A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, is a famous play that is a classic, well-known work of feminist literature. Ibsen shows his feelings on women’s role in society and how they are treated by illustrating his concerns through his play and the evolution of the characters. Nora, the play’s protagonist, is an example of a modern woman in regards to her thought processes, choices and behavior. Ibsen also shows the controversy idea of gender roles, as displayed by Nora and other female characters in the play. He illustrates that the women are not under the category of the stereotypical homemaker and wife type. He then challenges society’s views of the common belief of women in a male dominated society that usually results in deviance. Ibsen also depicts the fate of married couples that base their relationship on the submissiveness of the wife and dominance of the husband. The feminist literary criticism uses the feminist lens that uses the principles and beliefs that analyze the work of literature. Many aspects of this lens are displayed throughout Ibsen’s work. The feminist movement and women’s roles in society have changed since the 1800s and there has been much advancement since the thought of an all male domineering world (Bernard, 25). Nora is a symbol as someone who later on realizes that she can be her own independent person.
In the beginning of the play Nora is a happy wife and mother with a nature similar to that of a child. The play opens up on Christmas Eve, where she arrives home excited to show her husband what she purchased for the children as presents. The nicknames he calls his wife are belittling and childlike. As he comes out of his study, he says:
HELMER: (in his room.) “Is that my lark twittering there? ”
NORA: (busy opening some of her parcels.) “Yes, it is!”
HELMER: “Is it my little squirrel bustling about?” (Ibsen, 828)
Torvald also continues to refer to her with names, such as “spendthrift” insinuating that she purchased an overwhelming amount of frivolous items. She then answers to him by pointing out that due to his new job at the bank, she can afford this lifestyle. She tried to convince him that they can use credit until he gets paid, however, Torvald replies by saying:
HELMER: “That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt. We two have bravely on the straight road so far, and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle.”
NORA: (moving towards the stove.) “As you please, Torvald.” (Ibsen, 828)
While Torvald observes his wife’s childlike behavior, he offers her money. In her childlike nature, she shows much joy and happiness in response to his gesture. This example shows that Torvald treats his wife like a child and not like his equivalent because she allows him to do so. She shows to be someone who will never complain to him or stand up to him. In her mind, her primary duties are to be the wife and mother of the household. This shows that Torvald holds the power in the relationship as the male figure.
Later in Act I, Kristine visits Nora, who greets Kristine with hesitation. Kristine seems to look much different from when Nora had last seen her old friend. Kristine revealed to Nora that her husband had passed away three years prior. Though they are old friends, Nora only inquires if her late husband had left her any money, to which he had not. Nora then continues to talk about herself and Torvald’s successes with the increase in money he will have due to his new job. Kristine expresses her interest in looking for a job to support herself, to which displeases Nora as she shows her disbelief. Nora is not used to the idea of a woman working, but states that she will assist her in getting her employment by talking to Torvald. This example in the first act shows the true character of Nora, as insensitive and self-centered. Though she may express interest in her old friend’s issues, she still talks about herself and her husband’s job. This is shown to be inappropriate, since Kristine’s husband is no longer alive. Blinded by money and a materialistic lifestyle, Nora never expresses concern or sympathy when learning that her friend’s husband had died. In her mind, this shows that her motive is money and her family’s wealthy status.
Before this play was written, the Seneca Falls Convention took place. This convention was the first national women’s rights convention and marked the beginning of an endless battle for women’s rights in the United States. The factors that influenced this movement were because women who “attended an anti-slavery meeting were rejected the opportunity to speak from the floor, and denied the opportunity to be delegates simply because they were women” (Bernard, 17). Rightfully so, these women felt that they were not given their fair opportunity to express their opinions and beliefs and decided that a convention for women should take place to honor their ideologies. This is similar to A Doll’s House because Nora was not able to express herself, due to her being woman. Though it was her choice not to rebuttal with her husband, she felt that she could not do so because of the stereotypical belief that the men are supposed to have the last say. Though she had her own ideas and opinions, her main role was to be the housewife and mother. This included pleasing her husband and being a homemaker. Nora was close-minded because she wasn’t given the opportunities to speak her mind and be her own person, so she became insensitive and self-centered.
In the play, macarons symbolize Nora’s willfulness to be disobedient and deceitful towards her husband. Torvald has shown to continue control his wife by banning eating macarons, since he believes they are bad for her teeth. Though she says she would never disobey her husband, she sneaks around and eats them when she is alone in the living room. With knowledge that she is not allowed to eat them, Dr. Rank questions her about it and she states that they were brought over by a friend. This is an example of Nora’s deception, leading the reader to believe that the household is full of secrets and lies, unlike the happy and loving couple that they try to be in front of others.
