reveals the "dastardly deed" to her husband, he becomes understandably agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her, the ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence and self-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to her doll's house. Their ideal home including their marriage and parenting has been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora's decision to leave this false life behind and discover for herself what is real is directly symbolic of woman's ultimate realization. Although she becomes aware of her supposed subordinateness, it is not because of this that she has the desire to take action. The one thing she is aware of is her ignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to "prove herself" but to discover and educate herself. She must strive to find her individuality. That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by the role of Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the domineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and protector of his family, Nora's husband is a mean and cowardly man. Worried about his reputation he cares little about his wife's feelings and fails to notice many of her needs. The popular impression of man is discarded in favor of a more realistic view, thus illustrating society's distorted views.Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact upon society's view of the subordinate position of women. By describing this role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman's realization of this believed inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the shadow of man, but a person in herself, with her own triumphs and tragedies. Her progression of understanding suggests woman's future ability to comprehend their plight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the play is representative of the awakening of society to the changing view of the role of woman. "A Doll's House" magnificently illustrates the need for and a prediction of this change.

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