A Doll House
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The problem of woman’s happiness in the marriage and social-psychological issues that females faced at the turn of the century were topical for Henrik Ibsen, who was one of the first representatives of a “new drama”. Therefore, he has written “A Doll’s House”, a play, where he posed such essential questions as: how to live, how to love, how to be? Ibsen had lifted the curtain over the family’s mode of life in order to figure out the secret of genuine family happiness because, as he considered, it is essential for overall world harmony.
Main heroine of the play, Nora, sees a sense of her existence in love to her nearest and dearest: husband and children. She genuinely believes that harmony and happiness reign in her home, because she and her husband Torvald love each other. Her actions during a play are reasonable, but, viewed from different angles, can be both defended and criticized.
Eight years have passed since the time when Nora forged the signature of her deceased father in order to borrow money from a person of a low morale, Krogstad, and to have a possibility to cure her husband from tuberculosis. The woman didn’t say anything about it at home, but gave back almost all the borrowed money and didn’t want any gratitude for such self-sacrifice (Ibsen 25-29). Her secret was her joy, her proof of true love. This action of Nora serves as a proof of the fact that women of those times were not merely “supplements” to their husbands; they could resolve problems themselves, were able to think critically and act resolutely. It was a beginning of feminism. Already at this point the woman shows us that females were not just dolls in the hands of men and could do more than entertainment and housekeeping. The motives hidden behind this action of the character are simple: Nora wanted to help her beloved one out of love and fondness. She was not thinking about what could have happened if her little fraud was revealed. Nora just wanted her husband to be alive in order for her to have a happy family with him. She felt so much dependent on Torvald that didn’t realize her life without him.
Further on it becomes clear that Nora didn’t say a word about her tiny little secret to her husband. For a long period of time she was economizing because she had to pay a large debt (Ibsen 25-29). It was easier for Nora to lie to her husband that she is spending money on clothes and other unimportant things, than to tell him the cruel truth. In other words, it was easier for her to live surrounded by a beautiful lie, than to reveal the shocking truth. It did not occur to her that Torvald did not know the woman he had married, that Nora, whom he treated like a happy-go-lucky and light-minded baby, was a self-sufficient woman. Why did she make him perceive her like that? Probably, because it was easier for a woman to appear stupid on the outside and to act like a child, than to show that she is worthy of something. Nora had chosen to be a doll in a dollhouse of her husband, because she had always wanted to have a family, even if that was only an illusion of one. In the society of those times, women had secondary roles. It was considered back then that they were not capable of doing something serious. The character of Nora had shown that these statements are not justified.
Krogstad decided to blackmail the poor woman with the help of their common secret, hoping to get a prominent position at her husband’s bank. Nora was afraid and desperately strived to prevent truth-revealing from happening. She asked her husband not to fire Krogstad, but he refused (Ibsen 45-50). At this point she realized how little her opinion was worth for the first time. Nora understood that her husband did not perceive her as equal: he came to a decision and was not going to discuss it with anybody. Moreover, he contemplated in the course of the conversation about people’s morale. Torvald expressed an opinion that low morale of people like Krogstad was predetermined by low morale of their mothers. Nora took these words close to her heart, and, afraid that her children may inherit her bad traits, estranged from them. This decision showed what kind of mother she was. Nora put her children’s happiness higher than her own; although she wanted to be with them all the time, she also understood that was a bad influence for them. This is one more proof of Nora’s self-sacrifice. The strongest motive that forced a woman to do this was love to her family and it is worth respect.
Krogstad’s letter to Nora’s husband not only revealed his wife’s secret, but also clarified who is who. After learning about Nora’s debts Torvald started worrying for his respectable family not to become an object of scandals and gossips, but actually the only thing he was afraid about was to lose his status. A clear comparison of husband’s and wife’s priorities may be seen after the analysis of this action. Nora, for whom her family was on the first place, was contrasted with Torvald, for whom he himself and his position in the society were essential. Frightened for his own future, the husband said that Nora, his happiness and pride, had now become a lying hypocrite and a criminal in his eyes (Ibsen 135-137). As it is clear, he was not worried about Nora, she did not exist for him anymore. Torvald was actually concerned about the prestige of his own family; he even wanted to separate his wife from children. How Nora should have felt in this situation? Of course, she was hoping to receive some kind of gratitude, but instead, was blamed and punished. Obviously, her actions are unacceptable from the point of view of the law, but Torvald as no one else had to understand that she saved him and he owes her his own life.
After Krogstad realized that his deed was dishonorable, he assured Torvald that nothing is impending over his family. Happy because of such ending, Torvald embraced his wife (Ibsen 135-137). But Nora was already feeling differently. She realized that aiming at family happiness she sacrificed the dearest things: her truthfulness, her dignity. A “doll” in Torvald’s hands, she didn’t even notice how she had lost herself. She had forgotten that a home built on lies is not a real home. And, as a doll house, it will fall down under the pressure of the inescapable fate. The situation woman has found herself in is tragic, but a real tragedy is her own life. On the question of the worried Torvald whether she will come back to him, she answered that it can happen only due to some kind of a miracle. Their life together will never be the same and will resemble matrimony only a little. This Nora’s decision was one of the first she made selfishly for herself. She understood that all these years she was giving a lot and was receiving a little. The marriage of Torvald and Nora was not a union of equal people in love with each other – it was merely coexistence. Nora started considering that before being a wife and a mother she is to become a human being. As a result, she left her husband and three children. The last dialogue of a play explains Nora’s behavior and decision. Her husband heaped reproaches on her, considered her ungrateful for all the happiness he had given her. But she responded that she was not happy, just merry and joyful (Ibsen 140-154). Nora understood that she was only a doll of a wife. She asked her husband, disappointed by his conduct, why didn’t he defend her from Krosgard. He was surprised of such question, because didn’t understand how it was possible to sacrifice dignity for a beloved one. Nora did not agree with him, because thousands of women did this (Ibsen 140-154). At this moment the woman realized that was living under the same roof with a stranger.
It dawned on Nora that everything in her home was false: life, love, relationships between the members of the family. Her life reminded a puppet play. Only one ordeal showed a failure of her family’s relationships. It pointed to weakness of their marriage. Nora finally felt that she had some dignity, decided to leave the doll house, to go to a new place in order to find oneself. This resolution and frankness compels admiration. Not every person could have dared to do this. And at the point, when all misfortunes and troubles were in the past, when Torvald’s career gave family the opportunity to leave peacefully, Nora challenged all falseness of the world and stiff morale. The fact that she forbidden her husband to help her financially was of course a courageous action with feministic inclination, but there are some other aspects to be considered. How could she, a loving mother, leave her children on a nanny? No one will ever replace a mother to these children. And who knows how many years are to pass until Nora will become independent, will stand firmly on her feet, will find her place in the world? In Norway of those times a woman had very limited rights; that is why her road to independence probably is full of obstacles.
Nora’s motives can’t be fully criticized, as well as they can’t all be defended. But one thing can be said for sure – she had started a struggle with the usual mode of life and will obviously face difficulties. But at the end, Nora will have a chance to find herself – a chance rarely given to women of those times. She may lose her children and husband forever, but will never be a doll in somebody’s hands again.