Another larger scale example of deception in the play is when Torvald finds out the truth about the loan that Nora obtained for money that saved his life. Nora opted to keep it a secret, as she did not want to hurt his pride. Though Nora has lied to her husband in numerous occasions, this must be the most deceitful. Torvald, wanting to not hurt his dignity, refused to borrow money for his illness. Nora then acquired money and led Torvald to believe that it was borrowed from her father. Before learning the truth about where it came from, Nora’s father had passed away. Nora never explained that she borrowed a loan to save his life, because she knew he would find it humiliating to owe money. Upon confiding in Kristine, Nora reveals that she has been using her allowance to pay back the loan, as well as working a few jobs on the side. She estimates the loan to be fully paid off by the New Year and will get back to her duties as a mother and wife, leaving the situation in the past. From this, Nora is starting to taste what it is like to have power and some responsibility in her life, instead of decisions being made for her. She makes a point to mention to Kristine that making her own money is like being a man. Though what Nora did for her husband is thoughtful and out of love, she chose to lie to him about it due to the stereotypical gender roles of the society. If Torvald were to put his masculine pride to the side and accept his wife’s sacrifices, she would have been more honest with him and there would be no secrets in the relationship. Lastly, Krogstad threatened to blackmail Nora, as he wanted to reveal to Torvald that Nora forged her father’s signature, which was considered a crime. He wanted to blackmail her because he did not want his job to be in jeopardy, since Kristine was offered a job. When Torvald found out the truth, he became very upset with Nora, once again choosing to protect his wife rather than being appreciative to his wife and her sacrifices. When Nora realized that her husband was more worried about protecting his pride, she saw this as selfishness and that he truly did not love her. She makes the decision to leave him and her children in hopes to find herself, since she has already proven that she can survive without a husband supporting her. She sought to pursue her own destiny and be her own person by making that decision.
During World War II, a propaganda campaign featuring ‘Rosie the Riveter’ became a popular symbol for working women. In a time of society where women were still considered to be second hand citizens to men, men worked in the majority of relationships and were still believed to be the breadwinner. This ideology and gender role belief experienced a major change when men were getting drafted into the war. When wives were being left behind, they had no choice but to start working in order to support themselves and their households. Since this was a transition in society, women started working jobs that were once believed to be for men only. Since the decrease in the industrial work force was present, an outstanding number of women started to enter the labor force (Winchell, 14). Based on a fictional character, ‘Rosie’ was a women featured during the campaign. She wore a bandana to symbolize that she was a women, which is how women wore their hair in order to keep their hair from falling into whatever it was that they were working with. She wore a working outfit to symbolize that even though she was a woman, she could do whatever job a man can do despite how dirty or difficult it may appear to be. Lastly, she posed flexing her right arm and a determined and serious look on her face. This showed that she was strong and would be able to conquer whatever work she set her mind to. The look of determination she displayed also showed her wearing makeup. Rosie was a symbol of women in work force and increase in economy status for women. Not only did women decide to work, some also wanted to join the military. When men returned back from the war, many of them had the intention of continuing to be the moneymakers for their households (Blau, 12). They were greeted with a new movement in which women were comfortable with making a living for themselves. This created a new mindset in women that they did not need men to survive and could also hold a counterpart position in a relationship of equal value (Winchell, 578). This is similar to Nora as she starts to feel this way upon her exit out of Torvald’s life. The power she felt while working showed her that she could sustain a life on her own. This led her to believe that if love could not keep them together and she was capable of taking care of herself, what would the point be in staying in an unhealthy relationship?
In A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, Nora the protagonist goes through the motions of becoming her own person. Though she was subservient to her husband Torvald, she truly seeks to find herself at the end of the play. In a male domineering world, it is often difficult for women to find the respect they rightfully deserve due to the fact that they aren’t given a chance just because of their gender (Perrone et. al, 22). Nora refutes her place in society and the stereotypes that exist. Since she is a ‘doll’ in a house, she was looked down upon and belittled due to what most thought was appropriate according to society. Women, such as Nora, had their lives already shaped and planned out due to their gender. Fortunately with the passing of time, the attitudes towards women have greatly changed and the idea of being respected as a female counterpart is more accepted and beneficial to the world.